Geek Review: Planet Zoo

SOUTH AMERICAN PACK DLC REVIEW:

Following the release of the Arctic Pack DLC, Frontier Developments have continue supporting Planet Zoo with its latest content pack, the South American Pack DLC. Continuing the geographical slant of content, players can look forward to even more wildlife and customisation pieces to bring that part of the world into their zoos.

Out of the Capuchin Monkey, Giant Anteater, the Red-Eyed Tree Frog, the Llama, and the apex predator that is the Jaguar, the big cat certainly takes much of the spotlight. Adding the predator into any zoo instantly bumps up the excitement, and it can easily become the centrepiece of any zoo worth its salt.

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That is not to say the other four animals added in this pack do not hold their own. They each add their own certain flair in their different categories, and serve to refresh the selection of wildlife already present in Planet Zoo.

Of course, to keep your animals happy means building proper exhibits. The new additions to the scenery pieces will give the more creative of zoo owners even more room to explore. The Aztec-like pieces do help distinguish the South American exhibits from others, and will be a familiar sight for the animals as well.

While having new items are always great, the South American Pack is found rather lacking in other departments. There is no new scenario to test your handling of the new animals or your zoo, and it might be a hard sell, even for fans, to shell out for essentially a content pack of just five animals and related scenery.

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It is fun to have another big cat join Planet Zoo, but unlike the Arctic Pack, the South American Pack seems to be well below the standard fans have come to expect from Frontier. More content is sure to come from the developers, and here’s hoping that they will strike a much better balance.


BASE GAME REVIEW:

Much like real life, rash decisions made in simulation games often can have disastrous consequences. As the makers of one of the best sims of all time in Planet Coaster, Frontier Developments’ latest foray into the sim genre has only driven home the fact that managing other people and lives might not be the easiest job, even if it is as fun as Planet Zoo.

In this gorgeous simulation, it is up to players to balance creating a fully functional zoo that houses a plethora of adorable and gorgeously realised animals, and catering to the economic realities of keeping everything running. It goes far beyond plotting down some walls and calling it a day, Planet Zoo literally gives players the keys to the kingdom in terms of all the tools, important information, and breadth of customization that borders on the ridiculous.

The in-game Zoopedia is but just one of these valuable tools. Full of useful animal facts and tips, this is the perfect place to start if you are dealing with a new species of animals. Nothing, however, beats just jumping in and getting overwhelmed with the depth of Planet Zoo.

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The various Story-mode missions often present players with a themed concept from the off, giving a certain flair to the many structures, animals, terrain, and decorations that will soon populate your zoo. 

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Of course, you can always go off-script and come up with your own tweaks. That freedom to create particularly comes alive in the Sandbox mode, providing an often flat plain for the more creative players to go ape over. The Steam Workshop already has a substantial library of resources to tap on, and who knows, perhaps your true calling is in designing zoo assets.

A zoo would not be an attractive time without the many animal companions that call it home. With more than 50 types of animals to choose from, get ready to be dazzled by the lifelike animations and visual look of these beauties. Turn up the volume and listen, as the sound design of Planet Zoo is immaculate, lending an air of authenticity and atmosphere to the proceedings.

Whether the animals are feeding, playing, or just having a relaxing nap, this is as close to the real thing you can get without travelling all over the globe. 

The simian family is a notable source of delight, with the advanced climbing ability of the apes a true marvel to witness. Consider decking out their enclosures with a network of logs and platforms, sit back, and enjoy the show.

Speaking of the enclosures, taking care of your animals requires the fulfilment of their many needs. Designing living quarters that cater to their environmental, social, and even enrichment requirements can often be a challenging and satisfying time. Apart from making these attractions more pleasing on the eye for you and the visitors, there is an actual need to think things through to ensure efficiency rather than just a foregone conclusion.

Climbers can climb out of your enclosures if the walls are not tall enough or have climbing barriers, even the smallest of animals like spiders and iguanas get their own displays that can be customised and adjusted down to the most minute of details. Research into the various animals will also help unlock better food and other important modifications to help the zoo grow.

Certain animals can coexist as well under specific conditions, and it is amazing to see everything in action, even if sometimes the AI is struggling to ensure everything runs as naturally as it can be. Food and water needs can often cause animal casualties, even if you have placed down the necessary elements to prevent that from happening. Such oversights occur from time to time, and it is not game-breaking, just annoying to deal with every once in a while.

At least the human side performs admirably. With strategic decisions and planning, you will soon be balancing your expenses with multiple sources of income as eager visitors flock into the compound. They too have needs, but that is pretty standard for all sim games now.

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The fact that now you have to keep things behind the curtains when it comes to running a zoo adds another layer to the management. Having zookeepers and staff buildings off the beaten path make for not just an efficient zoo, but also an attractive one.

The other big addition is that of Conservation Rating, a score that can elevate your zoo on a global scale, providing bonuses to overall popularity and guest happiness. How you increase that is based on how efficient you are at both housing and breeding certain endangered species, releasing healthy animals back into the wild, and educating your visitors. 

With the earned Conservation Credits, that opens up access to particularly rare animals that will only make your zoo even better. It all feeds into an addictive gameplay loop that can occupy players for hours on end.

The only caveat is that going down the conservation route is a one-way street, with all the money spent investing in such ventures resulting in only Conservation Credits and not actual income. The balance between having enough in the bank and pursuing such noble causes only adds to the challenge of Planet Zoo.

Getting your feet wet with Story Mode will serve you well in the rest of Planet Zoo’s offerings. Franchise Mode is where players can set out to construct a network of connected zoos around the world, trading with other players, and taking part in community challenges. While the online economy definitely needs some balancing, the whole idea succeeds as a rewarding but slow-burning experience. 

The Challenge Mode is the equivalent of Franchise Mode but offline, whereas Sandbox Mode gives you unlimited cash to build the zoo of your dreams.

Franchise Mode, in particular, is an enticing prospect, letting those with grand plans and visions to build out their dream empire while being connected with the rest of like-minded players. The only drawback is that the online connectivity tends to slow down the game a little, especially in the menus.

Planet Zoo certainly succeeds in bringing an extremely satisfying park-builder to life with amazing animals simulation, stunning visual fidelity, and one of the more complex and in-depth tools available to any would-be magnate. Equally demanding and gratifying, the online hiccups and occasionally wonky AI does little to take away the joy of raising an animal kingdom.

Planet Zoo is now available on PC via Steam.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Enter and create the animal kingdom of your dreams in Planet Zoo, micromanaging never looked or felt so awesome.

Overall
9/10
9/10
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Story - 8/10
    8/10
  • Presentation - 10/10
    10/10
  • Value - 9/10
    9/10
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User Review
4 (1 vote)


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