I have sunk countless hours in Tycoon games, much more than I care to admit. So when Frontier made the announcement of Planet Zoo, I was thrilled to be able to get another chance at reliving my childhood days.
AT A GLANCE
Title: Planet Zoo
Genre: Simulation, Strategy
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Release Date: 5 Nov 2019
For the uninitiated, Planet Zoo is a Zoo management game where you run your own Zoo, and manage every detail of it. It is developed by the capable people at Frontier, who are known for their management games – Planet Coaster, and Jurassic Park Evolution.
After you create your avatar, Planet Zoo offers you a number of choices in the main menu. You can head straight into sandbox mode and create the Zoo of your dreams, start your own franchise or go for a more objective-based mode – the career mode.
I highly recommend beginners start in Career mode as it offers a structured tutorial and essential in its first scenarios, which explains how to operate your zoo. Completing your objectives rewards you with stars and unlocks additional scenarios.
Career mode also gives you a pre-built zoo, so newcomers can get an idea of how they want the zoo to be laid out and get a feel of the overall systems. And it’s vitally important that you understand how everything works because Planet Zoo can get quite hectic.
Building a successful zoo is about making sure everyone is happy, active and well cared for. Animals must be kept in the climate and the appropriate conditions to control their well-being, which is not a trivial matter.
Thankfully, Planet Zoo comes with some of the most useful quality of life features that sets a new standard in management games. The UI itself, while sometimes it can seem daunting and more like a zoo management software than a game UI is very user-friendly and comes with a ton of filters to help you out.
Zoopedia, the in-game encyclopedia that contains useful statistics and facts about animals, and provides you with all the basic information you need before setting up a pen. This is a very nice way to educate players and it’s one of the best in-game guides I’ve seen in management games.
But a Park doesn’t run for free and to make sure you have money to put food in the feeder, you have to hire the right manpower and build the right facilities to keep your visitors happy. Your staff needs special buildings to take care of the animals, your guests will need shops and places to eat.
When you start expanding your zoo’s facilities, you start with a small selection of stores and staff quarters to unlock more by having your staff search for them. The more research you do, the more high-quality buildings you have.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
It wouldn’t be Planet Zoo without the animals in it, and Frontier brought their A-game when designing the animals. These animals are more than just simple models, they are by far some of the most complex and interesting in-game fauna I have ever seen. They have unique characteristics and social behaviors and are almost lifelike. I found myself spending hours looking at my animals interacting with each other and the environment.
Just like the people who visit your park, your animals have multiple needs. You have to make sure their terrain is right, they have enough territory, have a place to rest and have enough stuff to play with.
You can adopt new animals by buying them from the Animal or Exhibition trading market, by using cold hard-earned cash or conservation points. Conservation points are earned by completing various challenges and other objectives but the primary source of getting points is by releasing animals into the wild.
However, if you mistreat your animals, expect to be visited by some angry protesters that can lower your park’s overall rating.
Although it is really cool to have to meet certain conditions and have an overall structure for your playthrough, you can go completely crazy and make your imagination run wild(pun intended). The sandbox mode is perfect for this. Without worrying about money or special quests, you can go wild and build a park that’s only limited by your imagination.
Franchise mode adds an online element to the game, allowing you to build a series of connected zoos all around the world and buying and selling animals that you raise to other players. Your avatar can also visit other zoos and vice versa.
The endless possibilities to design the park of your dreams can seem very overwhelming, with the amount options available in Planet Zoo. But this is the kind of problem I want from my sim games.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAUTIFUL BEASTS
The animals are the absolute stars of Planet Zoo. They are all superbly rendered and look wonderfully detailed. Watching your animals wander and interact with each other is the greatest joy you can find in Planet Zoo. And this is accomplished thanks to the superb models created by the developers.
And even though the guests and your own avatar are a bit cartoonish, the animals are gorgeously detailed and realistic.
Despite the near-flawless visual design, I did notice the occasional clipping. But it is a minor blemish on an otherwise great game.
Last but not least, the soundtrack that was chosen by the team and the overall sound design, from the guests’ exciting chatter to the animals calling each other nails the atmosphere and creates a fun, energetic and lively vibe to the game.
THE KING OF THE JUNGLE
Very few games manage to get everything right on the first try, and Planet Zoo has clawed its way into this list. With some of the user-friendly UI, an incredible amount of choice, most in-depth in-game guide and jaw-dropping visuals Planet Zoo is the best sim game to come out in the last decade and one of the best in the genre.