Very simply, Jurassic Park has the most potential for video game greatness, yet has rarely lived up to it.
Few titles have recreated the same feeling of bringing dinosaurs back to life that Steven Spielberg first did back in 1993. Plenty of games have stemmed from the franchise but they have mostly been by-the-numbers tie-ins or relied too heavily on nostalgia and simple shooting mechanics, which was never really a big aspect of the films that inspired it (at least to begin with).
All this is why Blue Tongue’s Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is a stand-out entry amongst many other attempts to bring the feel of the original film to consoles. A co-production of publishers Universal and Konami, its genius concept of a park simulator within this world where dinosaurs are confined to zoos is executed so perfectly that it remains just as engrossing and addictive even after twenty years.
Released back in 2003, in that time we have had the more robust and sophisticated Jurassic World Evolution, but aside from HD graphics and a few more player options, there is very little difference in the way both of these games play. Evolution and Operation Genesis each have the same central premise, building a park full of dinosaurs, with both incorporating the same features and mechanics as part of the process.
The more authentic an experience and visitor-friendly the park in JPOG, the more visitors will flock to it and the greater success it will be. Guiding you on the way are familiar faces like John Hammond, Alan Grant and Ellie Satler, who both seem to have put aside their original dislike of the Jurassic Park concept and experience and are now there to help make it happen.
Of course a Jurassic Park would be nothing without dinosaurs, and as they are scarce in the wild these days, some have to be bred here. The process for this is either excavating or buying fossils and amber, extracting the DNA from which until enough of a dinosaur’s genome is sequenced for one to be bred. Once placed in enclosures, the dinosaurs also have to be fed, kept from illness by developing vaccines and kept happy so there are no fights, fatalities or breakouts.
It’s not enough to just have a dinosaur on show, there’s also the matter of making sure visitors get good views of the exhibits through a number of attractions including viewing windows, domes where guests can safely go inside and enclosure and see dinosaurs up close, and the Safari, where guests ride a Land Cruiser through an enclosure along a custom path. What’s more, these can be viewed in first person, so even players have the opportunity to see the game’s impressive dinosaurs as if they are actually there.
There’s plenty more to do in Operation Genesis concerning the day-to-day maintenance of the park; setting prices for food stalls, shops and attractions, upgrading enclosure security, hiring cleaners to keep the park clean and rangers to keep guests and dinosaurs safe. All the while characters give updates on your progress and bring your attention to important developments: Satler speaks up when one of the dinosaurs gets sick, while Henry Wu gives updates of fossil extraction and research progress.
The research function is what gives Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis far more depth, as some amenities and features come as standard, while others have to be unlocked. Giving you the option to choose what to unlock next allows you to create a park your own way, with the upside being the more you add, the more lucrative it will become. And the more there is to do in your park, the better guests will respond to it and the more popular it will become.
The most unintentionally funny part of the game though is found in reading visitor comments, which often include such responses as, ‘Food is too expensive’ or ‘It’s too crowded’. These people seem to be overlooking the fact that they are in a park full of dinosaurs/ Could they not forgive a few inconveniences for that?
It can take some trial and error to get the layout of a park right at the start, but once you have hit upon a good balance between landscape and composition, seeing it all come together is extremely satisfying. While at the start a park may seem quite basic, give it time and it will soon become a vibrant and exciting place. Just letting the game play on its own is a pleasure in itself, as dinosaurs roam their enclosures while visitors access shops and attractions.
That being said, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is not without its problems; the constant camera angle makes it difficult to set out paths or place new buildings, especially when starting out. Features can not be relocated once placed either, so if you want to move anything you will have to delete it and build a new one. Also an issue is the limited progression where dinosaurs are concerned: fossil sources are limited, so you only get a dozen or so dinosaurs per park.
Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis’ play system only works until everything has been unlocked, after that all that’s left to do is max out the park. If you just sit and wait until you have the money to do so, there are no more real challenges to be had. The most asinine part of the game is the appearance of natural disasters like a tornado; seeing your park destroyed and having to rebuild after so much time spent putting it together is so disheartening that, when one hits, it’s much easier to start over again rather than repair all the damage.
It is a shame that such a brilliant concept was eventually held back by flaws that could have been addressed in development. All the above problems were pointed out when the game was first reviewed back in 2003, though the press were otherwise favourable of the game for its presentation and marriage of genre and concept. That alone proved popular to many, and more than 400,000 units were eventually sold.
Even so, it is scarce to come about these days, and unfortunately Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is only compatible with the original Xbox (or PC or PlayStation 2). If you do see a reasonably priced copy come up on eBay or Amazon and are able to play it, then it is worth stumping up for, because Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is the best theme park sim you haven’t played.