“A fine park building game that no dinosaur fan should overlook.”
Let me get this out of the way immediately. I love city building games such as SimCity, but park creation games usually don’t get much play time with me. Neither Theme Park nor any game from the Tycoon series could hardly hold my attention for more than two days. That said, I love Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. There is something about this one, something different. It could be the fact that I watched Jurassic Park when it came out in theatres when I was eight years old and fell in love with the movie and eventually the trilogy. I’ve played some really terrible Jurassic Park games before though, so surely my love for the dinosaur-centric franchise can’t be the sole reason behind my adoration for this game?
On the surface, this is a pretty standard park/zoo sim. Make pens and put dinosaurs in them to exhibit while tending to the ever demanding needs of your visitors. That is the gist of the game in a nutshell, but there is far more to it than just this.
When you begin a new game, you get to generate the island that you will be playing on by deciding upon the size of your island while also tinkering with sliders that increase or decrease the density of mountains, rivers, and trees. When you’re happy with your island, you click accept and away you go. The first order of business is setting up a park entrance and then laying down a few basic structures to start off. Perhaps a food kiosk, restroom, ranger station, and cleaner station. You’ll then want to plop a few dinosaurs into your park, so you’ll obviously have to set up a pen and then breed dinosaurs in a hatchery that you must place. I’ve always found that the hatchery should have it’s own pen so that your dinosaurs have optimal room in their own pens.
Usually at the start, you are given one to two starter dinosaurs, and they are usually always small herbivores that require very little security. After introducing the starter dinosaurs to the park, it’s time to open the gates and let the public in. From that moment on, it’s a pretty typical simulation game as you must make sure your visitors remain happy and keep spending money in your park, allowing you to research and build new structures while also working on getting more dinosaur species into your park.
The method in which you learn how to make new dinosaurs is pretty interesting, and is a breath of fresh air from games which simply make you research everything. In Operation Genesis, you can consult with Allan Grant (yes, the guy from the first and third movies) who is in charge of your paleontologists as well as the fossil market. Your paleontologists (digging crews) can dig at sites of your choice across the world in search of amber or fossils which each contain bits of DNA that you can direct your researchers to extract. When you acquire 50% of a dinosaur’s DNA, you will be able to create them. Of course, they will not have long lifespans at 50%, but they’ll be able to survive long enough to impress your visitors or even increase your park’s star rating.
The fossil market is a great place to obtain DNA quickly. If you are too impatient for your diggers to find anything, you can check out the fossil market for DNA of whatever specific dinosaur you may be interested in. Of course, the amber and fossils on the market are expensive and usually run at $10,000 or more, but the quality is quite often always very good.
There are many other gameplay factors to pay attention to, such as making sure that you are using the proper security fences for specific dinosaurs, keeping your star attractions healthy, researching new structures and technologies, and making sure that your park is laid out in a way that will satisfy your picky visitors.
Moving on from the gameplay, the graphics are worth mentioning. Though this game is six or seven years old now, it’s actually still fairly attractive looking. These graphics were absolutely top notch for a simulation game at the time, and the majority of the dinosaurs still look very nice. Each dinosaur in the game animates surprisingly well and you can quickly identify how your dinosaur is feeling. Terrain and water look subpar by today’s standards, but are in no way unpleasant on the eye. The park buildings look just fine and have probably aged better than any other graphical part of the game. I am, however, not too keen on how the park staff and visitors look. Even when this game came out, which is around the time I first played it, I felt that they looked extremely mediocre. By today’s standards, they look downright terrible. Fortunately you rarely ever have to zoom in on them and their bland and unappealing models, and they look fine enough from a distant overhead angle.
The sound in Operation Genesis is quite nice as well. The ingame music is very good, and was easily movie-grade quality if it didn’t come from the films. Most of the sound effects are great, from ambient sound effects (birds chirping, storms, and helicopters) to the dinosaurs, which seem to have most of their vocal callings taken straight from the films. A very emotionless female voice (presumably supposed to represent a computer voice) says “message from so-and-so” whenever you receive new mail, and this can be a bit of a distraction. When mail is heavy, I found myself wishing that the voice would just go away forever. Sound effects used in the menus are also quite repetitive, but they do not take away from the overall experience.
This is essentially all that Operation Genesis is. It all sounds very standard, but the actual gameplay is quite good for a park building game. Do I believe that it has an edge over the Tycoon games? Yes, certainly. Unfortunately, Operation Genesis has been overlooked by many due to being a very obscure title based on a franchise that appeals to a very specific audience. Even though this game is heavily based on all things Jurassic Park, I really do believe that people who don’t like the film trilogy should enjoy this game. Once your park gets off its feet, it’s really quite an experience. Nothing compares to examining a seaside brachiosaurus pen from a viewing dome nestled quietly inside of the enclosure. Doing so almost makes me feel like Allan Grant in the first film, when he first sees the dinosaurs upon arriving at Jurassic Park. It’s a really glorious and immersive sight.
So who should play this game? Well, almost anyone. Sim fans and Jurassic Park followers are certainly the main target audiences, and I’m under the impression that this quiet game flew under the radar of both demographics. If you are a fan of either building cities and parks, or have a childhood love of dinosaurs, then this game is surely something worth giving a try. As someone who falls under both categories, I can safely say that behind a few SimCity games, this is my favourite building sim that I’ve ever played. It’s a good game, give it a try. Trust me!