Last Level Press

Hidden Gem Review: Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis

Reviewer: Cliff Davenport

“Welcome …to Jurassic Park.”  

You just read that in Richard Attenborough’s voice in your head, didn’t you?  See, it’s not just Morgan Freeman.  Such was the impact of Jurassic Park upon so many of us as children that aspects of the film have colored the interests of a generation, and in light of Jurassic Park’s recent theatrical re-release, it’s only fitting, I think, to call one of its myriad of video game spin-offs into the spotlight as well.  Luckily, unlike so many that have come before and since, this one is actually worth the disc it’s printed on (provided you don’t buy the PS2 version of it.  Blue disc.  Nuff’ said.), and if’s listings for it are any indicator, a lot more than that to boot.  I’m talking about the underappreciated title, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.  

Rather than leading players from one dino-infested firefight to another like so many of its predecessors, Operation Genesis offers players a completely different experience from any other Jurassic Park title.  

Especially that one.  Tell me you didn’t waste $5 in quarters trying

in vain to beat it at the arcade.  You liar.  

Replacing guns and teeth with research and reports, Operation Genesis breaks the trend by putting players in the seat of a John Hammond-like park manager for their very own Jurassic Park, ala the esteemed, albeit niche, Tycoon series.  

And when we say “niche,” we mean frickin’”niche.”

If you’ve ever played a Tycoon game, or even Sim City, you’ll find Operation Genesis’ interface a familiar, user-friendly chassis from which to build your own little island of horrors.  Your objective is as simple as it is daunting: create a full-service park full of dinosaurs, make it fun for everyone, and make it safe.  Carry on a trend of profit, and work your park up to a five-star masterpiece. The dinosaurs, of course, are the stars of the show, and it’s in players hands to make each of them as profitable an investment as possible.  All the old favorites return for encore performances, from the mandatory raptors and rexes to more recent entries in the Jurassic Park yearbook, like Spinosaurus.  Even a few new faces make welcome debuts, like Albertasaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and Styracosaurus, among others.  

It’s not just robo-SUVs with awesome paintjobs offering visitors fleeting peeks at the attractions now, either.  Welcome additions to the safari ride of the original film, like observation towers, subterranean viewing domes, and even a balloon ride, allow players to give their visitors a variety of ways to spend their time and their money enjoying Jurassic Park’s titular vistas.  Deepening the risk-reward mechanics of the game are each attraction’s ability to appeal to varied visitor demographics, and not every ride or attraction will please them all.  Fun-lovers, for example, would much rather watch Gallimimus run circles around a lumbering brachiosaur than a t-rex ripping them all apart.  Thrill-seekers, on the other hand, would like nothing better than a re-enactment of the only good scene in Jurassic Park III, and will pay even the stoutest of entry fees to watch such a spectacle.

Still a better love story than Twilight.

Once players get their park on its feet, a range of business models become possible options for progression.  The film’s park model (which worked out so well, didn’t it?) of well-secured, mostly isolated dinosaurs is one option, offering a safe, reliable stream of income after considerable investment, but others, such as mixed-species enclosures, are just as viable.  Predation and inter-species interactions are quite the attraction for visitors, and while the cost of constant dino replacement can get stout, the returns from higher-priced admissions and ride costs can offset this factor.  

It’s not all quarterly reports and adorable dino dolls, though.  No Jurassic Park game worth its salt could pass without a few “clever girl” moments to keep things interesting.  Operation Genesis draws players out of the office and into the action during certain random crises, such as safari breakdowns, which require a manual drive back to their gates, and chopper-based rescue missions to air-lift visitors stranded in dinosaur enclosures after a balloon’s stormy-weather crash.  Of course, there’s also the worst case scenario: the “Dino Rampage.”  

No, not you!  You were half the reason to own a Sega Genesis

when you came out!

Lacking thumbs with which to grip a proper stress ball, dinosaurs are needy creatures, and they tend to get uptight about our 21st century nonsense. If they’re not well tended to, this can lead to their open rebellion, and whether it’s due to faulty security or a twister’s disastrous aftermath, there’s always a chance that players’ stressed and angry dinosaurs could escape, spot their hated masters, and rampage.  Then, it’s often up to the player to ‘retire’ their investments by way of a .50 caliber pink slip from the door of a chopper.  

All of that’s well and good, but unfortunately, all is not blood-covered roses and rainbows for Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.  The game’s got its fair share of flaws, not least of which are…well, pretty much every other mode except the main one.  Its “Missions” are underwhelmingly unchallenging and universally silly, both in premise and execution, and they call unfortunate attention to the fact that this game’s audio is a starkly two-faced coin.  On the one hand, the musical score, while no John Williams, is fun, enjoyable, and true to the spirit of the source material.  On the other, Operation Genesis’ voice acting is just bad.  It’s painfully clear that the actors were trying too hard to replicate the voices of the film characters rather than giving quality performances.  Thankfully, the dinosaurs largely cover for their human counterparts, using soundbytes from the films for those dinos we know, and mostly fitting new audio for the new faces that we don’t.  

Game mechanics are another source of frequent frustration, especially in Operation Genesis’ early game.  Every park or city-builder is a slow, thinking man’s game, but this game’s early stages can drag on for hours on end.  A single budgeting misstep has the potential to relegate players to waiting on multiple, infrequent visitor arrivals in order to stay afloat, much less make any meaningful addition to their park’s progress, and the game’s lack of any Sims-esque fast forward function only compounds this.  Punishing failure is one thing, but when it renders a game a chore, it’s gone too far.  Along this same vein, the game’s only environmental disasters, twisters, aren’t just challenging tests of your infrastructure.  They’re park-wrecking punishments from God for playing with his toolbox, and they happen.  Too. Freaking.  Frequently.   

Likewise, dino diseases, no matter which one, are mislabeled.  Operation Genesis does not feature diseases.  It features plagues. “Dino flu” spreading like wildfire I can understand, but when even something as innocuous as a tick infestation spreads like herpes at a frat party, something’s off balance here.  

Most disappointing of all are the arbitrary limitations that Operation Genesis places upon players’ park resources, particularly upon the number dig sites that players may unlock for their park’s fossil procurement.  Different sites yield different results, and an inability to sample them all means that players will never be able to build parks featuring Operation Genesis’ full catalogue of prehistoric attractions, short of modding the game to allow for it.  Similar limitations on structure counts, especially fencing units, also constrain players’ ambitions for little to no discernible reason.  It’s these things that keep players’ dream parks from becoming reality.  

There is too much happiness here.  Release the raptors.  

After all that, you may well be wondering, “why is this a hidden gem, again?” and that would be a fair question.  Operation Genesis is certainly not without flaws, and critically speaking, it’s not even all that outstanding.  It’s a gimmicky, Tycoon-style builder with a lack of building variety, but, at the end of the day, it remains the only game of its genre featuring not just dinosaurs, but the familiar, Jurassic Park versions of them that so many of us grew up watching.  How many readers’ interests in dinosaurs as children were sparked by these films?  I’m certainly one of them, and to play a game not centered on killing or being terrified of them (most of the time) is a refreshingly welcome change of pace.

There’s a phrase among tabletop gamers: “The Rule of Cool.”  It refers to the reasoning behind many game masters’ allowance of half-baked and/or over the top plans, actions, or character concepts on the part of the players; they’re ideas that are just too damn cool to shut down.   That’s how I feel about Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis.  It’s a flawed cash-in of a game, but it’s a diamond in the rough of film-licensed games in that there’s a nugget of real entertainment to be gleaned from it.  It’s also, as I said before, the best (read: only, that I know of) game of its genre to fully feature dinosaurs as its attractions.  That’s not a particularly ground-breaking feature, any more than any other tycoon game featuring lions, tigers, or a piranha-filled wave pool.  Why then, does it merit such a spotlight?  Because dinosaurs, man!  

I’ve enjoyed this game for many years, but in publishing this article, I would like to issue a challenge to game developers:  Make this game obsolete.  Render its “Hidden Gem” status moot, little more than an antiquated has-been of a footnote.  Write, develop, and release a game that’s everything Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis could have been, should have been, and more.  This game is a Hidden Gem, but only because it doesn’t have enough competition.  It’s the only one offering its services to a captive market, and its marketing guy might as well have just spray painted “find the way” on Jeff Goldblum’s car before calling it a day.  An untapped player base is waiting for you.  

Rating: 5.8

Visuals: 5
Audio: 5
Controls & Mechanics: 4
Atmosphere & Experience: 8
Entertainment Value: 7

  Consoles: (PC), PS2, Xbox

  Developer: Blue Tongue Entertainment

  Publisher: Universal Interactive/ Konami

  Release Date (U.S.):  Mar 10, 2003

  Release Date (U.K.):  Mar 28, 2003

  Release Date (JP):  Jul 31, 2003

Final Verdict:


Last Level Press © Copyright Cliff Davenport  Est. 2013.  Links | Legal Notices

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