Who wouldn’t want their own Jurassic Park? Who wouldn’t their own island paradise filled with ancient reptilian beasts, viewed from the safety of an electric fence? To close that gap a million centuries wide and gaze back onto an ancient forest untouched by man. It would be a sort of genesis operation in a Jurassic Park setting, or more aptly, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.
Rewind Reviews is our series where we look back at older games through a modern lens and put them through our review process. You can find more of them here.
By its nature, the Jurassic Park franchise lends itself well to the park builder genre. Jurassic World: Evolution released this year to mixed reviews, but it is far from the franchise’s first park builder. Before Evolution was Jurassic World: The Mobile Game. Before that was the 2012 title Jurassic Park Builder. And the first of these games was 2001’s Jurassic Park III: Park Builder.
Of all these entries, it was the 2003 release of Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (JPOG) that would steal the show and lay the foundation for Evolution. Now, 15 years later, how does JPOG hold up? Released in the same year as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Operation Genesis has a lot to live up to. Let’s take off our nostalgia goggles and dive in.
The premise is incredibly simple. You’re given an island and $60,000 (yes, sixty thousand). Go make dinosaurs until your island is the most whimsical place on Earth. Maybe JPOG’s simplicity is to its benefit. You don’t have to worry about making sure rides work because the starting attractions basically print money.
Operation Genesis is surprisingly easy. It takes six to eight hours to max out a park’s rating and the only real spike in difficulty are the twisters. These funnels of death occasionally show up to completely destroy your park before disappearing in a puff of smoke, leaving you to pick up its mess. Additionally, building options are severely limited, despite the apparent freedom of having an entire island to play with. On starting a new game, you can only build the bare basic of guest amenities and create two species of dinosaur. The more limited your options in a tycoon-style game, the less likely you are to make a serious mistake.
Options stay limited throughout the game. There’s a research mechanic for new buildings, services, and dinosaur wellness. However, aside from buildings, the majority of research serves to modify existing stats or outright remove elements of gameplay. For example, your dinosaurs are vulnerable to eight different diseases. At the start of the game, you are defenseless against these illnesses, resulting in sick dinosaurs and unhappy guests. By the middle of the game, you can send a helicopter to instantly cure any disease. By the end of the game, dinosaurs are born immunized to all disease. Similarly, rain and thunderstorms could negatively affect park attendance, but it doesn’t matter once you research umbrellas. With the exception of new buildings, research typically removes as much content as it adds, only making the game easier.
The shallow difficulty curve primarily comes down to limited options and low-maintenance dinosaurs. All dinosaurs need water and food. Aggressive carnivores rampage if they don’t hunt other dinosaurs. If there aren’t enough trees, herbivores become stressed. Yet, herbivores never consume trees, so you don’t need to replenish them. Overall, dinosaur demands are nowhere near as complicated as Zoo Tycoon, for example. A plains herbivore doesn’t prefer fewer trees. A mountain carnivore doesn’t need hills in their enclosure. Because of this, there’s just not a lot to do.
After building an enclosure for both of your starting animals, the game comes to a grinding halt. You can only obtain additional dinosaurs by unlocking fossil digs. You unlock fossil digs by impressing park guests. Each dig site has three dinosaurs. To unlock these dinosaurs you need fossils, which come in three different qualities for each of the three different species. The trick is you can’t make new dinosaurs before reaching 50% DNA, but new genome sequences start at 0%. Even after unlocking a new dig site, you’re still stuck with the same two starting dinosaurs for another hour.
The late game is largely automated, only forcing players to step in for research decisions and driving minigames. This makes it feel like there’s a lot missing from Operation Genesis. JPOG released a year after Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs, but it doesn’t keep pace with what is arguably it’s greatest competitor. For example, there’s only one restaurant and no stegosaurus mini-golf. Dinosaurs and visitors don’t need a lot of attention, just the bare basics. Maybe that’s the game’s true genius; the serenity of watching your dinosaurs frolic to the perfect harmony of a somber soundtrack. The existence of the park is only incidental. The dinosaurs are the stars, after all.
Aside from building a park, Operation Genesis features a handful of tutorials, scenarios, and missions. Again, the scenarios aren’t nearly as interesting or varied as Zoo Tycoon, but one of them allows you to build your very own Isla Nublar. The missions are surprisingly fun. They usually revolve around photo safari or shooting rampaging dinos from the safety of a helicopter. If you complete all of the missions, you unlock Site B. In this mode, you have unlimited funds and no visitor amenities or electric fences. Dinosaurs roam free, playing and hunting to their heart’s content. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see how different dinosaurs interact. The fighting animations between species, particularly the big carnivores, are especially satisfying. It’s also a nice touch how the pachycephalosaurus are constantly headbutting each other.
If you’re familiar with Trespasser, you won’t be surprised to learn JPOG still has a dedicated modding community. For 15 years, modders have been producing skins, buildings, dinosaurs, and compatibility patches. The release of Jurassic World: Evolution only increased these mods as dissatisfied players turned to an old favorite.
After all these years, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is still a fun play. It’s relaxing, tranquil even. The game rarely asks you to micromanage. It would prefer you sit back, crack your knuckles, and say “Yeah. I built that.” It’s a different kind of park builder, one that only wants to make you happy, even if it doesn’t always leave you engaged. If you can dig up one of these coveted red discs, it will be well worth a revisit.
An extremely relaxing, though very basic theme park simulator. Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis is best when focusing on its animals. Management feels like a side project.
- Excellent sync animations
- Minigames break up monotony of management
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Too easy
- Limited building variety
- Research makes game even easier
- Twisters will mess you up...