The concept of Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is a fait accompli between, on the one hand, the freeform sandbox titles in the vein of Theme Park and RollerCoaster Tycoon. On the other hand, you have the dinosaurs, which are almost a dimension themselves, and Jurassic dinos are infinitely more interesting than merry-go-rounds or caged dolphins.
The publisher goes on to describe this as a "world-builder", something not seen a lot on console machines. But on the PC, it's simply another title in a long line of "tycoon" games. Those of us who remember a little farther back will call it a "Theme Park" game. That's essentially what Genesis is, except the Universal ties allow them to mix in the characters, settings and objects from the movies. For example, to actually get DNA for dinosaur eggs, you have to contact the Alan Grant character. The R&D lab is shepherded by Henry Wu. Your job is to manage all of these star characters and churn out a profitable park for your boss, Dr. John Hammond and Ingen.
Genesis is split into two primary playing modes. There are about a dozen fixed missions that challenge you with adverse conditions and parks previously under bad management. One park may have ill-equipped security fences with dinosaurs rampaging around the park eating visitors. Another mission may challenge you into building a safe safari-like outline. Genesis also features a sandbox mode that takes after its own namesake. You're given the chance to pre-configure the terrain of an island and the rest of the park management is up to you.
Typically, games in Genesis will involve building enclosures to keep your dinosaurs fenced off. You then task Grant to send his fossil teams to extract amber and other prehistoric items containing dinosaur DNA. Then you have the chance to either sell these items or get Wu to extract the DNA. The processes, unfortunately, aren't very engaging if you start off on a park without any dinosaurs. This means you'll have to wait for the fossil team to extract enough DNA to create a dinosaur.
The waiting can be bothersome, especially since you can't open your park until you hatch at least one dinosaur.
After you get to the point where you open the park, Genesis plays more like a park management game. Each of your visitors comes with a different bias. Some like thrills. Some are fun-seekers. Some are dino-nerds. They like carnivores, herbivores and an authentic setting respectively. It's your job to tailor your park's exhibits to cater to their needs. The usual commercial amenities also apply too.
Constructing logical paths that lead to rest areas, restrooms and food kiosks are important to keeping the comfort level of your visitors high.
While you can't make paid rides like "ride a triceratops", you can make certain exhibits that charge money. Viewing ports built into fences, for example, can help you earn one-time fees, provided there is something entertaining to watch.
Entertainment is ultimately dependent on your dinosaurs. That's the raison d'etre of Jurassic Park. Genesis features a system where dinosaurs will realistically mingle with each other. The official product sheet calls it a "flocking" behavior. I usually attribute "flocking" artificial intelligence routines to something negative rather than positive. Who wants a bunch birdbrains running around in their game anyway? But in the case of dinosaurs, perhaps it's warranted since they aren't known for their intellect. Put some tyrannosaurus rexes and a few herbivores together and you'll be a few dinosaurs short in your exhibit by sundown. Some other "cute" features include feeding your dinosaurs goats, cattle and other "treats" like in the movie.
The animation for the dinosaurs is powered by a full-fledged 3D engine.
The 3D engine allows you to zoom up close with a single object, like a dinosaur, a helicopter (more on this later) and even something as prosaic as a fence. While the dinosaurs don't look like the ones in
Jurassic Park the movie, per se, they look decent for a game of this stature. What aids in creating the illusion are the sounds, which are taken straight from the movie. Some of the carnivores' roars and whines are quite ferocious up close.
Having a 3D engine also allows the developers to implement things like first-person view. You can theoretically latch on to one of your park visitors and "see what they see" during the course of their visit. This might be a marketer's dream but it doesn't really have much function in the game itself. The functional part comes with the helicopters that your park rangers use. Once you launch a helicopter, you can use the conventional WSAD keys to move it around your park. Further, you're able to board the helicopter with a ranger (given the war climate today, not that type of ranger). During emergencies, the ranger can tranquilize and disable dinosaurs. With a research upgrade, you can "retire" them permanently. This works like a mini shoot-em-up inside the game itself.
However, it's a gimmick that's used too often to make up for the fact that the business side of the game is a lot more shallow than games like Zoo Tycoon, Theme Park World, or even the dated RollerCoaster Tycoon. Despite John Hammond's emphasis on the management aspect of the game, there are only so many viewing areas, restrooms and kiosks you can build before you've attained all the advancements in Genesis. Instead, the missions will focus on pitting you in visitor rescue situations or random dino rampages; busy things that try to hide the lack of depth on the business side.
There are some inconsistencies across the board too. Perhaps, this is due to the multi-platform release. Most games of this nature are geared towards the casual user. Nearly every option can be performed with the mouse. If you go into the Build menu by left click, you have to press escape to leave the menu. Sometimes the right mouse button works in the same manner, but sometimes it doesn't.
There are technical inconsistencies too. For the graphics, no matter how high the resolution is set, the detail is never at a quality level that you would consider sharp. In spite of the Universal ties to the movie franchise, the portraits for the well known stars like Hammond,
Grant, Sattler and Arnold are fuzzy at best. Few voiceovers are available too. And the game lacks the charisma and humor of SimGolf or the Bullfrog titles.
I also thought it was peculiar Grant and Sattler would aid Hammond. The whole premise of the first film, after all, was Grant and Sattler's objection against resurrecting and caging these beasts. Grant seemed downright bitter by the third film.
Genesis introduces a few novel ideas to the "tycoon" and "Theme Park" business simulation. Mainly, these enhancements make the game more involved. And as a business manager, you can take hands-on control of your park, courtesy of the 3D engine. Unfortunately, as an economic simulation, Genesis fails to come close to the complexity of its predecessors, even if it's meant to be a showcase for dinosaurs. This makes the dinosaurs seem more like a gimmick than anything else; a glitzier version of Zoo Tycoon's Dino Digs.
Undoubtedly, this title will face more criticism from PC critics than with the console ones. Gamers on the PC platform see a new game like this every month; good or bad. Genesis makes an earnest effort to bring new vigor to the genre. There are some roars to be found in Genesis. But the Jurassic Park license alone can only take it so far before it becomes formulaic. Thereafter, the roars become little more than a growl.