As the weather cools down, new game launches heat up and I couldn’t believe my luck when the awesome folks at Frontier Developments gave us the opportunity to hop into their latest release Planet Zoo. Presented as the spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon, with gameplay similar to the studio’s theme park variant, Planet Coaster – Planet Zoo is all about building a zoo wonderland, career or franchise for the most realistic looking animal’s besides the real things! Dabbling in all modes but diving deep into career mode, welcome to our Planet Zoo review on Steam.
Before we start though I’m curious – are you like me and have wistfully looked at Planet Coaster with its vibrant colors and out-of-this-world clever creations yet still haven’t played? I love a good building management simulation (sim) but I hesitate every time because theme parks just aren’t something I gravitate toward yet I LOVE them in person but gosh ANIMALS I simply cannot get enough of so I am so thrilled I finally get to experience a “Planet” title! Setting animals free from every cruel zoo and offering every animal ever the best way to live in nature or a zoo of their dreams is my dream and Planet Zoo brings me closer to experiencing it.
You enter Planet Zoo with a baby elephant that captures your smile as it runs through the world and the chance to create your zookeeper character. This process is fairly seamless and a nice little surprise though I am still wondering why I got to create this character because I don’t get to see it anywhere yet in first-person camera mode. Then the tutorial begins so you can learn to navigate yourself around the zoo and your user-interface.
I think we all know a good simulation (sim) management game goes out of its way to make sure micromanaging is fun and engaging without feeling like a job – every title will have its own style of chaotic for you to enjoy reorganizing. Why I enjoy sim games so much also is I can actually watch every decision I make play out to what can either create further opportunity or a complete disaster. Planet Zoo struggles at balancing this well though we could also look at this as a positive because the Frontier Development team have really gone out of their way to give us the most realistic scenario possible. All the information on each animal is also enriching and educational but as a simulator game, I couldn’t quite get into that “zen zone” I enjoy where I feel like I’ve cracked a magic formula that gets everything running like clockwork.
So as early as the tutorial I was captivated with how vivid everything is, especially the animals, plants and water. The tutorial helps you learn to tailor a habitat for each animal using items that either fit them perfectly or where they are from so they feel right at home along with you but I got frustrated by fence heights and the number of different pages I needed to go over to garner the right information so I could adapt to the Planet Zoo theme.
My first “heart attack” was letting out the snow leopard when I changed the height of its den window and not the transparency though I admit I was curious if it would eat anybody. It didn’t, nor did it attack any of other animals. Switching to the camera of the snow leopard I was able to see its every move and it just wanted to run so I let it! Eventually, it was recaptured by a zoo worker armed with a tranquilizer and returned but I decided not to change the window so it could get out whenever it wanted to beginning thoughts of how I could make it seem like the visitors were in cages and not the animals prompting my imagination into overdrive!
Before I got to far with this plan though I did actually get into my “sim-zen-zone” for a short period by keeping animals happy and making sure the visitors were also coming in droves setting up donation stations at every window I could and putting windows everywhere to ensure my cash flow grew but even after days of play, fences remain my Planet Zoo enemy. What makes up for this easily is I found myself reading the Zoopedia often just because and every animal I met I tried my darnedest not to love and failed. Building wise I just love the landscaping part where I can change terrain, then add plants and water. You can also adjust the temperature, add toys and scratching posts so your animals are happy.
You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the animals themselves or pointed out my favorites or how it ripped my heart out should any meet some kind of negative fate, its because I love every animal in this game but I want to discover all of them before I reveal all my favorites. In this sense, it feels like Planet Zoo missed out on an ideal opportunity to offer an enjoyable checklist of what animals you have given its best life so players could achieve that “catch em all” buzz we all love or hate (there is no in-between.)
You might also wonder why I don’t mention what I think will be a mod-creators dream. Mods are such a personal experience created by incredibly talented people and Planet Zoo is perfect for this level of entertainment but my reviews will always be about the game offered everybody plus I never use modified content in any game. Strange right? Like many I thrive on thinking outside the box with what’s given me but wow we’re already seeing such incredible creations made by players on the Steam Workshop! All of you are amazing!
Back to this experience though once I stepped out of Career Mode I found I had more fun though it made me actually sad that I just don’t have the memory required to stop using the interface for every single situation so this fun was short-lived. I have never played a sim before that needed me to stay attached to the interface for the entirety of my game time. Challenge mode offers economic minded players a haven. Sandbox mode is perfectly overwhelming and a mode of Planet Zoo I plan on getting lost in for months supporting the understanding I truly came to appreciate which is – this game has so much to offer but requires patience and more time than you might be willing so you can achieve building the best zoo anyone has ever seen especially those adorable, realistically spectacular animals!
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Steam PC with a code provided by PR.