Hands-on: The Jurassic World Alive ARG shows promise, but not for MMO fans
Ludia’s Jurassic World Alive isn’t being marketed as an MMO, but it is an augmented reality game that involves roaming in the real world for virtual dinosaurs so you can battle them against other players. Online. But not near you.
It’s not exactly perfect, kind of like the series, in several ways. It’s not as promising as Maguss seemed in some ways, and suffers from similar design issues, but it also does things differently from Pokemon Go that, with some tweaks, could potentially attract a playerbase, even among our readers.
Just maybe not right now. Let me explain.
It’s out of the park, literally
One thing that I think helps set the mood is that this is a Jurassic World game, not Jurassic Park. While Crichton does start out with some really cool science stuff that personally got me interested in reading Science News over fantasy novels, he took huge liberties in the name of storytelling, and it feels like it’s been snowballing out of control more with each sequel. For those who didn’t see it, Jurassic World has all the makings of a cult favorite, but one of those “so bad some people with poor taste would call it good” (no offense intended to any readers who enjoyed it).
I say this knowing full well I could be suckered into seeing the latest movie, which is probably why JWA was made. It’s both a blessing and a curse. I’m sure many people would be much harder on the game if a Jurassic Park game let anyone clone dinosaurs and fight them Pokemon-style, but Jurassic World feels like it’s a universe where the cat’s already out of the bag.
That being said, JWA still disrespects its source material’s lore. Owen Grady may be insufferable, but he seems to somewhat care about his raptors. He sends Blue and the rest of the pack (RIP) against another dinosaur only when it poses a threat. Having him teaching the player the fine art of blood sport for ladder match arenas goes against his nature.
All this is to say that Jurassic World Alive is, well, a bad franchise game. Detached from its source material, it may have fared better.
Not everything is doom and gloom. I played the game for several hours with a beta tester the day of release. While not a hardcore veteran, my buddy knew quite a few things and could tell me a bit about development. For example, basic gameplay involves finding dinos, sending out a drone to shoot DNA collecting darts into them so you can clone your own dinos, somehow use that DNA to level them up, and maybe even create hybrids (it’s World, not Park, remember!).
The drone part is interesting, in that the farther away you are from the target, the lower your battery is. That means less time collecting DNA, so maybe it’s best to walk closer to your target. Lazy? Cliff in the way? Staring at a military-only zone? Use the drone! It’s a nice compromise, and paying a subscription fee each month grants an extended battery and range (among other things).
There are actually enough interesting design innovations like this that I could probably do a whole article on them, but I’ll spare you the gory details and focus on some of the highlights. For example, that dart shooting is a kind of sensitive task. It’s hard enough to do while walking and requires a good amount of attention, as the dino walks around and you have to steer your drone to shoot only specific areas lest you waste a dart (think Pokeballs, and yes, you have to “spin” something to get more).
While this does discourage exercise, it also helps ensure people aren’t driving and playing. In fact, while checking out my local Pokemon Go hunting spots, I noticed a lot of the supply drops (think PokeStops) were more centered in their actual location. For example, I know I can swing into the pickup area at the mall to reach a certain PokeStop in my neighborhood. However, when I opened my Jurassic World Alive game, I was a few critical feet off. I checked several more locations: stores, parks, local monuments. They were all the same.
It could be that the permissible circles are smaller, but in looking at the physical maps, I found the locations do seem to be more centered in the buildings. Unlike POGO, JWA seems to pull supply drops from Google for everything, rather than asking for fan-submitted data. This ensures that even generally rural areas have more space to get dinos and items. As there isn’t territory to fight over and not all spawns seem to be available for all players (my beta tester would see dinos I didn’t, though we were the same level), getting in and out of a location is easy. That means even if your lawn is marked as a target (as an area down the street in my neighborhood is), players can simply walk by rather than need to stand there.
Even better, as the spawns for dinos are drastically reduced compared to POGO (I’d wager there’s maybe one dino for every 10 pokemon in the same location), I feel much more invested in my minions. Leveling them up, as well as myself, is harder but more satisfying. There’s certainly a tier list, but even many “worthless” dinos need to be leveled to create some of the more powerful hybrids. Lorewise, it doesn’t make sense, but mechanically, it feels more solid than throwing animals away for candy.
For a game that does feel like it’s made to tie in with a movie, it seems as if there was some ethical thought behind certain decisions, or at least care to not open the developers to potential lawsuits. Duels don’t make lore sense, but as in Maguss, they make good use of turn-based battle, though I dislike the game choosing which of my four dinos on my team of the eight I’ll use in a ranked match. Still, there’s also a fun factor to be had from the hunt that POGO, with its endless sea of monsters in cities and vast nothingness of rural locations, lacks.
Again, these are design choices that attracted my JWA tour guide to the game, but we both noticed some major issues with monetization strategies.
Patented and packaged with plastic stickers: Selling the Jurassic brand name
My veteran plays a lot of mobile games, particularly from Asia. They aren’t really into Pokemon Go but said they don’t hate JPW and would be fine playing it for a bit longer. There were some concerns though. On its own, a subscription that gives you an extended range and longer opportunities to farm dinosaurs isn’t bad, especially for $10 a month. You also get more bonuses from supply drops, including the game currency (coins) and premium currency (dollars).
You also get an epic level lootbox, which generally costs a lot of the premium currency. Yes, there are lootboxes, and yes, this game is pay-to-win. Spending money gives you more catching tools and the boxes also give you DNA for powerful dinos that are supposed to be rare in the wild. It could be expensive, but dumping a lot of cash into the game could let you bypass a lot of that content.
— Jurassic World Alive (@JWorldAlive) May 30, 2018
But oh, it gets worse. Rewards from arenas aren’t instantaneous. You have to wait hours to open them, and without using premium currency, you can open only one at a time while carrying a maximum of four containers. While you can play the arenas as much as you want, you won’t be getting your main prize from them while you’re at max capacity.
Again, the subscription alone would be fine. My JWA buddy has subscribed to FFXIV, Crunchyroll, various Asian mobile titles, and other services. They’ve also paid for lootboxes/gatcha. Both at the same time, however, is a bit much. However, the greater sin is in-game advertisements. Much as I complained about in Maguss, in-game ads ruin immersion.
However, JWA’s ad annoyances don’t end there. Sometimes when you spin a supply drop, you can get a second spin by watching an ad. Most of the ads are 30 seconds or longer. You can’t skip them, tab out of them, or turn off your screen while they run. You’re captive, and that’s assuming it’s not an interactive one that you have to “play” before it goes away.
That’s already oppressive. However, the game also was launching the Google Play store on Android for each app it showed. My JWA vet gave me an idea on how to skip this (I downloaded another app store, so JWA asks me which option to use and I simply cancel), but other players will have to deal with the store constantly needing to be closed.
As if that wasn’t enough marketing and monetization, the game also asks you to earn its premium currency by filling in questionnaires from other companies that ask for your personal information, download other apps, get certain achievements in other apps, or even purchase other services.
The final nail in the coffin? One of my “leveling rewards” was a “one time offer” to spend cash on the game. Literally a one time offer, since as soon as I closed the window so I could actually play the game, I didn’t have a chance to reconsider getting it.
On its own, Jurassic World Alive‘s gameplay isn’t that bad if you ignore the IP, lore, and some general common sense. I admit I had fun and have played the game a little bit while writing this article. Some of the (real) dinosaurs Ludia picked aren’t exactly mainstream, and that actually engages me on a deeper level than most games do. The AR (if your phone can handle it) seems neat, but my phone couldn’t run it. The battle system feels reasonably balanced for launch, even if I think maybe half my opponents at the start were bots instead of humans.
But the cash grab is disrespectful. The game needs money, but combining ads, a subscription, premium currency, paid timers, and ads is too much. In the long run, I’m fleeing from this. It’s monetization run amok, just in time to remind you to see a movie that I can’t imagine will be better than the last one, which didn’t live up to the first in the series. At the moment, play it at your own discretion.