Planet Zoo (PC) Preview

By Sandy Wilson 12.10.2019

Review for Planet Zoo on PC

After a very successful run with Planet Coaster, Frontier now releases a new entry in the Planet series. Planet Zoo is the spiritual rebirth of the Zoo Tycoon games, and aims to expand on the main structure while retaining much of what made Coaster so successful. Frontier has run a Closed Beta which finished on October 8th 2019 and is excited to see how players react to the content that's available, as well as take in some bug reports to be fixed up before launching on the 5th of November. It's great to see Frontier's revival of the park simulator subgenre, so jump the fence and see what awaits on the horizon for yourself!

Upon loading up the game players are treated to a tiny taste of the in-game visuals with a cute Frontier logo being charged down by a baby elephant, shortly followed with the ability to create a player avatar, which is only as in-depth as it was in Planet Coaster, which is to say just enough to make it look like most people. From here the Beta status starts to show, as Sandbox mode is locked out, probably to avoid spoilers of the un-lockable game content and animal types. Available to players is the campaign's first tutorial level and Franchise mode, which is to be explained later. Diving into the Tutorial is recommended as the game has many nuanced features and details that cannot be guessed via gameplay.

The tutorial level is based in the United Kingdom somewhere in England and the cast of characters is lovingly voiced with local accents and dialectical phrases. This zoo begins partly built, but with flaws for the player to fix, and does an incredibly good job of meticulously explaining the game's functions and features clearly and succinctly. Maybe a little too strictly though, which makes it easy to make mistakes with item placement or click the wrong area meaning the player sees the controls as normal but is unable to save any changes to the edited object. That aside, the controls are perfectly fine for this style of game and this tutorial combined with pop-up help boxes does a good job of initiating the player into the system.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

The controls will be familiar to anyone who played Planet Coaster as it's essentially the same setup for item placement in the game with height, rotation and other functions all mapped to the same buttons as well as camera movement being on the mouse using the mouse wheel click to rotate the camera. It can sometimes, in the beginning, feel like learning to play the piano but once it becomes second nature the player will make very few mis-clicks.

Moving away from controls, there are tons of activities in here; from animal trading, park building, exhibit design, and animal welfare that makes it seem like it's shaping up to be the most in-depth zoo simulator. The first time you get the freedom to build your own exhibit is exhilarating - the shape and area of the exhibit, which walls should be glass, the materials needed and environmental details to be added, and any extra staff buildings/facilities, are considerations that just gel into a compelling mass.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Each animal in the game has its own environmental and enrichment needs, ranging from things like the temperature of their exhibit, sorted with heaters and coolers, to specific types of toys like a frozen blood pumpkin for lions and tigers. The game is very quick to send keepers in to remove animals that are ill from a bad environment, so it's imperative that players can pause the game to shape the environments, to give themselves time to compose the best setup for each animal brought in.

This time animals are bought via an animal trade system which functions differently depending on the mode being played. This system has two currencies, the in-game money earned from guests and conservation points earned by successfully breeding animals and pushing a positive conservation message (which makes sense in-game). Animals in Franchise mode are bought and sold via players, so it functions almost like a real market with varying prices and each animal is bred with different stats, meaning players should be striving to produce the best quality animals with maximised fertility and strong long-life genes.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Having this system underpin so much of the in-game activity gives much more focus to what would normally be such a small aspect of the Zoo building genre. The main problem experienced in the beta was from this system, the speed at which the game connected to the server to check animal trades, and the lack of a search function for animal breeds was a bit disappointing but here's hoping that this will be sped up, and maybe expanded in the final release.

The visuals are stunning. Again, taking Planet Coaster, as the base, and tweaking and optimising, this the most realistic animals and animations seen thus far for a tycoon title. Each unique animal is exquisitely detailed and lifelike, except for when they walk through another animal or a bit of scenery which is not collision programmed, though that may change by release or in an update - but that bit of coding may be to reduce performance issues with calculations for hundreds of animals. Somehow the game successfully pairs a very stylistic human aesthetic with a very realistic animal aesthetic, without them jarring with each other. The sound design is equally excellent with some great themed music and a good quality set of animal and environmental sounds.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Final Thoughts

It's hard to cover all of the depth in Planet Zoo, but it will be great to see what the final release has to offer in November. The polished systems and visuals on show in the Beta give a sense of how fantastic this will be once fully completed. With the hope that the small set of niggles will be addressed, it's clear to see that all players of this style of game should take note of this release date as it's going to be monumental.

Developer

Frontier Developments

Publisher

Frontier Developments

Genre

Simulation

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  n/a

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date None   North America release date None   Japan release date None   Australian release date None   

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