The best part of taking a while to review Early-Access titles (she writes, hoping the editor forgives her) is that you can take account of more of the features the full game will eventually offer. I had been chomping at the bit to get my hands on Prehistoric Kingdom after missing the Kickstarter, so of course I grabbed it as soon as it became available on Steam. It is still in Early Access, of course, but that doesn’t stop it being fun!
Prehistoric Kingdom is the prehistoric park builder we’ve been waiting for. Forget the Jurassic franchise, cursed to follow in the footsteps of the films’ scientific inaccuracies. Forget trying to get the prehistoric DLC for one of the Zoo Tycoon games working on a modern PC. This is a strong park builder with gorgeous graphics depicting prehistoric animals in all their sometimes-feathery glory.
Nigel’s here to lend a hand
Always welcome in Early-Access titles, Prehistoric Kingdom has a tutorial to ease you into the gameplay. You’re led through this by the voice of Nigel Marvin, who many might remember presenting documentaries such as Chased by Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Park. It’s great that they were able to get him onboard with this – he fits seamlessly into the role of park advisor. He also gives a brief introduction to each dinosaur you release into the park the first time you click on them, which is interesting to listen to, although you may end up cancelling the audio after a while, as whether you’ve already heard it isn’t restored when loading a save.
The tutorial was pretty helpful, taking us through a few different habitats to solve issues with the animals there before continuing. And since you can pause, of course, it’s no big worry fiddling around with the building system to figure out how it works.
The roads aren’t a pain
On the subject of the building system, roads aren’t a pain! A problem we encountered with Planet Zoo‘s building system, which feels very similar to Prehistoric Kingdom‘s, is that plazas were really tricky to make without leaving gaps. This isn’t a problem in Prehistoric Kingdom – you can stick roads pretty much wherever you want them, on flat ground. One major difference is that you can’t elevate roads to make quick bridges. You have to make an actual bridge using the construction pieces provided. It’s not that difficult and the end results can look nice, but it would be great to have a quick-and-easy option eventually.
Quick-and-easy options are thankfully thick on the ground after the most recent Early-Access update, which brought with it the introduction of the Steam Workshop. This means you can download pre-made modules from other players. Of course, you can upload your own as well. It really does open up possibilities for what you can do with the park and let you learn from others’ designs without going away to watch YouTube videos.
Figuring out what to click is fairly intuitive, as the UI is quite clear. Not everything is implemented just yet, but it’s obvious when this is the case. You might not notice your management screens at first, but they’re not particularly important unless you’re really interested in the numbers, besides for ordering food. This was also a recent addition, and at first it seemed like a step backwards because it limited the amount of food you could order at a time, artificially limiting the size of your park.
Later, this limit was reduced, so it’s a lot less frustrating. However, it still feels like an unnecessary level of micromanagement. You would think that as the manager of a park, you could delegate that sort of thing or just set up a rolling order. As it is, you have to order everything yourself and manually click on each exhibit to restock their feeders when they run out. It would be great to be able to hire zookeepers or similar to cover this responsibility (this is on the roadmap, at least). At the moment it can be quite annoying to either pause for ages while you build or come away from building every now and then just to click a few buttons.
The animals look gorgeous
Despite being in Early Access, there’s a good selection of prehistoric animals available, from woolly rhinos to massive Argentinosaurus (Argentinosauri?), and they all look rather lovely. You can unlock up to three skins (or subspecies) for each animal, with varying degrees of sexual dimorphism and sometimes different preferred climates. You unlock these, and the species they belong to, via the dig menu. It costs money to unlock a dig site, then science points (generated by exhibits) to unlock all the subspecies present there. All in all it’s pretty simple and you don’t have to worry about timers like you do in Jurassic World Evolution, but you might sometimes have to save and load your game to register a new skin’s availability.
The current roster of animals covers a decent range, although it would be nice to see a few more boreal dinosaurs that could be grouped in an exhibit together. Undoubtedly they’ll arrive in a later update, as there are plenty of mystery ‘new species’ spots on the roadmap. You get bonuses for housing animals together that originated from the same era and climate. This is unfortunately a bit annoying to pull off in practice, as you can only group animals by one category at the moment. It would be nice to add a filtering mechanism to the nursery screen to make this more feasible.
Making an exhibit to house your new animals is a breeze. At the simple level, you can slap some fences down, vary the height a bit, paint the terrain and add some foliage. When you fancy trying out more interesting layouts, it’s pretty easy to begin playing around with cliffs at the edge of the exhibit, adding waterfalls and ‘tunnelling’ under footpaths. (Though Zoo Tycoon 2‘s automatic waterfall feature will be forever missed.) Admittedly, when you make an irregular-shaped exhibit with a cliff at the edge, you might forget to add anything at the top to stop guests falling in (not that they do, but hey, we have to be OSHA compliant, right?). There are loads of wall pieces you can use for this and your imagination is the limit, but it can be a bit frustrating to line things up when you can’t adjust the angle of your building grid after setting the first piece down.
They just need a little space
Other than this, the only annoyance you’re likely to encounter building exhibits is the sheer amount of space some animals need. It makes sense. Dinosaurs are big, and carnivores have a big territory they like to keep to themselves. That said, it’s a bit annoying when you’re trying to build up a big herd of herbivores with a carnivore thrown into the mix as well. It’s not good park management to do that, of course, but it is fun trying to build a little vignette into an ecosystem. Fences are expensive, and building a big enough exhibit to house a pair of carnivores (because you have to give them a friend, come on) and one sauropod really hits your wallet.
You may be wondering whether, when you mix these species, any problems occur. They don’t, yet. Herding and packing AI is on the roadmap, though, so perhaps this will introduce some more interactions. This would be amazing to see, although there’s not a great deal of information on what it might involve yet. There’s also an intriguing note about genetic mutations and breeding later in the roadmap that looks like it could be interesting.
The work goes on
That’s a glimpse of Prehistoric Planet at this stage in Early Access. It’s well worth picking up as it is. If you’re a builder, there’s probably unlimited fun you can get out of it making your parks look pretty. If you’re in it mostly for the animals, it’ll still be great for you, although you may find yourself sitting back and waiting for more updates after a couple of dozen hours. The roadmap looks promising, though, so it’s worth being along for the ride!