Hot on the heels of their well-received Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution, Frontier has yet again taken another dive into the simulation genre of games and this time, bringing its attention to the beautiful wildlife through a Zoo management experience.
If you had read our preview, then you might have picked up on the fact that I have been yearning for a good follow-up to the classic Zoo Tycoon series of games, with all its bells and whistles updated and polished for the modern age. After finally getting to play Planet Zoo, it definitely looks like my wish has indeed come true!
Planet Zoo in hindsight is not only an animal caring simulator, but in facts holds 3 different types of simulation that different players can enjoy. First of course, you have the animal caring aspect of it, where you have to learn about animals and their natural habitat in order to provide a comfortable environment for them. Secondly is the business aspect where you have to manage your Zoo’s income and ensure you plan the best steps to really grow your zoo without going into red on the books and thirdly, is the architectural side of it, where your imagination is the limit for the type of structures you can build with small modular pieces.
Whilst you do get three different aspects to focus on, the game doesn’t make everything an extreme priority, and what matters the most of course is the well-being of your animals. If your animals aren’t well looked after, why would anyone want to come to your Zoo? In fact, the game even penalises you for not taking well care of your animals by unleashing protestors near your park, driving your guests away.
Just like the classic Zoo Tycoon games, how big your holding area as well the decoration in it matters to the animals’ welfare, and just like the old Tycoon games you have a rich encyclopaedia at your disposal that you can use to learn about what the animals you will be adopting will respond well to. Of course, not only does this work as a light tutorial but it also serves as an educational feature teaching you real life information about the animals.
There are quite a few things you have to be careful of when building these habitats, such as making sure that your park guests can see the animals as much as possible. So, you do have to think about placing items like feeding troughs more strategically so that the animals can come into the spotlight more. However, as you know a lot of Zoos and their efforts can’t be funded by park tickets alone and donations play a huge part in supporting their ongoing effort, so you must ensure that viewers have access to the donation box close to their relevant exhibits as well. So, there is a lot to be mindful of here.
I was originally worried that we might not get a robust roster of animals, but thankfully Frontier did prove me wrong as we really do have a lot of different animals that you can work with and each animal has a unique need and requirements that you must be careful of. We have everything from the majestic elephants to the beautiful Peacocks, and the iconic Lions. Any animal you are thinking of, is probably already available.
The animals look just as stunning as you’d hope, and you can tell that a lot of care has been given to how they look, behave and interact with their surroundings. I won’t be surprised if the animations and behaviours have been carefully researched per animal, in order to get the details just right.
It also helps that Nvidia Ansel is supported for the game that allows you to see these details. For those of you who are not aware of what that is, it’s basically a really in-depth photo mode that a lot of PC games usually have, often offering a lot more control over the pictures compared to the traditional photo modes seen in most console games. It really fits with this game, as it gives you another gameplay element, that of role-playing a wildlife photographer where you carefully follow an animal to find the perfect moment to shoot!
The game features a connected animal adopting system that relies on an online economy built of a shared marketplace where players can adopt animals or put them up for trade. Whilst in hindsight it might seem like a genuinely cool idea, it isn’t one that I was a huge fan of as you easily have people offloading huge numbers of unwanted animals that were being born too quickly for them to handle, flushing the marketplace with easy to breed animals. The idea is definitely cool behind this connected ecosystem, it just feels like it needs more work.
However, the entire game isn’t limited to this as it’s only the franchise mode that requires an online connection. The Sandbox and Career modes can be played completely offline. In fact, if you are new to the game, Career mode is what you should begin with, as it brings you through bite-size objectives that teach you about the game’s main features.
The modular building is back as well from Planet Coaster, allowing you to use small pieces to create amazing buildings. The best part is that players can share their buildings via Steam’s workshop facility, allowing players to download a lot of different buildings and themed structures. At the time of writing this review, the workshop already has over 12k entries, with some really stellar ones already gaining a lot of traction, and more being uploaded regularly by the creative side of the game’s community.
The atmosphere of the game is fantastic as well, with quality ambiance noises and music really putting life into each gameplay session. JJ. Ipsen deserves recognition for his music that highlights a lot of different cultures, just as the animals do. It really does feel like you are taking control of something as lively and breathtaking as a wildlife zoo.
Honestly, there is so much to do in this game and take care of, with clever systems that you might not expect. For example, just as you’d imagine in real life, your zoo guests don’t like it when facility buildings are right in the middle of all the exhibitions, causing an eye sore. Its details like these that really make use of the modern technical capabilities as I had hoped for.
There are some things that do taint the overall package a bit however, such as the game’s clumsy path system which was an issue with Planet Coaster as well sadly. The game can also get difficult with how fast your animals reproduce, really keeping you on your feet a lot of the times. Whilst something like this would be representative of a real-life management experience, it does feel like it can deter the younger audience away, who fully deserve to play this game.
There is still some game breaking bugs as well, as my copy of the game still crashes randomly at the menu or refuses to load certain modes, requiring a restart of the game. I didn’t mind it much when the game first released as many games have teething problems these days, but the issue still persists at the time of the writing.
Still, despite all that, this is a fantastic zoo keeping experience to get lost in, one that brings the best of its predecessors in order to deliver a robust experience, catering to both the creative’s and the keepers, with a breadth of tools to allow for different play-styles.
I have said this before in the preview, but I will point this out again, that games like these are now needed more than ever, especially as the most beautiful creatures we share our earth with are facing trying times due to humanity’s aggressive growth. Games like these can truly teach us about what we will be missing and the challenges that are faced by these animals.