Zoo Tycoon, along with Rollercoaster Tycoon, was such a big part of my childhood and my introduction to gaming. As an animal lover, I could spend hours building habitats and making sure they were perfect, while also learning more about dozens of species. The announcement of Planet Zoo had me immediately excited; the console edition of Zoo Tycoon didn’t have the same charm for me, and my dreams of the perfect Zoo Tycoon game still seemed far away.
I’m happy to say that from what I’ve experienced of Planet Zoo so far from the beta, my dreams have become a reality! Beautiful animal animations, fully customisable habitats and lots of new features, it was as if Frontier had pulled my wishes right from my mind.
There were a few hiccups at the start of the beta with crashes, which I experienced when loading up the game. These were swiftly sorted with an update and I was soon on the menu screen full of excitement. Create an avatar, and you can see that there are two game modes for you to try out, with the sandbox mode being locked.
Career mode introduces you to an already up and running zoo, where you are greeted by Bernard Goodwin, who owns a number of zoos across the world. At Goodwin House in England, you are the new keeper, being taught the basics by another friendly keeper to help with renovations.
It really shows you just how much is achievable and what a fully formed zoo in the game can look like, while also acting as a great tutorial mode. It teaches you the most important things such as building habitats with the correct terrain and height for the specific animal, as well as keeping the animals happy with enrichment items.
This was the first game mode I played, so my first look at just how gorgeous the game is. The graphics particularly shine when you focus the camera on the animals, giving you a close-up view as they explore their habitat. They’ve absolutely nailed the animal behaviours and I could honestly spend ages just watching them! For example, you could see the injuries on a pair of wolves who had gotten into a fight. I’d like for there to be a proper camera mode though, despite how happy I am with the screenshots I can get so that there can be a section where your photos are saved.
Of course, though, having such top-level graphics means you need a decent PC or laptop to run this. This then cuts out a number of the audience who are more casual gamers, so it would be great to see it come to consoles one day to make it more accessible.
The more you progress through the Goodwin House scenario, the more stars you get. Gaining one-star unlocks the next scenario, though, for the beta, Goodwin House is the only one you can do. This is an excellent game mode to teach you about the running and upkeep of the zoo, with a little less pressure than making your own. I’m curious to see how the story expands across the scenarios!
Franchise mode allows you to open up your own zoo on a blank slate, and build more across the world. This mode requires you to be online and focuses on animal trading with other users. You can either buy their animals for in-game cash or conservation points which you earn through reintroducing animals into the wild.
A lot of complaints came about regarding the online aspect and having to rely on other players to secure animals. Admittedly, I did find it a little frustrating not being able to find the animal I wanted as it wasn’t on sale, as well as people putting high prices on them. Frontier almost immediately heard these complaints and announced a fourth game mode for the final game, essentially an offline franchise mode. I’ve been so impressed with how closely Frontier have been listening to the community!
Starting from scratch, you can use the skills learned in career mode to build habitats and paths, alongside facilities for guests like toilets and benches. However, there were a lot of things that you weren’t taught in career mode which weren’t raised in franchise mode either. For example, every animal needs both food and toy enrichments to increase their welfare, otherwise, protesters will come into your zoo and put off guests.
I knew where to find them in the habitat menu from career mode, but there were none there and I assumed I had to unlock them somehow. I figured out you had to get vets to research the animal to unlock them in stages, and that for small animals, you had to turn them on in a slot in their settings. I don’t expect to be spoon-fed, but there are things a little trickier to discover, so there could be more hints or tutorials.
There have been a few more glitches throughout the beta which are apparent in franchise mode, such as vets stopping their research and money dropping negatively for no reason. However, an update was issued to rectify these, and because of this great communication, Frontier will know the key mistakes to focus on before Planet Zoo’s release.
Overall though, franchise mode really makes you feel like you’re in control of your own company; trading and releasing animals into the wild, managing your finances and making sure everyone is happy! There’s even a construction section so you can create buildings from your imagination, whether that be a greenhouse or a picnic area.
The Perfect Zoo Tycoon Game!
I am extremely happy with how Planet Zoo has turned out and can’t wait for the full game’s release! One of my favourite franchises is at its peak, and despite the issues raised in the beta which need to be tweaked, it has gone beyond my expectations. I can already tell that the final polished product is going to be no less than perfect. It’s clear the team behind Planet Zoo have worked hard and want to make the players as satisfied as they can be, consistently providing updates. I’m so excited to see what more the game has to offer!
You can find out more about this game, and pre-order, at the Planet Zoo website, on the following link, https://www.planetzoogame.com/en-GB.