Planet Zoo PreviewPlatforms: PC
Planet Zoo, set to release on November 5th, 2019, has been described as "the ultimate zoo sim" by its developer, Frontier Developments. And given their history of quite successful tycoon and sim games, I would venture to say that they might know a bit about what they are talking about here. In fact, Planet Zoo is not even their first zoo-based foray into the genre, but how is this latest creation shaping up so far? Let's take a quick look at the game's beta to find out.
The Game Modes
While not all game modes are available in the beta for Planet Zoo, enough is known about them to start the hype trains running.
Scenario mode for Planet Zoo is the equivalent to a story or campaign about your life in the zoo business. In the beta players are limited to just the first scenario, though as the menu suggests there will be plenty of scenarios to complete once the full game is released. The first scenario places the player in charge of an already well established zoo owned by a Mr. Goodwin.
As can be expected for a first scenario in any game, the player is tasked with learning the controls and mechanisms of the game through various zoo-related maintenance tasks. These tasks range from going from one habitat to the next to learn camera and navigation skills, to satisfying the wellness needs of zoo animals, all the way to constructing a new habitat from scratch. And while just one scenario is not much to get started with, once finished with tasks you are able to keep playing around in the starter zoo to practice if wanted.
While Scenario mode holds your hand and gradually submerges you into the zoo management pool, Franchise mode tosses you right into the deep end and says "good luck!" I strongly recommend playing Scenario mode first, otherwise your initial experience will likely be a frustrating one. Franchise mode allows the player to create their own zoo from scratch, for better or for worse. Once choosing a name for your fledgling zoo (mine was most creatively named Zootown), you are presented with a blank canvas to make your zoo dreams come true. The sheer overwhelming thought of going from nothing to a thriving zoo is both exciting and daunting. And then the notification pops up stating that the zoo inspector will arrive in a two months, which is a surprisingly short amount of in-game time, and stress takes over.
I would say that not much is known about the currently unavailable Sandbox mode, but, I mean, it is Sandbox mode. What we can likely expect here will be an open-ended, all-access zoo experience where (basically) anything can happen. Hopefully game mechanics such as infinite money and similar main game hurdles can be manipulated to further this freedom of expression, but we will have to wait until November 5th to find out for sure.
I believe the animals speak for themselves here. It wouldn't be a worthy zoo simulator without quality animals to back it up! Ranging from tiny exhibits of bugs and frogs to enormous elephants, all of the typical zoo fauna can be found in the respective biomes and habitats. Additionally, if the Deluxe edition of the game is purchased, three unique animals (Pygmy Hippopotamus, Thomson’s Gazelle and Komodo Dragon) can also find their homes in your dream zoo. And I mean come on, baby elephants! What isn't to love about baby elephants?
And besides animals, you can't have a good zoo simulator without having to do a bit of management of said zoo and animals. This is where the years of experience achieved by Frontier Developments really shines. Zoo management is surprisingly in depth in Planet Zoo, yet I found all elements approachable and engaging throughout my time with the beta. Habitat creation and maintenance includes the ability to design the shape and size of the habitat itself, deciding where to put food, water, shelter, and even enrichment for the animals to stay happy and active. To keep the animals thriving and happy, though, more needs to be considered. For example, it is quite necessary to take into consideration the animals natural environment when constructing their habitats, such as native plants, terrain types, climbing options, and so on. Even the climate or temperature needs to be considered and handled appropriately through the heat-map overlay.
The terrain and construction tools are intuitive and well thought out. Changing terrain types and shapes are as simple as using the various terrain brushes, setting the appropriate size, shape, and type, and painting the corrected terrain where it belongs. Constructing buildings can be accomplished via included blueprints for commonly needed buildings. Alternatively, if you are feeling particularly creative and industrious, the game also features an adequately robust architectural menu for building exactly what you have envisioned for your zoo.
And of course, as with any tycoon-style game, time will be spent making sure staff and guests alike are appropriately taken care of. Zoo buildings such as keeper huts or veterinary buildings should be placed appropriately to increase efficiency of your zoo, along with needing to make sure all powered elements of the zoo are actually receiving power. And don't forget to place a donation bucket near your most popular attractions. You are running a business after all.
As this preview is merely based on the beta release of Planet Zoo, I would imagine further changes are to be expected. Based on my beta experience, I can only hope that the retail version will be optimized a bit better due to recurrent navigation-based lag and graphical hiccups. Additionally, I experienced multiple instances of having to click a button repeatedly before it would respond in game, though this can easily be chalked up to beta-blues. Otherwise, performance remained quite positive for me.
The missing game modes and the rest of the actual content are obviously set to come out with the retail release, though with only one month remaining until said release I was a bit surprised to not have more things to test out in the beta. Assuming this limitation was on purpose, I remain cautiously optimistic.
Of final note is the main gripe many players seem to have had with the beta. The previously mentioned Franchise mode has been implemented as an online-only mode in which players must trade with other players online to expand their animal options, along with various other online interactions needed to play. However, whether just because of faulty servers during the beta or not, the online requirements have not been terribly successful or well received. Thankfully, Frontier listened to their audience and intend to release an offline mode similar to Franchise mode for solo players to enjoy.