Operation Genesis is the Jurassic Park game they should have made from the beginning. While that’s not to imply I didn’t enjoy many of its action or exploration based titles, the tycoon genre fits the source material perfectly. Sure, if this was made in 1994 then it wouldn’t be 3D. The AI might not be as good. The systems might not be as refined, without plenty of previous tycoon games to use as models. But, it would be the one thing the 2003 release isn’t – relevant.
The collective shrug given when this was released is why I’m going to assume you don’t know much about the game today. Which is a shame, because they really have created a solid simulation here, with plenty of micromanagement nuances to hook in fans of the genre, and plenty of awesome dinosaurs to sweeten the deal. You may not be able to do absolutely everything you’d like, but you’re pretty much free to build your own, authentic-feeling version of Hammond’s titular attraction.
The game has four total modes, with three as bonus variants of the central sandbox simulator. You start with terrain sliders that generate an empty island for you to build upon. You’re given two passive herbivores and $60k in starting funds. You’ll plant a welcome center for arriving visitors, use electrified fencing to draw out some dino pens, and then set about satisfying everyone’s needs to maximize your cash flow.
Game months last about five minutes, and each quarter, you’ll get reports from the corporate board on your progress. Your ultimate goal is to create a five-star park, with each half-star bringing in more and more guests. You can adjust the prices for the main gate, food stands, souvenirs, individual attractions, and even charge a fee for the toilets if you’re a fucking monster. Along the way, you’ll have each of the movie’s characters appear in an advisory role. Each heads a department, and will notify (and often nag) you through in-game mail about any issue that might need your attention.
Dinosaurs have Sims-style meters for hunger, thirst, health, and happiness. Herbivores have an extra meter for trees (they want lots of foliage around) while carnivores have an extra meter for hunting (they will start trying to break out if you don’t give them other dinos to chase). If you don’t build pens with food dispensers, available water, and usually multiple copies of a species to form a pack, visitors will complain that your star attractions aren’t active or very interesting. Like sick pandas at the zoo, depressed dinosaurs just bum everyone out.
Meanwhile, you’re allocating funds to research and development. Dr. Grant supervises dig teams at fossil sites around the world. Roughly once a game month, each team will uncover some samples, with species and era determined by the site you’ve chosen. Fossils go to Dr. Wu, who extracts DNA for your dino clones. Once you have 50% of a species’ DNA, you can crank them out through the hatchery facility. However, they’ll die prematurely – usually in a handful of months, making them less of an investment. More DNA means they’ll live longer, with 100% dinosaurs lasting for 4 years or more. Wu can also research new facilities and upgrades for your park, which range from useful (visitor rest areas) to mandatory (weather protection).
The game’s other half is all about your patrons. Visitors have similar hunger and happiness meters, and you’ll need to have food stands with reasonable prices, benches when they get tired of walking, bathrooms for the pooping, and cleaning crews to keep the park nice and tidy. Visitors have also come all this way to see some damn dinosaurs, so you’ll need to plant watch towers or cut viewing areas in the fences, ideally in locations where the most number of dinosaurs in the pen are congregating and visible. Spending some money on research will let you build balloon rides, underground viewing domes, or safari tours in the Ford Explorer from the film. Unfortunately you can’t build a movie-accurate vehicle tour – for gameplay purposes, your Park is smaller and based around walking.
Just the above would probably make a solid enough sim, but this is only the foundation. We’re about to head down the rabbit hole.
There are seven different illnesses dinosaurs can catch, all of which threaten to spread to others in the pen. Through research, you can unlock vaccines. These are delivered via the Ranger Station’s helicopter, which can also airlift dinos to new pens or “retire” berserk carnivores (or low-earning ones). You can also research the ability to automatically immunize every new dinosaur with all the vaccines currently unlocked, making future animals significantly less of a hassle. Further, you can plant modern trees or the more expensive paleo trees for your herbivore friends. Modern trees, appropriately, have a greater risk of making dinosaurs sick.
Visitors come in four different groups. The “mainstream” group is happy just to see dinosaurs while having enough amenities to make their stay pleasant. Thrill seekers and fun lovers get excited about carnivores and herbivores, respectively. Placing viewing spots in full view of those dino types will please these guests. The final category, “dino nerds,” want everything as authentic as possible. This means paleo trees and wide pens, filled only with dinosaurs from the same era (helpfully referenced in an in-game “dinopedia”). It doesn’t seem that you can build a park that specifically attracts just one group, nor are you meant to. It’s easy enough to satisfy all four groups if you’re just paying attention, while attractions can be individually biased to boost their appeal to one of the four visitor types.
It’s Jurassic Park, so carnivores are dangerous and shit occasionally goes wrong. Lightning storms or tornadoes can trash your fences, or more aggressive species can escape from low security pens – Raptors will regularly try to break out, or Dilophosaurs will spit venom at guests through weak fence gaps. You can activate Emergency Mode in response to dangerous weather or loose critters. Visitors will head for the exit, or take shelter in bunkers if you’ve researched and built them. Loose carnivores can and will kill hapless tourists, understandably causing a hit to your park’s reputation. To further prevent this, you can research and build sentry turrets to take down rampaging dinos, or take over the ranger helicopter and snipe them yourself.
Finally, you have to build and pay for automated “feeders” in each pen, because the dinos can’t subsist only on trees or each other. Yes, the game included the book’s lysine deficiency security measure, and the dinos will die if they don’t get treated food. Blue Tongue really didn’t miss a trick here, and I congratulate their thoroughness. While I haven’t encountered a randomized “greedy fat guy shut down your park and stole your embryos” disaster yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in there.
Controls are simple enough, optionally using the keyboard for the camera, or button combos on the mouse to pan, tilt, rotate and zoom. Once you grasp the basic concepts and the purpose of each structure, it’s easy enough to get going and difficult to miss out on any critical necessities. Both visitors and dinos can be clicked for detailed status information or history, while thought bubbles with emotion icons (a la Theme Park) give you a shorthand way to spot any problems.
If the main mode is too freeform for you, you can hit the Exercise modes. It’s the same park simulator but with scenarios and objectives that range from rebuilding a park after a hurricane, to “Jurassic Classic” which asks you to have all of the movie’s dinosaurs on a recreation of the film’s familiar island. Early missions act as tutorials, but all missions give some level of guidance throughout. I found it very enjoyable to have additional goals, as I tend to suffer from a bit of “ehrrr… what now?” syndrome when left entirely to my own devices (see: any attempt I’ve made to play Minecraft).
Less interesting are the Missions, which take the player-controlled options of the tour vehicle and helicopter and try to make minigames out of them. You’ll be asked to drive the Explorer around and snap photos of dinos, graded with points, or snipe loose dinos from the chopper in a set amount of time. Basic stuff, and a nice – though forgettable – inclusion. Beating all challenges and missions unlocks “Site B” mode, which removes visitors and allows you to plant dinos at will on an empty island. It’s really only interesting if you want to watch their emergent AI.
Graphics are actually quite impressive. A reasonable amount of trees get rendered, you can see pretty far off in the distance, and water accurately reflects whatever structures you put nearby. Rain, and its associated fog effects, look fantastic, with an awesome bloom on the fence lights. Animations are done well, and it’s fairly interesting to just watch the dinosaurs move around, chase, eat, sleep, and even poop (yup). The engine allows you to zoom in to an awesome degree, alongside the authentic, ground-level views from your watchtowers or viewing domes. You can use these views to spot trees that might be blocking line of sight and affecting the attraction’s score. Even the visitors carry around visible souvenirs they bought.
My biggest complaint is that the game is awfully easy overall. As long as you understand the requirements for both visitors and dinos, profit rolls right in. I never felt strapped for cash. I never had a dino escape, and frankly don’t see how it’s possible. My dinos only died of old age, never from surprising, costly complications. There’s only one rare disaster – the tornado – and when it rolled through it just damaged some buildings and broke some easily-repaired fences. I even built a park where loose Raptors waited to “greet” incoming guests, but despite the endless carnage, was never shut down by the company or authorities. I don’t want to suggest this is exactly “My First Little Tycoon Game,” but it does seem that, despite the complexity, a serious challenge was never intended.
It should have been released in the 90s, but Operation Genesis is still a solid management sim. The game’s dinosaurs react convincingly, and any visitor complaints seem fair. It feels a little light with only four attractions and one disaster, but there’s enough to keep your interest on the way to building a five-star park. Challenge modes offer some appreciated extra variety. Hardcore tycoons will surely find this lacking, but this ends up being one of the better Jurassic Park games.
Looks great, even ten years later. Good balance of dino and visitor needs without feeling overwhelming. Generous opportunities for mischief (big fan of the Bunker Race Challenge).
Some dinos are just obvious reskins of others, with identical animation and behavior. Involved, but not terribly challenging. Mission modes feel out of place.