Beta Impressions: Planet Zoo Might Very Well Be The Zoo Tycoon Successor We Need!
I have been a huge fan of the Tycoon series of games for as far as I can remember, a fascination kick-started after my aunt had given me a copy of Rollercoaster Tycoon 2. It took me a while to get into it, but when I did, I found the game absolutely liberating, giving me freedom to build and play unlike most other games.
I tracked all the Tycoon games I could find, Mall Tycoon, Lemonade Tycoon, Ski Resort Tycoon, you name it! However, there was one Tycoon game that I became the most enamoured with, and that was Zoo Tycoon 2! Unfortunately, for the last decade or so, we have had a drought of decent Tycoon or Sandbox games, with misfires like the last Zoo Tycoon and Atari’s Rollercoaster Tycoon World nibbling away at my hopes with their watered down mechanics. However, there was one developer who kept my hopes going, Frontier Developments! To say that Planet Coaster was a return to form for Sandbox Building games is a huge understatement. It brought back the freedom of building and managing I had only experienced with classic Zoo Tycoon games.
So, as you can imagine, I was extremely happy when Planet Zoo was announced. I couldn’t believe it, someone was finally going to give it the treatment it deserved, and who better than Frontier themselves! After having played the beta for a week, I can finally say that we are about to get the spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon that has been long overdue.
The beta alone had so many interesting animals for players to take care of, and I got to play around with the African Buffalo, Ostrich, and even Gemsbok! I avoided African Elephants because I got worried I won’t be able to take care of them, and nothing would make me more upset than seeing them happy as they are easily in my top 5 lists of favourite animals.
The building of the habitats and zoo is supported by Frontier’s robust building system that caters to both hobbyists and casual players, allowing you to go as modular as you want! In fact, there are already some amazing creations by the creative PC community on the Steam Workshop for Planet Zoo and at the time of writing, the total number is well above 2,000+. This basically means that you get endless amount of unique buildings, some that are themed at no extra cost to add extra flavour to your zoo. I can definitely see this boosting the longevity of the game once it is out.
The aspect that I am the most happy about returning is perhaps the encyclopaedia feature that lets you read about different animals, their preferred habitats, their population sizes and much more. It was my favourite bit of Zoo Tycoon and I am glad to see something similar here as it not only tells you all you need to know in order to best take care of your animals but also educates players on vital information about them!
Like all good Tycoon games, it isn’t only your theme park/Zoo/Business that you need to be mindful of, but also your customers/visitors, making sure to fulfil their basic needs such as having ample restrooms and a comfortable environment for them to explore. I like the fact that my zoo visitors complained about the staff and other utility and maintenance buildings being right next to the main attractions, sticking out like a sore thumb.
I particularly liked it because I can remember when I used to plan my Zoos as a kid (mostly during boring school classes on a notepad) I used to think of everything, about how animals would be grouped based on their tundra of choice, and how maintenance buildings would be a bit away from the main park so it didn’t diminish the approachability of the park for visitors. It didn’t matter in terms of mechanics back then, and was only a visual wish-list, but it is genuinely nice to see that something like that will actually play a role in how your customers perceive the park.
The game feels quite timely as well, where if you do not meet the basic needs of your animals, and they are generally unhappy, you can expect a visit from protestors, prompting you to take better care of your animals. I do have some issues with the windows being static and undraggable, but I won’t be surprised if it is only like this for the beta, and will be fixed on final release but otherwise I was really impressed by what I played.
However, I do wonder how much terrain we will be able to paint or edit as in the Zoo Tycoon 2 pack you had to ensure that the terrain was suited to the animals you were going to adopt. The beta did allow terrain painting and mentioned how animals could differentiate between different elements whilst some like the sand would remain the same but it will be best tested with the full game.
Temperature, electricity and water supply seem core to the gameplay, where you have to be careful of the temperature and lack of power if you want the wellbeing of your animals and staff to be a priority. Heating and cooling system is present where you can use heaters and coolers to manipulate the climate, but I will have to see how much it will play a part in the final game.
Lastly, it would be a crime not to mention the beautiful music of the game composed by the returning J.J. Ipsen who was also responsible for the soothing and memorable music to Planet Coaster. It, mixed with the beautiful ambient sounds of various birds, animals and the brisky weather really do manage to deliver an almost ethereal atmosphere, reminiscent of the exotic wilderness. I am sure that fans of Planet Coaster’s soundtrack will definitely adore this as well. The original music is not the only impressive aspect of sound, as the general SFX are also very well made, making every button hover and press feel responsive and polished, with sound effects that complement the action you execute, for example the sounds of bricks shuffling when you build.
The beta really did bring me to my happy place, as I once again got to interact with various virtual animals and Zoo structures, on a scale that was only a dream before. Whilst it may sound a bit too melodramatic to some, it really did give me a rush of mixed emotions, especially as my childhood is fondly associated with Zoo Tycoon games. If the beta really is an indication of what to expect, I really couldn’t be happier but more importantly relieved as now is the time, more than ever that we need games like these, to once again remind and teach us about the beautiful wild animals we share our world with, who through recent tragedies like over-expansion and the unfortunate man-made disasters like the Amazon fire need our help at this crucial time! I cannot wait to let hours slip by discovering and interacting with the need and grace of every animal that will be available in the final game. It definitely is in very capable hands!