The long-awaited Planet Zoo has finally been released, and Frontier has brought a fully formed and complex title to players looking for a zoo simulation game. It takes the flexible and option-filled Planet Coaster engine and combines it with building, management, and a vast amount of information. The final product is a game that will engage, excite, and entertain, while also teaching you a lot about animals, conservation and social responsibility. Planet Zoo is the closest you'll ever get to running a zoo without needing sturdy boots and a shovel.
When you begin to explore Planet Zoo, it can seem incredibly overwhelming, especially if you haven't played Planet Coaster. The very first thing you need to do is to play through the initial three scenarios in career mode. These act as a tutorial and the helpful guides will aid you in completing the tasks. While it will still feel like a lot to take in, it's worth persisting as all the basics are covered here.
You can move on after you hit bronze on each level, but for the best experience, you need to hit gold on all three scenarios. This will give you a more comprehensive overview of the buildings you need, how to keep animals happy, and how to adjust each habitat. It even explores more in-depth concepts such as conservation, finance, and staff management.
After that, you can explore the different modes, depending on your playstyle. Career mode offers a total of twelve challenges with very specific objectives to meet. For those who want a more free-form experience, challenge mode will allow you to start from nothing and build a zoo in an offline experience, while franchise mode focuses on building a series of zoos. You can also play using sandbox mode, which offers unlimited resources.
Zoo Tycoon Meets Planet Coaster
For many simulation and management game fans with a love for animals, Zoo Tycoon was one of the earliest we played, and you can see plenty of nostalgic echoes of it in Planet Zoo. Since Frontier was involved in the collaborative development process of the Zoo Tycoon franchise, this isn't surprising. What is surprising is just how much further they've taken the concept.
You can see that the aim was to produce an in-depth and option-filled zoo simulation game, more complex than anything we've seen before, and they've very much succeeded. Using the Planet Coaster interface has unlocked a huge range of options for the game. No more square fences and straight paths, the build tools will allow you to bend and shape both fences and paths in a variety of ways. The terrain tool is also incredibly flexible, making it easy to create shelters out of the earth in the exhibits and add small hills and lakes.
Building The Perfect Zoo
Building the perfect zoo won't be easy, but it is incredibly rewarding. Players will need to construct a variety of buildings and hire a solid staff team to help keep their zoo running. They'll also need to build more in-depth and complex exhibits than ever before to ensure all the animals are well cared for.
The game has a subtle, but large focus on education, conservation, and animal welfare. Each animal you adopt will come with detailed information about everything you could ever need or want to know. This includes the size and makeup of the exhibit, different terrain types, and preferred foliage. It also includes details about the animal itself; where they come from, if they are endangered, and even what they eat, as well as details of other animals they can happily co-exist with.
The focus on management is heavy in this game and you'll need to keep an eye on your staff and animals in order to keep the zoo running well. If you don't, things like illness or even starvation will creep in and spread, causing havoc.
Attention To Detail
Another aspect of this that makes the game so engaging is the attention to detail. Every aspect of the game is well-constructed and well-researched. Expect to see the difference between long grass and short grass, experience a variety of realistic seasons tailored to the area you set up your zoo in, and many more minor touches that add a uniqueness to the game, including animal interactions.
Everything is so complex that I've been playing for days and only just felt confident enough to write this review. While I feel like I have a grip on the basics, I am still constantly discovering more things I can adjust and change. Even with a solid knowledge of Planet Coaster, which is a huge advantage when it comes to building especially, I was still overwhelmed by it all at times. Planet Zoo is definitely a title that will keep on giving.
The Bigger Picture
The gameplay offers a challenging and engaging experience. Every time I build an exhibit, I want to do better. Chasing those perfect scores and keeping the beautiful animals happy became my main goal.
It's so difficult not to get immersed in this world when everything about the animals is so realistic. They move and look like they should, and the amount of facts about them that you can learn helps bond you to them. You'll want to make sure they have the best life possible, even starting to release some into the wild in order to aid conservation efforts.
Frontier really makes us think about how to care for these amazing animals, and that's clearly one of their aims. The game is enjoyable and intricate, but also conveys some important social messages about conservation, animal welfare, and social responsibility.
Accompanied by a subtle, but fitting soundtrack, the world of Planet Zoo will suck you in and it won't let go. The depth of gameplay, the realism of the animals, and the focus on knowledge and understanding creates a unique, enjoyable, and lengthy experience. Despite playing this game for days, I still don't feel like I'm even close to discovering all its secrets.
If you love animals, simulation games, and management challenges, then Planet Zoo offers all this and more. While learning the interface can be a challenge, it's worth persisting because the rewards are truly amazing.
A PC review copy of Planet Zoo was provided to TheGamer for this review.Planet Zoo is now available for PC.