Long time readers will know that I’m on a quest… one of the slowest burning quests in history maybe, but a quest none-the-less… to play all the Jurassic Park* games out there. So far I have played ‘some of them‘, But hey, who’s keeping track? I’ve sampled a good variety, including PnC, platform, FPS, and, whatever the heck you classify the DOS one as, but I’ve yet to try a park builder, which is where Operation Genesis comes in.
I’d been keeping my eyes vaguely open for a copy of JP:OG for a while now, but with my recent retro-gaming kick I happened to spot a copy of the PlayStation 2 version going at the same little online shop where I picked up a GameCube so I decided to give it a shot.
No movie tie-on would be complete without some sketchy interpretations of the main cast, and JP:OG immediately subjects you to a suitably off-brand John Hammond upon starting a new game. If you wanted Sir Richard Attenborough then go play Trespasser, however if you want a cut price voice actor doing an impression of Billy Connolly doing an impression of Richard Attenborough then Operation Genesis is the game for you. And it’s not just the distinguished John Hammond that gets this treatment. The would-be Sam Neil doesn’t quite know what accent he’s shooting for… which feels appropriate because neither did Sam Neil, and whoever they picked to fill Laura Dern’s shoes sounds like she’s trying to seduce you every time you visit a dinosaur hatchery.
Audio aside, the nicer surprise on clicking ‘new game’ was a slider based island generation tool. Feel free to dabble with those sliders as much as you want to generate any number of Isla Nublar wannabe’s before settling on one that has a useful amount of flat terrain, ideally with a healthy number of rivers.
From this point on the game drops in to park planning proper, and I began to feel right at home, having spent many happy hours playing Theme Park. I guess the slight twist on the formula is that the player needs to care for both the dinosaurs and the guests yet prevent the two from getting personally acquainted.
Dinos can be created on demand from a hatchery assuming that you have at least 50% of that species’ DNA. Alan Grant and his teams are in charge of gathering Mr. DNA from various sites across the globe, which drip feeds the player new species at fairly regular intervals. These are linked to the areas searched, but it it is worth noting that during the game you can only ever unlock three global regions, so pick wisely as these will determine the dino species you’ll later need to sedate when they start eating your guests. It’s also possible to buy fossils at some kind of totally-legitimate fossil market… but again, only species from your currently unlocked regions show up for sale. Assuming that you make sure they have food, space, and water then the dinos themselves generally don’t cause too many problems. Of course you could also give them some dino playmates. According to the loading screen tips, thrill seeking guests want to see some carnivore on herbivore carnage. Although from experience, guests don’t appreciate when you run dinosaurs over in your land cruiser. Oh sure, it’s fine when a T-Rex does it, but you mow down one little Dryausaurus (or whatever) and suddenly everyone is marching out of the park in disgust.
Once you have animals, keeping fences between the animals and the guests is advertised as a core objective in the game. Although after a tornado whipped through one of my parks, there was a gap in the fence that I didn’t have the cash to repair and it remained open for a few ingame months. Finally a meal/goat made a break for it, swiftly pursued by one of the otherwise oblivious carnivores out on to the footpath. Suddenly my guest comments changed from “I don’t like the crowds” to “I think I might die here“. So in general I found the guests fairly easy to please as long as they’re not actively fighting for their survival.
My biggest problem with JP:OG is that there just isn’t very much of it. The goal is to develop a five-star park, something I managed (twice) without too much difficulty, after which the game treats you to a sterile ‘well-done’ screen and just kind of shrugs saying “well, I guess you can keep playing if you want“. By that point though you’ll probably have unlocked all the useful upgrades in the research track and seen most of what JP:OG has to offer. There are five flavours of “attraction”, each allowing guests to look at dinos in a slightly different way, and a solitary offering each for ‘shop’ and ‘eatery’. Research in to vaccines, security, and a few other improvements tends to mitigate all of the problems your park is likely to face. For example, I unlocked ‘weather defences’ to improve structures and give everyone umbrellas. Several tropical storms hit the park after but, despite all the dramatic music the game could throw at me, there wasn’t any damage, so I guess that solved the problem of ‘weather’. I’d be interested to know if the PC release furnished the player with a little more content and got rid of the limits on how many of each thing you can build. As it is, a save file takes a good 25% of a standard memory card and I can only imagine that more content would need more space to save each park.
I can’t really hold the lightweight amount of content too much against JP:OG however because what ‘is’ there works well with some cute touches setting it aside from its contemporaries. Being able to take the wheel of the landcruiser or jump in to a hot air balloon on one of the dino tours let’s the player try their hand at photography to snap pics for extra cash. The security helicopter can be piloted to deal with most of the urgent matters, which tends to involve shooting dinosaurs in some way, and there are an array of tutorials and pre-baked missions to round out the experience a little.
As always though, the most important question is “does this hold up as a Jurassic Park Game ?” I guess that part of my was secretly hoping for a little more content lifted and adapted from the films. What about that iconic map of the park showing the systems failing? or how about needing to add underground electrical bunkers that need wiring in to the system? building a dock to receive boats and supplies? It all would have fitted with the theme, but the game mostly chooses to pick a few token visuals and invoking the names of the main characters to hang the JP tie-in off. Even the distinctly JP elements that are included don’t quite hit the mark. You can make a landcruiser tour but it doesn’t run on a rail in the middle of the road. The iconic raptor pen is included, but for some reason it’s used as the hatchery for young dinosaurs. It’s not a bad game, but it’s just not a great Jurassic Park game.
So what next? Any JP classics that I should play?
*Yes, Jurassic Park, NOT Jurassic World… although I have played Lego Jurassic World because a good portion of it is Jurassic Park… and it’s pretty darn good… but also I’m not including mobile games because… reasons… quiet everyone! It’s my quest and I get to add as many arbitrary rules as I want!