Frontier Developments is back with their brand new simulation and management title, Planet Zoo. Ditching hyper coasters and log flumes for a vast range of animals, players will get to craft habitats for over 70 animal species; including everything from Elephants to Lemurs, and even varieties of spiders and snakes feature. Zoos are ready to be built across the world, in all weathers. However, is this the same brilliant modernisation of an older tycoon game as seen with Planet Coaster? Let’s find out!
In many games the tutorial is something gamers want to skip. However, it is the only place that players should start when booting up Planet Zoo. While a little daunting depth it is possible to pick things up while playing. Nevertheless the three tutorial levels are designed superbly to provide players with all the methods and information available. They step through the likes of power heatmaps through to setting up work zones, which makes zoo management a lot easier. While a lot of learnings from Planet Coaster can be brought across, there are plenty of new features that are covered that make zoo management and habitat creation a smoother process.
Planet Zoo offers four modes for gamers to get stuck into, each being a tailored experience. The tutorial leads nicely into the career mode, where players players will take control of zoos around the world. Each has its own quirks, problems and objectives – often derived from the types of animals players would expect to find, or not find, there. As with the tutorial the developers have put plenty of effort into the different zoos, making players creative juices flow.
Presenting somewhat of a different, slightly more open approach to a challenge is Franchise mode. This sees players forming a franchise of zoos across the world – coming with the perks one would expect. For example, as you own multiple zoos you can send animals from one to another. This is handled almost like adopting animals and is sorted swiftly from a couple of sub menus. Franchise mode also allows players to tackle community goals, as well as other online based features such as animal trading. Fear not those whom want an offline experience, Challenge mode is there for you to get personal goals to complete without the need for any online connection. These are seemingly where most long term play will occur when the career levels have been completed.
For those that want unlimited freedom then Sandbox mode is there. Incredible, mind-blowing creations can crafted in this mode – for myself and many others to benefit from via the workshop. Blueprints are back and there has been significant improvements. The major change is that they can include the terrain with the blueprint – key for not only making things look top notch but often making sure there aren’t gaps for animals to escape through. If you are anything like me, struggling to make things look awesome, there is a whole host of insane buildings and habitats to grab from the workshop already!
One thing that I hope Frontier Developments addresses is the speed of time in Planet Zoo, it seems to be just too quick. Get sucked into building something or altering what a worker does and you can have missed quite a bit as time passes a tad fast. There wasn’t the same issue in Planet Coaster. Rollercoasters didn’t get hungry, have breeding cycle or a limited lifespan. If it were just for building pausing and unpausing wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience. Alas, it is somewhat needed for a variety of things such as fixing work patterns, which must be done else things can turn bad quickly. This is a game you’ll want time to sit back and enjoy, there is however always a time pressure angle.
Planet Zoo is an undeniably beautiful game. From the fluffy looking fur on the pandas, to the slightly oiled and cracked appearance of Hippo skin everything looks like it should. On top of being able to customise so many aspects, taking hours to craft the outside of a single building, the included blueprints allow stunning zoos to be built. Then, just as you think the experience cannot get any better the weather starts up. The animals and zoo customers react to this making it a believable game world and the snow even settles on the floor. There are some clipping issues, and occasionally the bunching of people looks odd, yet these are small blemishes on a stunning title.
The team has clearly taken a step back and determined not just about ways of showing off the animals in a zoo but what a modern zoo truly does and means. Research isn’t for new attractions, instead it is to learn more about the animals to unlock enrichment items; or it could be to stop diseases. Informing your guests is as much a part of the zoos role as showing off the jaw dropping animals. The one feature that really shows this way of thinking is the ability to release an animal to the wild. At no point in a strictly business focused zoo would the player want to release one of their customer driving animals. For the sake of money it makes little sense. Yet, Planet Zoo not only makes it an option to players it becomes an attractive one.
The sense of pride over parks in Planet Coaster certainly reached great heights, though there was never attachment past something you’d custom built being epic. The animals are so realistic, from their appearance and sublime animations, they are believable. This results in players being able to see them actually improve in happiness when improvements are made. This forms an attachment like you’d have with a pet, making you not only want to improve their wellbeing but also slightly panicked when a vet needs to be called in.
Much how Planet Coaster launched with negligible flat ride options, something which was fixed over time, Planet Zoo is sorely missing penguins (and more). On top of one of the best animals, there are two themes to animals which aren’t included – nothing mostly water or air based is included. This means animals seen in aquarium or sea worlds don’t feature and neither do birds of prey. Frontier Developments clearly has had to draw a line somewhere, with a huge range included. Additional types of animals of these kinds would also require brand new environments and management systems. Nevertheless, it is a shame not to see the likes of hawks, eagles, dolphins, sharks and, again, penguins.
Planet Zoo Verdict
There is a sense of hidden depth to Planet Zoo. Every system in the game feels interlinked, be it the weather that impacts how people move around the park or the countless attributes that impact an animals happiness. It is more than possible to just play and enjoy, though there are many layers available to be dived into to perfect every aspect. After a slightly disappointing Jurassic Park themed title Frontier Developments has smashed it out of the park (zoo) with Planet Zoo. There are endless hours of entertainment there and, with some favourite animals missing, I’m sure more will be introduced by downloadable content. Now, I think I’ve left my zoo alone for long enough, back to tending to the animals!
(Editor’s Note: Planet Zoo was provided to us by Frontier Developments for the review.)