After my first hour spent playing Squadron Interactive’s Mesozoica, I was just about ready to call it the perfect Jurassic Park game. You might remember the scene from Jurassic Park where Martin Ferrero‘s character – lawyer Donald Gennaro – is plucked from a toilet by a hungry T-Rex and devoured whole. Not once, in the whole of my gaming career, have I encountered a title that so perfectly understands the pure cinematic essence of that scene as well as Mesozoica.
See, for me, gaming is a place of solitude. A place of relaxation and contemplation. Much like the toilet. As I attempted to immerse myself in the role of a dinosaur park manager, Mesozoica tore me from this hallowed porcelain throne of rest, and proceeded to devour every inch of patience and happiness from my body with its frustrating interface, unresponsive controls, and baffling lack of tutorial.
As time went on however, I realized that I’d misjudged Mesozoica. It wasn’t at all like getting eaten by a huge dinosaur while sitting on the toilet. Because getting eaten by a huge dinosaur while sitting on the toilet would at least provide an engaging distraction.
Mesozoica is currently in early access. This is fine. I can accept that it’s an unfinished project.
Counterpoint: Mesozoica is currently twenty five shiny British pounds.
I view the situation like this; On one side of the fence, there’s you, with your money in hand, eager to trade it for something fun. On the other side of the fence, there’s Mesozoica, looking all sexy with its realistically rendered dinos and promises of “A full featured dinosaur theme park tycoon simulator in which you focus on the construction and management of your dinosaur wonderland.” The fence, by the way, is built from the extensive list of promises listed on Mesozoica‘s Steam Page. Also, Mesozoica is a giant dinosaur that’s invisible for some reason. I AM GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS METAPHOR PLEASE BE PATIENT. Basically, this long list of enticing features is all that stands between your money and Mesozoica. So I feel the fair thing to do is to look at some of the promises on the list, and decide whether Mesozoica delivers. Can you imagine anything fairer than that? I certainly can’t, and I am an arbiter of all that is good and just in this world. Let’s begin:
“Mesozoica- A full featured dinosaur theme park tycoon simulator in which you focus on the construction and management of your dinosaur wonderland. From choosing your starting company to your prime attraction, everything lies in your hands.”
I’m not sure what dinosaur theme parks the developers have been visiting, because, you know, there aren’t any (yet). As such, it’s difficult to fairly assess whether the ‘full featured’ claim holds any velociraptor piss whatsoever. There are a few theme park tycoon simulators, however, so I suppose it would be fair to ask how Mesozoica holds up against them. Here’s some basic questions, then.
Can you build things?
Sometimes, yes. Sometimes things decide they don’t want to be built, those cheeky rebels.
Can you attract visitors?
So: You can build some things, and people will come to visit those things. In the broadest possible definition of the term then, Mesozoica is a park simulator.
Does the amount of visitors, the frequency of visits, or the money they are willing to spend vary based on the quality of your park, thereby simulating some sort of basic challenge, problem, or puzzle that responds to your actions? (also known in some circles as a ‘game’);
No. The answer is no. Ok, fine. Whatever. It’s about dinosaurs, anyway, right? Who cares about this economy stuff, I just want to witness the majestic scaly beasts in all their glory. Next question.
Do the dinosaurs in your park have some sort of basic hierarchy of needs? A basic set of wants, likes and dislikes that affect the way they act, and provide some sort overall structure to play. Do they have individual personalities? Is there anything at all that makes them actually feel like living, breathing dinosaurs aside from the fact that they look a bit like them?
Ok, look, whatever. Not every game has to pit the player against a set of challenging systems, some games are about facilitating creativity. Mesozoica lets you build stuff, right? So maybe you can just build a nice park and marvel at its beauty. That’ll be fun, won’t it? Won’t it be fun?
I have to give credit where credit is due. It was a deeply inspired move on the part of the designers to so accurately recreate the untameable ferocity of the natural world by only having the controls respond to input when they absolutely feel like it. In a brilliantly subversive commentary on the hubris of mankind – who so arrogantly feels he can spread civilization in whatever primordial forest or inhospitable desert he chooses – Mesozoica‘s menus laugh at any attempt to manipulate them.
Feel like placing a building? Tremble, mammal, for you have no power here. Need a piss and want to save your game? Prepare to have your illusions of human dominance shattered. How conceited of you, to attempt to play with nature’s greatest predators. Mesozoica is wild, and laughs at your attempts to tame it, or project your arrogant notions of ‘enjoyment’ onto its primeval spirit.
I realize I’m being entirely negative here, so I’m going to focus on some things about Mesozoica that I quite enjoyed. The process of collecting dinosaurs through a globe-like menu screen is good fun. You leave the main park (a cause for celebration in itself), and use a world map to select different locations to either excavate dinos or purchase their DNA. There’s a bit of a risk/reward system build into the excavation; you can try for rarer creatures, but the chance of getting nothing for your money is higher.
When you do get a dino, there’s a cool prehistoric loot box animation, and then you can go back to your park (boo), and build your new scaly friend in your hatchery. It’s a nice distraction and the element of mystery is fun.
What else? The music. The music is very, very good. There’s not that much of it in the actual park, but on the globe screen, it’s constant and pretty excellent.
The scope of customisation Mesozoica allows when placing items in your park is also impressive, and it would have to be really, because Mesozoica is a basically Jurrasic Park themed asset box. You can change colors, direction, sizes and shapes on a variety of axis, so you are given a lot of room to make your park look the way you want. Again, the controls feel like they were designed by an actual prehistoric man, but I guess that adds to the realism.
By this point, you’re probably asking the same question I was, which is “Can my dinosaurs eat people?” – which, really, is the only question worth asking. It’s not like I’m getting any entertainment value out of this thing any other way, I thought, so time for a bloodbath. First, I deleted the walls on my T-Rex enclosure, which made my visitors panic like headless chickens. Fearing they would escape before my dinos had time for lunch, I then built a second enclosure to trap a good chunk of visitors inside my park. Turns out, this was unnecessary for two reasons.
1. Even though they were running around in a blind panic, they seemed unable to actually leave.
2. They can walk through fences anyway. Truly, man is the most mysterious beast of all.
Ok, great, I thought. Let’s go, team T-Rex. Nothing happened. Next, I used Mesozoica‘s control function to walk a T-Rex straight into a crowd of humans, cancelled control, and waited. Still nothing. Try as I might, my dinos had no interest in delicious human flesh. Ok, last question – Can dinosaurs fight each other? Yes. If by fight, you mean my T-Rex followed a large herbivore around occasionally taking small delicate bites from his arse. So yeah, solid fifteen seconds of entertainment there.
Should you buy it?
I’d like to finish this by providing some sort of balanced, nuanced argument, but the truth is, it actually genuinely offends me that someone can charge this much for a piece of software in this state. If there was a level of transparency involved in the advertising, and the developer made it absolutely clear that Mesozoica, as it stands,barely qualifies as a functioning proof of concept, that would be fine. If you’re absolutely set on supporting the developers to see this project come to fruition, then maybe you won’t mind spending your hard earned dollarydoos on it. As it stands, I’d say at least invent the wheel before you go charging money for it.