Title: Planet Zoo
Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Genre: Strategy, Management
Available On: PC
Release Date: November 5th, 2019
Version Tested: PC
One thing you need to know – I absolutely love animals. Everything about the animal kingdom is a world of utter beauty and majesty. Planet Zoo is a game that allows you to experience this first hand and involve yourself in creating a world for them. Zoos have a bad reputation, but without them, we would lose crucial conservation work and funds. Putting you in charge of your own zoo allows you to have the power to create not only a means of conservational work but a world in which guests can feel immersed in theirs. Balancing the two is a tricky line, but Planet Zoo mostly manages to give you that empowerment of guest satisfaction and animal happiness. Planet Zoo’s confidence charges out of the gate like a wild gazelle. It’s a world I adored building and a world that I instantly want to dive back into.
Created by developer Frontier Developments, who were the initial creators of Zoo Tycoon, but more importantly, Planet Coaster. Everything about Planet Coaster was a perfect representation of what made Rollercoaster Tycoon great. In a nutshell, Frontier Developments nailed it. The community still goes strong, everything the fans wanted has been given to them and the game is a beautiful vision of a classic game.
Planet Zoo intends to do the same. More recently, Frontier has crafted Jurassic Park Evolution, a stunning spiritual successor to Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. What that game did right, Planet Zoo only rightly expands upon.
Planet Zoo is broken up into multiple mode modes (career, franchise, challenge and sandbox mode), each with their own style of play, catering to a wide player base.
Career mode serves as a tutorial that slowly expands into a challenging array of pre-designed zoos for you to manage. There’s a lot to learn in Planet Zoo and the tutorials are designed to give you the perfect amount of experimental play to keep them from being stale. It’s not long before you’re given free reigns on design and choice. Planet Zoo clearly doesn’t want to waste time with the learning and wants to give you more time on the designing.
Across the 15 hours career mode, objectives get increasingly harder as tasks and challenges become more ferocious. Ultimately, Planet Zoo is a game that gives you the power of a management lifestyle, which comes with all the perks and drawbacks of the role.
If there was one complaint about Planet Coaster, it’s that its management side was lacking and feeling undercooked. Planet Zoo stamps its mark into the ground like a towering elephant to put that complaint to rest – which is, unfortunately, its biggest issue.
Speaking from experience, management life is not easy – it’s grueling. Full of financial targets, miserable staff and whinging customers who will make you want to pull your hair out. Though you don’t directly have to deal with a guest complaint here, you do have to contend with their needs and more importantly, the animals as well.
Unlike Planet Coaster, Planet Zoo tasks you in keeping animal levels happy. Their happiness meters can be seen by clicking on them. The parameters to keep them happy is overwhelming at first, but through quick tutorials, simplifies the situation. Animals will want an enclosure more reliant on their homeland. By planting trees, editing the terrain and providing enrichment activities, you can create the perfect biome for their needs. When this does become challenging is when enclosures contain more than one species, resulting in a juggling act to keep both parties happy.
Animals aren’t the only thing to contend with. Guests have their own needs and desires and will gladly express them (or protest if they feel your zoo isn’t up to snuff). This is where Planet Zoo loses its way with a considerable amount of busywork.
Maintaining their happiness feels like an uphill battle. You make one person happy, another isn’t, that’s the way of the world. But Planet Zoo feels un-winnable at times. You may feel accomplished in making your animals happy only to find the guests are miserable.
Why? Well, it could be a simple solution such as they can’t see your animals, which can easily be rectified with a glass wall. But wait, now your animal is unhappy because it feels exposed and lacks privacy. Right, so let’s add a shelter for them. What? Now the guests are leaving!?
You get the point.
It’s this busywork that can make Planet Zoo feel too immersed in its simulation roots. The world is presented in a relaxing way, with animals that display all levels of cuteness (wait till you see the Red Pandas). So it’s a stark and annoying contrast that these two elements don’t marry up together.
Each campaign level is presented with a three-star rating, each star awarded after a series of objectives have been completed. You can breeze through just by attaining bronze stars, but the deeper and more complex elements of Planet Zoo will be lost on you, so it’s encouraged to go for gold.
The controls to build are intuitive and simple. Menus are easy to navigate and the elements you need for specific animals can be filtered to ensure you’re providing the right experience for them.
Franchise mode is a perfect representation of everything that Planet Zoo does right. The mode tasks you with creating a series of connected zoos around the world. Here, you’re given a lot more freedom in how you’re zoo operates and researching is encouraged.
Research is a vital component of Planet Zoo and works in two categories. Veterinarians, who will discover new elements about your animals and how to keep them happy with items such as enrichment facilities. Mechanics, on the other hand, provide the means to create new structures for your park.
The way progression works in franchise mode is addicting and where the true heart of Planet Zoo lies. Unlike career mode, you’re given more creative freedom and less time balancing everyone’s happiness.
There’s even an online element to this with the ability to trade animals with other players online, creating a true feeling of an interconnected world. By building your franchise up and zoo ratings, you’ll gain more tools to play and a satisfying sense of progression.
Where the most fun resides though, is sandbox mode, which is Planet Zoo at its most creative.
Sandbox mode gives you infinite power to create the zoo you want, with the ability to remove restrictions such as animal deaths and employment leaving. You get the sense of being a manager, without the responsibility.
The amount of creative freedom Planet Zoo allows is staggering. From freeform paths to an extensive array of terrain tools, you can craft practically any zoo in your imagination. There’s also the ability to visit other people’s creations, to see other people’s designs and dreams realized. Planet Coaster managed to create some truly impressive looking parks and rides. As the months go on, time will tell if Planet Zoo contains that same flare.
Lastly, there’s challenge mode, which is the weakest of the bunch. Starting with a blank slate, you’re tasked to start a zoo from scratch, with all the financial heartache and resource management that you may expect. It’s a hardcore interpretation of what makes Planet Zoo so fun. Those who enjoy the challenge and balancing act of its multiple systems will find plenty to enjoy. But it detracts from what makes Planet Zoo so great – the freedom.
Verdict: When I said I love animals, it was an understatement. Planet Zoo gives the tools to embrace our love for the animal kingdom with a staggering amount of options for a variety of player preferences. The freedom of choice is where Planet Zoo shines, seeing all these cute and beautifully rendered animals react to your creations is an act of beauty. It’s everything Zoo Tycoon was, but more and while it may go too far in its management simulation gameplay, it does remain a fun and engaging creative tool for animal loves – like me – who want to create the perfect home for these furry friends.
- A beautiful realized look at the zoo of your dreams
- A fantastic amount of creative freedom
- Variety of play styles accommodated through various modes
- Easy to learn, but difficult to master
- Sandbox Mode is a treat, giving you all the tools to build your creations
- Management aspects can become tiresome and drag down the pacing