Planet Zoo Review
Title: Planet Zoo
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 5/11/2019
Price: £34.99 (Deluxe edition £42.99) – Rapid Reviews was very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
You may have seen that a short while ago, I gave my impressions on the Planet Zoo beta. I was incredibly impressed, which only heightened my excitement for the game’s release! Despite some minor issues, my experience was so positive, and I’m so grateful that my beta code got converted into a deluxe edition of the game.
The zoo is in your hands
If you somehow haven’t heard of Zoo Tycoon before, the makers of the beloved childhood game have created Planet Zoo. The overall concept still applies; you must ensure that the zoo is fully functioning, building the best zoo that you can so both animals and guests are happy.
After having only the franchise mode and the first scenario of the career mode available on the beta, you now have full access to four different game modes.
Career mode features different scenarios, many of them containing an already up and running zoo. The first couple that you play are tutorials, which are crucial to understanding the game before you venture into the other game modes. I mentioned in my beta impressions that I felt there needed to be some more guidance, as there was only one tutorial on offer. However, in the full game, there are multiple, which tell you pretty much everything you need to know.
The story focuses on Bernard Goodwin, who runs a franchise of zoos across the world. You start off at Goodwin House in England, where a bubbly Welsh zookeeper teaches you the basics, like building habitats. The tutorials then get more advanced, helping you learn about assigning work zones to staff, water treatment, and habitat temperatures.
It is essential to learn these before you go onto the other modes, so you have the best chance of knowing all the tasks that come with running a zoo. In the beta, I had no idea about water treatment or having to research animals to unlock their enrichments. However, these tutorials teach you all of this, going through various goals in different sets; bronze, silver and gold. Getting bronze will unlock another scenario, where you’ll often have to build a Goodwin franchise zoo from scratch.
I’ve always been a story-driven gamer, so although this isn’t a fully-fledged campaign, I liked having that purpose of running the zoos. The dialogue of both Bernard and Nancy, the zookeeper, are humourous and friendly, if not littered with some terrible puns!
Now you’ve learned the basics from career mode, you can venture into the other modes, one of which is franchise mode. Similar to Bernard Goodwin, you can create a line of zoos all around the world. Opening a zoo requires conservation points, the alternate currency besides dollars, which you gain from releasing animals into the wild. Luckily, you get given some when you first start making your franchise.
Using your new skills, you must build your zoos from scratch and keep them running smoothly. I would recommend taking your time in building the zoo, as to not blow all your money and slip into debt! Though there are many controls and things to think about, there is lots of help available to recap on everything you need to know.
This is an online game mode, so there is a bit of a twist from the other offline modes. Usually, you buy your animals off a virtual market for either dollars or conservation points. However, in franchise mode, the animal market is filled with species being sold by other real-life players. Random players can also enter your zoo, and waving to them earns you some conservation points.
There are some pros and cons to it being online; on the one hand, it’s fun knowing that you’re interacting alongside other people. There are challenges set by Frontier which you all have to work together to get rewards, such as releasing a number of tigers into the wild. Unfortunately, I found that people were then selling these challenge animals for extortionate points. The challenge at the moment is to release gorillas, but after just starting the game and looking for some to buy, just one cost way more than I owned.
There is also the fact that if it’s down for maintenance, which has happened in both the beta and now in the game’s release, you can’t play it. When this concern was raised in the beta, Frontier announced a fourth game mode called challenge mode.
This is basically the same as franchise mode, but offline, giving you this extra option if the franchise is down. I’m surprised that this wasn’t included in the game from the get-go, as it’s just like the version you can play on the old Zoo Tycoon games. It’s up to you to run your zoos with limited money, working around managing your finances while also keeping guest and animal happiness high.
I love the challenge of having a certain amount of funds and being careful in prioritizing what you need to spend it on. I’d recommend ensuring the animals are happy first, with the right terrain and enrichments in their habitat. Their happiness will reflect the guest happiness, as guests will notice if an animal is bored or neglected. Then, have the guest basics like toilets and beverages before you think about building extravagant picnic areas!
And now my absolute favourite game mode, which wasn’t available in the beta, sandbox mode! The world is your oyster as you have unlimited money, all animals and their enrichments unlocked, and every type of building option. At the moment, I’m working on going through every single species alphabetically to build the ultimate zoo!
I made the mistake of playing this after only doing one tutorial, so I wasn’t equipped with the skills of working alone. My water in the habitats became diseased and my aardvarks became unwell before I figured out I needed water treatment. I was hitting myself when I saw that you learn this in the other tutorial!
This is also where I learned a bit more about animal behaviour…in the form of one elephant killing the other because it was stressed, and my elephants smashing through their glass barriers. This adds another layer of things to manage, and though it may seem overwhelming, I like having this realistic aspect. I want to immerse myself in the role of a zookeeper, and Planet Zoo gives you just that.
The beauty of nature
Planet Zoo’s visuals can not be faulted; from the sunrise hitting the water and casting yellow light on your animals, to the patch of fur on a bear’s leg, everything looks fantastic. I’m not using a PC with the best graphics card, and I’m still very happy with how it looks. I mentioned in my beta impressions that I wish for the game to come to consoles, so more casual players without a good PC can play it. Well, with the announcement of Planet Coaster coming to console next year, I am hopeful that Planet Zoo will follow, possibly for next-gen!
The animals have been animated amazingly, and it’s clear a lot of research has gone into replicating their behaviour. It’s incredible seeing the wolves fighting for alpha status, and the monkeys climbing up the wooden structures you build for them. It has come a long way since the pixellated lions galloping awkwardly across their habitat in Zoo Tycoon!
It’s great hearing the sounds of the animals as you survey the zoo, the wolves howling from one end and the elephants trumpeting from the other. Add an upbeat soundtrack with a variety of instruments and vocalizations, and you are fully immersed in your role as a zookeeper. With the deluxe version, you receive a copy of the original soundtrack, along with a wallpaper and three exclusive animals.
The ultimate zoo simulator
The possibilities are endless, and you can spend countless hours on the game which fly by like they’re nothing. There’s so much customisation that you can build some incredible habitats and zoos, as shown in the career mode. It may seem like continuously building zoos will get stale, but with four different game modes and regular challenges, it just isn’t the case. Not to mention, there are many Steam achievements for you to unlock.
Frontier has also been great at communicating with their audience, letting us know when updates are available and what they’re for, as well as when franchise mode is down for maintenance. They’ve really created something special here, and I couldn’t be happier with how Planet Zoo has turned out!