Zoo Tycoon returns on a new generation packed with visually stunning graphics and a wide variety of animals to care for along with a host of new features at your fingertips. Will you build the zoo of your dreams and become a Zoo Tycoon or will the pressure of running a zoo prove too much to handle? Read on to find out.
Game: Zoo Tycoon
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Whilst there is no main storyline to follow, this game is about creating and building up your dream zoo. Letting your imagination run wild whilst having fun it is your task to make sure you take care of your animals and your guests to become the ultimate Zoo Tycoon. You can go crazy in Freeform Mode or play through a variety of scenarios with challenges and goals to meet in Campaign Mode.
A lot of time has been spent on the visuals of this game and has come leaps and bounds from the older versions on PC. The main menu and loading screens are comprised of vibrant vector graphics, with the logo transmuting into various animals as the game loads. Where this game really shines is in the gorgeous environments and stunning animals. The landscapes stretch off into the distance reflecting the many locations you have to choose from, whilst birds above can be seen in their shadows dancing on the ground. Textures are used everywhere and make things seem much more realistic, from wooden benches to veiny wrists but most importantly is the animals. The animals are so realistic that you can almost feel the rough skin of an elephant or the fluffiness of a bear. Combined with the Kinect features expressions are portrayed well and your reflection can even appear in the exhibits glass panes. The only thing missing would be the addition of smells or the wet lips of a giraffe as you feed them.
As a simulator, Zoo Tycoon does not boast a big soundtrack but instead has a very relaxing accompaniment of sounds to your gameplay. The title screen and menus have a very typical jungle like theme tune whilst the zoo is packed full of the many delightful sounds of your animals, making a very tranquil environment to explore. Should you take a ride in one of the buggies available you can cruise around to a more upbeat tune. Many conversations can be heard from your guests, from a father and son playing eye spy to children running around like little monkeys. Whilst this may seem like a small detail it is nice to know that your guests are there acting human and not just silent people wandering around looking pretty.
Zoo Tycoon offers plenty of fun in creating and enjoying your dream zoo. Navigating your way around is easy. Menus have been simply laid out with big square tiles representing items and animals clearly, with pictures taking up the tiles so you can get a rough idea of what you’re buying or researching before you do. All items are listed in categories so it is relatively easy to find what you’re looking for. The menu system can however become tedious when placing decorations as it does not allow you to place the same item more than once. With trees for example you will have to work your way through the menus each time you wish to place a tree which can be a bit of a chore. Menus can also be accessed through Kinect commands.
You will soon find that your zoo will become considerably large in size as you expand your portfolio of exhibits and stores, but fear not as there are a few different ways for you to explore your zoo. To make the most of what you have created and to take in its glory you can wander around in third person with your avatar, to get up close and personal with your animals. For the budding photographer in you, you can even go around taking photographs and build up your own photo albums of your quirky friends. From the ground it is a great way to immerse yourself and really enjoy your zoo that you have taken so much time and care into shaping. If you find that walking around is taking too long then why not hop on or call a buggy? These are a useful and fun way to traverse your zoo and come in many fun designs and can get you around quickly. However do not fear as the lives of your guests are safe as they will magically slide to the side if you go near them (I mean you wouldn’t actually want to run them over would you?) A lot of fun went into these buggies as by using the handbrake you can do some awesome extreme buggy sliding! With co-op play you can even race around in your zoo with friends. The most useful way to navigate around your zoo is through Tycoon View which gives you a bird’s eye view of the map. This makes building your zoo a whole lot easier and allows you to strategically place items to achieve your desired layout. From here you can easily monitor your animal’s needs by hovering over each exhibit, or keep an eye on the workings of your facilities. You can also ping needs to see the specific state of all animals or guests at one time. You can instantly return to third person in any spot you hover over with the cursor.
Simulation has been taken a step further thanks to Kinect which adds a great deal of enjoyment to the game. Interaction with your animals is much more realistic and hands on and is one of my favourite features of the game. With Kinect you can hand feed your animal fruit and veg, give them a good clean with a hose and perhaps the best is interacting through sensory interactions. These allow you to play with your animals up close by hand gestures and facial expressions which certain animals will copy. I was amazed by how good the facial recognition was and had plenty of fun winking to my chimps. Seeing my reflection in the glass made me really feel I was there! There are however some moments that get a bit clunky and hand gestures are not recognised all the time, which can be a little frustrating so sometimes the controller was the best option.
There are four gameplay modes on offer in Zoo Tycoon which will suit different needs. Training Mode provides ten tutorials to play through so you can get to grips with building and running your zoo. If you are new to the series it is a good idea to play through these, however veterans of the series may find them a bit boring and just want to get stuck in. Campaign Mode has a variety of twenty scenarios to beat, offering six different categories and three levels of difficulty, easy, medium and hard. You will be set goals to complete and will have a certain time frame to do so with limited funds. You may have to work hard and raise your fame or help nurse a sick animal to health. Once the goals have been met you can continue to play the map and make it your own, with new challenges being presented to you as you play. Challenge Mode is a little more relaxed. Here there are no specific goals to meet and you can build your zoo from scratch, but with limited funds. This mode is great for those who want to start from scratch but still enjoy a challenge and have challenges set occasionally. For those who just like to build and relax to enjoy their zoo then Freeform Mode is for you. Here you can start from scratch and have unlimited funds to play with and face no challenges. Simply take your time and enjoy what the game is all about.
Of course the game is not that easy. Whichever mode you choose to play you will have to work hard to acquire all the items and animals to place in your zoo. In order to unlock these you will need to raise your fame to certain levels and do some research. Researching however is the bane of the game as you can only research one thing at a time and this can take anywhere from a few seconds to five minutes, even in co-op play with three friends. However greatness is not achieved overnight and a Zoo Tycoon will take the time to create the ultimate zoo, research is power. Things you will need to research range from animals, facilities, right down to advertising, after all every successful business needs to promote themselves in order to grow. In order to keep guests happy and to attract new ones you will need to exhibit a wide variety of animals. There are many different breeds to choose from, all with different requirements and preferred environments so it is important to research what will make your animals the happiest. Breeding is also important to help endangered species to release into the wild, and no one can resist a baby elephant. Breeding can also bring about animals with unique colourings so it is worth trying to see what will happen. Guest also need to be entertained and looked after so whatever you do make sure to provide plenty of food and toilets!
As with any simulator customization is a key feature in creating the zoo of your dreams. Unless you like the default avatar you can customize this to a man or woman but this is limited to only a few editable features including hair or clothes. However the most important part is customizing your zoo. There are a variety of different kinds of exhibits tailored to specific animals, so choose wisely. These range from small to large but to get the most out of them you will need to eventually upgrade to large if you want to both interact with and please your animals. Exhibits will all need the bear essentials but there are variations on offer. A great feature is that each individual attraction can be customized, from the name of a coffee shop, the type of benches it has, trees, even the wall heights and fees can be changed. This is great especially if you want to create themed areas or to separate things apart. You can also globalize the customization to create a more uniformed look. The only issue with customization is the self-populating paths that appear when you go to place an attraction, which does limit your control. This can leave you with awkward gaps in-between areas that are not big enough to allow you to place pleasing decorations which I found frustrating, however open spaces to some can be a good thing.
Zoo Tycoon is a game you can pick up and play for hours, easily losing track of time. You can spend as little or as much time as you like building up your zoo and it is great to see how it develops over time, rising in fame and to be the best tycoon you can be. Whilst it is great fun playing with your animals and can offer days of entertainment, you will soon find that once you have researched everything that you can the novelty will start to wear off and that there is not much left to play for, except the companionship of your animals. Hopefully the future may bring additional DLC to add new packs, animals and items
As a series I enjoyed playing on my PC the Xbox One version brings the series to life in new ways. Thanks to Kinect, interactivity with your animals is an enjoyable experience and makes it much more realistic. The graphics of the animals are stunning and you can’t help but love them. Microsoft are also doing a great thing for conservation efforts by allowing a community vote to pick a species to donate $10,000 towards the effort! Despite the fun to be had I did find the customization a little lacking in areas and once everything has been researched it becomes a bit more difficult to hold interest for long periods of time. Hopefully the future may bring additional DLC bundles with new content to expand the playing experience like the expansions on the PC version. Until then it is still good to pick up occasionally and play with my adorable friends.