Dinosaur Fossil Hunter Is Making Me Reconsider My Career Choices

In the tycoon game Jurassic World Evolution 2 (now on Game Pass), you can hire paleontologists and send them to dig up fossils while you grow and manage your park. As much as I enjoy building gold-plated walkways for entitled tourists and micromanaging the cost of slurpees, I often find my mind wandering back to those paleontologists. What’s it like traveling around the world on adventures to find the fossils and bones that make Jurassic Park possible? Like a tulpa from my imagination, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter arrived this month to answer that question. I’m not the world’s biggest job simulator fan, but Dinosaur Fossil Hunter has me questioning all my life decisions. You know a game is good when it’s got you Googling “How many years of school does it take to become a paleontologist?” The answer is “way too many,” so I’ll have to stick to Dinosaur Fossil Hunter for now.

Like the best job sims, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is everything you could want, and way more than you could have ever expected. The actual work of digging up fossils – as complex and laborious a task as that is – is only a small fraction of a paleontologist’s work. The intro takes you near a remote dig site where you can scout with a drone then drive to it, a complicated and dangerous task that occasionally involves creating your own routes with a chainsaw. You then have to walk the site with an instrument that can detect buried objects, dig them up, and carefully dismantle and clean them until you find the fossils you’re looking for. After that you’ll need to cover the fossils in plaster, pack them up in a crate, pack the crates in your car, and carefully drive back – but that’s not even close to where the job ends.

Hunting dinosaur fossils is also about organizing, persevering, and eventually displaying your findings. Fossil preparation is a lengthy process with a lot of steps. You have to remove the plaster, extract the bones from the rocks, clean off the sediment, wash them, treat them with chemicals, and finally assemble them together. It’s a tedious job that involves slowly manipulating lots of tiny parts. That may sounds torturous, and most of the process can be automated if it becomes too mind-numbing, but I found it to be meditative, particularly when dealing with lots of the same bone like the vertebrae of a spine.

Rather than put you in the shoes of a generic paleontologist, Dinosaur Fossil Hunter follows a recent graduate just starting his career. You learn about his blue collar upbringing and how he turned his childhood passion to find fossils into an internship at a museum. It isn’t an especially deep storyline, but it adds just a touch of emotional weight to help connect each scene and pull you through the plot.

Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is in early access and it’s still rough around the edges. It only has one song – a stirring symphony that inspires awe and curiosity at first, but turns into the Song That Never Ends after the third time it loops. Most interactions don’t amount to much more than rotating an object and clicking on the right spot, and it would be nice to see some evolutions in the mechanics and it moves through early access. The promise of Dinosaur Fossil Hunter is more impressive than the experience for now, but it’s worth a few hours of your time if you’ve ever dreamed of donning a safari hat and setting out to discover the buried history of the world. And if you just like to hit things with a rock hammer, it’s good for that too.

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