by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Dreams of working with animals...
Animal life is beautiful, their life enjoyable to follow on nature documentaries and perhaps even more so with your own eyes. Unfortunately, the latter form of enjoyment is often riddled with guilt of how badly animals are treated in zoos, how unnatural their life is in their small habitats and how few animals can survive in freedom anymore, because humans have taken all the room there is.
Of course, there are better zoos out there: ones where animals are treated well, and the keepers actually love their work. Add to that a utopia in which zoos actually get money for setting animals free and you are transported to the world of Planet Zoo: where zoos are lovely places to enjoy nature and wildlife and where everyone is happy - unless you mismanage your resources and everyone starves to death, that is.
I picked Planet Zoo to review mainly because of my 11-year-old daughter who loves animals. I was hoping to help her get started with the game and then let her play it for a while by herself before helping me to write this review. Unfortunately, Planet Zoo turned out to be more complex than expected and we ended up playing it together most of the time.
...can lead you to micromanagement
Those who are looking for a game with cute animals and easy gameplay should go and look for some other title: Planet Zoo is anything but simple. You will have to take care of every single aspect of Zoo design and upkeep: habitat building, food sources and entertainment for animals, paths for customers and staff, electricity, research areas, shops, information screens, sound systems, ticket prices etc. ad infinitum. Overall, you’ll be either building or micromanaging little details around the zoo most of your time. You’ll be lucky to have a little time now and then to actually observe the animals without something requiring your attention somewhere else.
This feeling of constantly being busy is exacerbated by the speed at which time passes. Even at its slowest setting - outside of the Pause mode - a single day will last about 3 seconds. The dates are just flying by, making it seem as if your customers are spending years and years of their life at your zoo (and they and the animals must be moving incredibly slowly to manage, at most, three meters of movement per day).
Life of a zoo keeper
If you ignore such details and concentrate only on designing and maintaining your zoo, you will certainly not be bored: with over 50 animals to choose from, each with their own preferences when it comes to their habitat, food sources, entertainment, privacy etc. there are never simple solutions. You need to make sure that the barriers are tall enough to keep your animals from fleeing, that the habitat is not too hot or too cold for them and that the customers have an unobscured view of the animals, while also making sure that the animals are not bothered by the silly bipeds constantly staring at them.
In short, the learning curve is steep and the game includes a very long tutorial section to ease you into the world of zookeeping. These teach you the basics of building and maintaining a zoo and taking care of everyone involved in some very pretty, pre-made zoos that make the game look very attractive. The only thing detracting from the enjoyability of the tutorial is the male owner of the zoos who wastes most of his lines dropping what may be intended as light banter and jokes.
Unfortunately, the pretty landscapes and zoos all go away when you try to build your own zoo from ground-up: you will only get a flat piece of land and will have to work very hard to make the environment look attractive and then add the zoo into it in a way that actually pleases your eye and works as a zoo. Personally, I would have appreciated some randomized landscapes with ready-made hills and valleys, as well as river courses and ponds to begin my design from.
We are warming up to it
Overall, Planet Zoo is a decent zoo simulator that gives the impression of being easy and light-hearted, but goes a little bit too deep into micromanaging and bogs the gameplay down much of the time. Slower pacing, clearer instructions and some randomized landscapes for your own zoos would work wonders and make the game more enjoyable to younger gamers as well. Future updates will probably address some of these issues and also fix the tutorials that sometimes miss that you have already done what you were asked to do and fail to move to the next step. Perhaps an update might also add a simplified game mode for younger players (especially non-native speakers) that holds your hand a little bit more as you step into the world of zoo management.
However, my daughter tells me that, after the initial apprehension caused by the complexity, she is enjoying the game more and more.
Pretty graphics, lots of animals, preservation values
Annoying tutorial characters, overly complex