Planet Zoo (PC) Review

By Sandy Wilson 05.12.2019

Review for Planet Zoo on PC

Frontier Developments brings its A-game, with another insanely detailed entry into its Planet series. Following on from the successful and deep Planet Coaster, comes the new Zoo simulator, Planet Zoo. It's been under development for quite a while, and had a brief beta period in mid-October 2019 that led to very positive responses across the gaming community. Since then it's been tweaked and polished until its release in November. So, what does the final product look like?

Omitted, probably in part to its reveal of all the in-game items, from the beta test, was the sandbox mode, which is now here to overwhelm new players who have an eye for creativity and don't want to be tied down by the shackles of a structured scenario mode, or the complex systems in franchise mode. Jumping straight into sandbox mode is a sure-fire way to end up with ill animals, and to be completely lost in the UI - this is a game with a difficulty curb that makes it important to first try the tutorial, as this game is large and fantastically complex, even though it can be enjoyed in a quite simple manner.

Thematically very similar to Planet Coaster, this uses a few of its assets such as guest models, UI elements, and building tools, but this time they are deployed with a slightly different function, creating a very, very different experience. Beginning with character creation which is a bit light on details, players get a brief glimpse of the visual style of the game and the general UI feel. There are three main modes: Career, which presents you with challenges and structure, and unlike any other mode, it also houses the much-needed tutorials for the entire game's systems.

Franchise mode, like career, offers players some challenges, but with a much more freeform structure. It is aimed at building many successful zoos with a view to running a great franchise, and this is where the game utilises some unique online features. Finally, there's sandbox, and this provides free rein to do whatever you please with infinite money and resources - for example, this reviewer spent hours building an east Asian town, with only one exhibit full of red pandas.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Franchise mode is by far the most exciting addition, with a sandbox-like approach to zoo creation, but with limited funds, a need to research, and a driving set of small goals like guest numbers and happy animals. However, before diving fully into explaining why franchise mode is so tantalising, it's best to explore the key fundamental gameplay of Planet Zoo. As with its spiritual predecessor, Zoo Tycoon, the player has to craft a zoo and then make it successful, and this involves building an array of objects and running the mix of spreadsheets that is the zoo management system.

The basic controls are as intuitive as they can, be with the mouse being used to select UI elements, place objects, as well as being used to rotate and shift the camera. Fair Warning: rotating the camera uses the middle mouse button by default, which is a bit fiddly at the beginning. There is a huge amount of control built into keyboard bindings that at the beginning can be a bit confusing, but all is well explained in tutorial popups, which for the first hour or so it might be worth changing to 'always show' when switching tools. Building a good zoo takes a lot of focus and planning, and with the depth of the systems in here there is a lot of learning.

Animals are obviously the focus, with the end goal being to successfully breed animals and keep them all happy while entertaining the zoo guests. These animals are bought/adopted via an in-game animal market, and this market is vast and relies on two types of in-game currency. One of these currencies is not money, but is instead Conservation currency represented by leaves. This is earned through successful raising and breeding, but also through educating guests via the in-game education billboards and exhibit info speakers. Very challenging and during normal gameplay, it's possible to earn a few, but it takes some practice and skill to earn piles of leaves big enough for the more expensive animals.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Animals bought with money have disadvantages versus those bought with points, so this plays a trade-off on quality of animal and payment method that is pushing players to earn and use the points system. This system in career and sandbox modes is generated by the game. However, franchise mode has players actually selling and trading animals - it's incredibly cool but flawed. The main issue is how slowly it loads, and how unresponsive the menus are to clicks when in franchise mode due to server connections sometimes requiring three or more clicks to get the interaction to register, and 90% of the time those animals will be adopted already, and the server will struggle to serve the info.

It's hard to say if this is due to region, or if the server is just meeting more demand than expected. It has one other flaw that is in the system, online or not, which is the inability to search for an animal. This means scrolling and clicking onto the next page so if you wanted "Siberian xxx" you have to manually scroll and click through all the available animals to "S" which even re-ordering the animals by species won't fix.

Looking after guests falls in line with the systems from Planet Coaster, from building shops and facilities, to crafting intricate decorative parts of the zoo by laying layer after layer of plants, bushes, trees, rocks and other environmental elements. It's great fun, and can be extremely time absorbing. These tools are the same as used to construct the animal habitats from terrain deformation to bodies of water, and it puts so much power in the player's hands and challenges them to be as creative as they can.

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Animal habitats have to conform to the needs of the animals, and this ranges from social needs to what specific types of foliage they need to have - it's very, very in-depth, but, thank goodness, not impenetrable. It's deceptively simple to set problems right once you know how, but the game does it's best to provide a challenge with systems designed to have knock-on effects on each other. One excellent example is the need to have staff facilities, but also the need to keep them out of the way of guests (who for some reason hate seeing staff facilities), so it's important to design the park with lots of obscuring terrain, buildings and foliage so guests can't see the staff paths and buildings from the main paths of the park. It's really interesting, and could have been interesting to see it retrofitted into Planet Coaster.

The animals themselves are fantastically captured - they move realistically (though they cannot collide with each other), and maybe except when climbing. The fur effects are fantastic, and the plethora of choice on show really gives rise to the belief that the developer loved working on this, and was passionate about catching even the smallest details of the creatures. Watching them roam their habitats is second only to the feeling of watching a BBC documentary. Setting staff to research each animal is crucial, as it will reveal what's best for their habitats, unlock toys for them, and allow you to educate guests, which will be explained in a second, it also unlocks info about illnesses, allowing the vets to treat animals more effectively, and reduce animal deaths in the zoo.

Educating guests is another key part in earning the Conservation currency, and this also helps guests feel happy. Adding in the educational and eco-friendly messages is super simple: place a sign, speaker or screen near an exhibit or busy part of the park, and select it to pick the information it shows - so simple, yet adding that extra bit of depth into the guest management aspect. As with the Tycoon games, the zoo can win prizes, and these are earned by getting high ratings for guest happiness, animal happiness, breeding and releasing animals, educating guests, among many more. There is a multitude of time investments all with great payoffs for the dedicated gamer. This review could go on for days - there is so much in here!

Screenshot for Planet Zoo on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Nearly flawless, Planet Zoo is a masterpiece of tycoon simulation, and is one of the most relaxing, engaging, and fantastical pieces of entertainment of 2019. It's a showcase of fun mechanics, and it really draws from the wealth of experience in Frontier Developments as a developer. It's impossible not to recommend this to anyone who has even a passing notion about the genre. Get this!

Developer

Frontier Developments

Publisher

Frontier Developments

Genre

Simulation

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

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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