Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis
-Universal Interactive (2003)
Out of the bargain bin of time comes Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.
When Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis first hit store shelves, the idea that I could build my own dinosaur theme park filled me with childish glee. Like almost every kid, I had a thing for dinosaurs in a big way. Unfortunately, the 50 dollar price tag was rather steep for a game that had the potential to suck hardcore. On a recent trip to one of the few non-Wal-Mart retail chains left in existence I found this puppy in a bargain bin for 20 bucks. Was it worth it? Read on, my friends.
Operation Genesis starts out fairly simple generating having you generate an island for your prospective park. You have a limited control over how mountainous, river filled, or forested you want your island to be, but essentially the islands all look alike. Once you have your island ready its time to start building your park. Actual park building and maintenance is strikingly similar to games like Theme Park or Roller Coaster Tycoon. As with any game like Operation Genesis, getting the park up and running takes some trail and error, since the instruction booklet was a little less than helpful. There is a tutorial available, though, that actually is amazingly helpful if you play through it that will help lesson the learning curve considerably. I know a lot of people will want to start park building right away, but the tutorial is almost essential for picking up information you might not otherwise get on your own. Once I got started though, the game became an addiction.
The game not only revolves around keeping your park clean and sucking money out of tourists, but also involves a fair amount of research. The majority of this research is in finding fossils for DNA so you can create new dinosaurs for your park. DNA can be acquired from dig sites or from the fossil marketplace. When you have over 50% or more of the required DNA you can make the dino you want. Itís better to wait until you have 100%, otherwise your dinos will be pushing up daisies pretty quick in front of your visitors. The DNA acquirement is a huge part of the game and regulates when and even if you can get the coolest dinos like the T-Rex. There's also research into park improvements of areas such as security and items that will increase the comfort of park guests. You also have to worry about your dinosaur's health by researching vaccines. I swear that the computer purposely infected the dinos with every sickness that I didn't have a cure for.
With all the research being done and the park building there's a lot going on at once. To keep you aware of all the separate projects and events, an email system will let you know such things as the findings of your dig team, the status of research projects, etc. When I say occasionally, I mean all the time. Hardly any game time goes by without receiving a ton of email. This system ensured I was always on top of things and added a bit of a hurry to such things as ailing dinosaurs, but it was also a constant annoyance having to tend to all these emails.
The park building and research is quite fun, but the major drawback to Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is the limited amount of attractions available to build. It takes only a short while to unlock all the rides like the balloon tour and there only about four such attractions total. The same goes for other types of improvements and amenities to the park as well. I can understand that if there really was a living dinosaur park that there probably wouldn't be a need for roller coasters and tea cup rides, but the limited building selection is a let down and severely limits how long you want to play.
The graphics are pretty average on the whole and fairly poor on the details of your park visitors, but the engine shines when it comes to the main attraction of both the park and the game; the dinosaurs. The sense of scale is well done, especially when it comes to the big boys like the Brontosaurs. The dinosaurs act and react to their environment rather realistically and help to overcome the lack of building options. The sound quality of the game is well above average. The music is the classic and familiar Jurassic Park pieces and provides a decent atmosphere for park building. The sound effects are great, capturing imagined dino noises and visitor mumbling perfectly.
There arenít a lot of sim games available on consoles. One of the reasons for this is that a keyboard/mouse combo is a lot better suited for the complexities of a game like Operation Genesis. The menu schemes are simple enough for the X-Box's purposes, but I would have liked some more functionality, like the ability to zoom out a little farther than it lets me. The controls for driving and flying were pretty poor as well, but I wasn't expecting much in that area anyway.
I was having a lot of fun with the game until I reached the main objective of running a five star park. This was disappointing, because I had only played it for about six hours. I had unlocked mostly everything by that time, but didnít even get to the best dinos like the T-Rex and the Velociraptors. Thankfully, you can keep playing once you have met your final five star park rating, though a lot of the magic is gone when you have nothing new to research or build. Aside from the free-for-all park building mode there are several missions that are basically park scenarios. Most of these missions are basically the same, but offer a little something extra in the way of challenge and playtime.
Operation Genesis' game play and game type might have been better suited to the PC, but its still a fun for a few hours. As far as I can tell itís fairly hard to still find this title in stores, so if you do find it and this is your type of game be sure to pick it up.