The dinosaurs should’ve just stayed dead.
That’s what I thought to myself — or shouted aloud in my office — during the toughest moments of Jurassic World Evolution 2. These prehistoric creatures have no business being on our earth anymore, and I’m not sure I have any business pushing back against nature with my well-placed pond, guest pathing, attractions, and boba shop. “Life, uh, finds a way,” as Dr. Ian Malcom famously said in Jurassic Park. And in Jurassic World Evolution 2, building my dinosaur zoo felt like conquering millions of years of history.
Jurassic World Evolution 2 is the follow-up to 2018’s fantastic park simulator. If you played the dinosaur expansion pack for Zoo Tycoon back in the day, you already know what I’m talking about. But for the uninitiated, Jurassic World Evolution 2 lets you build your own Jurassic Park (or Jurassic Worlds, if you prefer the sequels). It’s an engrossing simulator game: Turn fossils into living creatures, keep your workers happy so you don’t get Dennis Nedry’d, and place that T-shirt shop in your preferred spot next to the velociraptors. Though punishing, and perhaps a little fickle, the game shines by letting players take over the movie parks and see how they’d run things differently.
While Jurassic World Evolution 2’s campaign is clunky and mostly feels like a glorified tutorial, the game’s real action is in the new Chaos Theory mode. This mode tasks players with fixing the mistakes of the past. You’re in charge of building Jurassic Park in its Spielberg location and time period — without Gyrospheres or other post ’90s tech that other play modes allow. But where park creator John Hammond failed in the movie, you’ll need to succeed. You’ll get quests, but you’re mostly free to achieve that objective how you see fit, while laying out your park according to your own designs. There are Chaos Theory modes for each of the five Jurassic Park and World movies, taking you from Isla Nublar to San Diego and back to Isla Nublar again.
I found Jurassic World Evolution 2 required a lot of micromanaging to make my park run smoothly. Like the original game, I need to create pens and cater to each dinosaur’s environmental needs. If I want two different species of dinosaurs to cohabitate in a single pen, I need to work magic to make sure they both get what they need without pissing each other off. I need to heal them when they’re sick, carry them away when they’re dead, create replacement dinosaurs, research new ones, excavate fossils, manage the power grid, place bathrooms around the park, and it all just goes on and on from there. It can be overwhelming, especially when nature is against you.
If that sounds complex, just wait until things start to go wrong. One of the new exhibits in Jurassic World Evolution 2 is for aquatic dinosaurs, and I ran into issues every step of the way while designing my prehistoric aquarium. First my scientists weren’t smart enough to research a water dinosaur, then they weren’t proficient enough to dig up the fossils. Then building the dinosaur was too expensive, so I had to sit and wait for my park to make more cash so I could afford this exciting new venture. As I reached my cash goal, a major storm forced me to evacuate guests and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs.
But these agonizing setbacks made success even more sweet. When I’d finally created my perfect lagoon and observed the giant, prehistoric shark leap out of the water to eat a modern shark off a hook, I felt satisfied. Getting there was obnoxious and frustrating, but the reward was exactly what I wanted. And the guests at my park loved it.
That’s what Jurassic World Evolution 2 does so well. Sure, when something goes wrong, it all seems to crumble together, like in the movies. Unlucky events seem to happen when you’re the most vulnerable — like when all of my original dinosaurs started dying of old age just as I was saving for the Indominus Rex, the park’s star attraction. It can feel like spinning plates, pulling hordes of families back into the park. But my park’s evolution from a two-star park into a five-star was purposeful. I could see the hard work — my hard work — in every store and exhibit.
If you don’t want to see your hard work ruined or deal with balancing a checkbook, you can always build your park in the sandbox mode. But to me, that would ruin what I liked so much about Jurassic World Evolution 2. This game shows off why every in-fiction Jurassic Park has failed since 1993. It’s because these dinosaurs are unreasonable, man. They’re hard to deal with — they’re from a completely different time and what may as well be a different planet. One small mistake, one bad hire, has destroyed these parks in every movie. And the same thing can happen to yours, if you’re not careful.
The message of the movies is that you can’t control nature, but Jurassic World Evolution 2 hits back by saying, “We’ll let you try anyway.” And I succeeded numerous times over nearly 20 hours with this park builder. Jurassic World Evolution 2 let me correct the sins of the past by corralling loose dinosaurs and building one of the most famous movie settings in history. And it let me do it my way while also making me feel like I’d succeeded where others failed.
Jurassic World Evolution 2 will be released on Nov. 9 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Windows PC using a pre-release download code provided by Frontier. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.