If you’re familiar with Frontier Developments as a developer, you’ve likely seen their work in the acclaimed Planet Coaster. I played many hours of the game, myself. I’ve always have been a fan of the theme park management simulators and rollercoaster designers. I never was able to say the same for games like Zoo Tycoon always feeling that they lacked substance and motive for me to be there. That said, I was a fan of the PS2 classic, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis which explored a theme park setting where you setup your own dinosaur park. It played similar to the newer release Jurassic World Evolution.
Planet Zoo, on that note, fixes the issues that I had with what you might call its inspirations. Let’s dig in to see exactly how it does that, starting with gameplay.
Many people see a game like this and shrug, thinking there can’t be much too it. But there is a reason there are still plenty of people playing it almost a year later. Like it’s sibling and predecessor, Planet Coaster, there are several options for getting started: Franchise, Sandbox, Challenge, and Career.
The premise of the game is to build a zoo, but it doesn’t just stop there, or most people would play in Sandbox. See, the reality of real-world zoos can seem quite grim on the surface, and for good reasons we don’t have to explore here. However, in Planet Zoo every zoo is meant to be a good zoo, meaning that you focus on the well-being of the animals and bolstering their numbers to repopulate endangered species in the wild.
You don’t have to do this, obviously, but you get compensation for it as incentive. Typically, it’s easy to start with a small zoo consisting of either a few exhibits – glass boxes where you expect to see snakes, frogs, etc. – or one or two small enclosures with bigger animals that are fairly common. The thing I struggle with is the amount of animals available with the base game. I understand fully that they did a lot of work on the models to get them looking as good as they do, but the DLC has thus far been poorly rated with a significant portion of the reviews complaining about the price for how much you get out of it.
That said, you can fill up a zoo however you like, and the intention is to get creative. I’ve seen some zoos where the focus was just on raising Timber Wolves, vast enclosures with overhead bridges for guests to look over the railing at all the wolves playing freely. Similarly, you can make a safari type of zoo where you make one path raised over a giant enclosure where many cohabitative species coexist.
The management, though, in this aspect, seems a bit hollow. It seems to fall into a somewhat repetitive cycle. Buy a new animal, build its enclosure and setup the speaker and info board for guests to learn about them as they look at them, have your vets research them, repeat. The goal is whatever you make it, but I found myself running out of steam every time I picked this game up. Every time, I’d think to myself that this time would be different, that I’d make a huge, successful zoo and be the best and save all the animals.
Every time, that dream fizzled out due to the tedium of it. See, making money isn’t the hard part of the game, it’s the repetition. I suppose that’s why some people enjoy the challenges, or maybe I’m just not the kind of person who enjoys all the detailed building that many seem to enjoy. After all, that is one of the big aspects of the game that it shares with Planet Coaster – you can build just about anything you like, including modifying the terrain. So if you want to make a zoo to take incredibly beautiful pictures of cute animals doing cute things, I highly recommend taking the time to do so if that’s what you enjoy.
That’s something I struggle with, personally, though. I can build detailed things and customize and create, but I don’t find myself wanting to do it with Planet Zoo. I’m really not sure how this could be fixed, leaving me to posit that it just isn’t designed for me. Still, I find it lacking in the areas that I do enjoy, leaving me wishing for more substance. That’s particularly unfortunate considering that’s the complaint that has followed this genre of game as long as it’s existed.
As I mentioned above, the graphics here are incredible. They really put the effort into making the animals look good. They look better than the guests, even. The character models are nice, but they bother me a bit with how wacky they look. The animals look realistic and well-done and then you see the people and they’re…cartoony? It’s kind of a strange juxtaposition, and I know they’re meant to be space-fillers representative of customers while not being the focus of the game, but you do see them a lot.
The lighting, terrain, plants, and other small details all shine through. All the prefabs look good in their own ways, and even the weather feels realistic. Still, it all seems like a shiny package with little substance inside.
As far as the audio goes, it’s what you’d expect. A lot of animal sounds, crowd chatter, etc. The music, though, really sets the tone, much in the way that Planet Coaster did. The whole soundtrack is good, reminding you that it’s meant to be more whimsical, an air of “Let’s save the world together with good vibes” to it.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about it aside from that. It’s nothing that leaves you speechless, and because there isn’t a whole lot of music, it leaves you wanting more or feeling like it all blends together.
Replayability and Other Notes
As I’ve already stated, replayability can be there for the right players, but I find it difficult to revisit the more I go back and see the same issues over and over. The same frustrations, limitations, and insubstantial gameplay make this a game I wish I’d gotten on sale, unfortunately. My wife and I love the cute animals, but they just end up being more trouble than they’re worth while not being worth the retail price. That, and if you want to see the cute animals, you can watch the gameplay on youtube. So, ultimately, that leaves me recommending this to people who really just want to build amazing zoos with the building tools. And that’s fine if that’s your thing, but I’m sure if it is that you already have it.
All things considered, Planet Zoo receives a score of
Not the worst, still fun in short bursts for me, but not something I can recommend to everyone and especially not at retail price. Get it on sale, grab the DLCs on sale, and sure, have at it for a couple of days until you wind up putting it down.