Planet Zoo comes from the same team that made Planet Coaster – a fantastic modernization of the long dead “tycoon” genre(?) of games, most notably Rollercoaster Tycoon and those who attempted to be similar for a time. RCT2 and 3 still stand up as basically the best games of their kind and some of the most easily returned to and rewarding games on the PC even after all this time. Planet Coaster was made by the same people who made RCT3 and now, showing they were still able to capture that magic and great repeatable yet never monotonous gameplay via Planet Coaster, they’ve decided to take on the Zoo Tycoons of the world as well. Surprisingly, nowhere in this review do I make a joke about monkeys and the current social climate.
The main issues with this game are a little bit of UI problems, some bugs that will screw you over for awhile at times, and the DLC.
UI is not too hard to follow but it can be a pain in the ass, especially early on. I found even now after playing for a good amount of time it’s still a bit unintuitive. My biggest continuing issue is mostly with trying to resize fences; choosing the entire fence is simple with dragging a little arrow, but to make it taller the icon is near impossible to find and click if you aren’t zoomed way in and you aren’t because you’re trying to pick the entire surrounding fence of the enclosure. It’s annoying. That’s just one small example but there are a lot of things like that even after you get used to it all.
With the bugs, I got very unlucky a few times. Some I’ve forgotten but the biggest one I ran into was that for some reason one specific Keeper’s Hut – where the zoo keepers must go to get food for the animals – glitched. It was a large hut so it was used by several keepers and was in charge of my two biggest enclosures featuring a mix of animals in both. For some reason any keeper that went into the building got stuck there permanently making food or standing in line to make food forever. It was about a full hour in fast forward speed until I figured out the problem (managing a zoo makes it hard to sit staring at a building when there are all the other animals and the guests to worry about) and why all of my animals in that area of the park were starving, thirsty, and eventually dead. Once I spotted it I still couldn’t fix it for ages. I tried firing everyone – they would not move they continued going to the fridge and the sink and back and forth forever. I tried building a new one, nobody would leave this one or the line to it. The only answer – which should have really been an earlier thing I tried, was completely destroying the building. However, building a new one also had the same problem. I had to build it in an entirely different area far away from the same spot or else it kept happening if I rebuilt there or near there, almost as if the whole just area of land was glitched. This was during the story mode and on a difficult level so this was pretty shitty.
Other bad ones include basic issues with all the “tycoon” games with pathing problems where visitors will get stuck for ABSOLUTELY no reason until you simply delete a path piece and replace it identically and things like that. Animals also have problems which lead to them either being boxed up without you knowing for a very long time – which leads to severe stress and can kill the animal (and at “best” make protestors come because its welfare is so low) or they can become glitched into “escaping” a perfect and very large fence purely because they woke up next to another animal or something and their body threw itself onto the top of the fence by mistake. One time an animal ended up in a box on top of a street light. Nothing major, just minor annoyances and the keeper problem was a one-time issue, luckily, however they’re similar to problems that were around in Planet Coaster so it’s kind of frustrating they are still around but at least now (aside for stuck guests or glitched keeper’s huts) it’ll warn you about things like animals getting super unhappy, stressed, boxed up too long, or escaping so it’s easy enough to fix but happens too often for reasons that it shouldn’t.
As for the DLC, that’s a pretty typical and easy to explain one. Too much money for too little in return. They add some plants and a few ‘styles’ of decoration and just like 3 new animals but they cost $10 each.
Oh, one I forgot somehow – sometimes the game really fucking chugs. I’ve seen other people mention this too – even if you drop all graphics to trash it’ll happen, it’s not a graphical thing, it’s something being unoptimized and making it run like hell until you change where the camera is. I assume something like fur physics and colliders on larger groups of people, but I really don’t know. It’s not a HUGE problem because it’s not super common – but it’s also gonna happen at times no matter what.
Aside those things though, this is a great game if you’re into this type of thing. One new addition that isn’t really there in theme park games is that this comes with a campaign that has story – it’s still the usual RCT style situation where it’s basically “do these certain things and you win that level” but it mixes in a thinly written plot along with it this time. That part is just whatever, but I did like playing through the campaign as it’s a great way to be forced to do things you might not think to, see some zoos for ideas for your own, serves as a sort of tutorial, and give you challenging goals to work towards and feel progress with while seeing a wide arrange of differnet settings like an Asian zoo, a Russian zoo, etc.
Plot-wise it’s basically a nice boomer hires you to work on his zoos, he dies, some evil white guy buys all his zoos and ruins them, and then boomer’s mixed race brown daughter with terrible voice acting hires you to make good zoos to fight against his shitty zoos. It gives enough of something so that the challenges you get each level have the slightest more to them instead of just mindlessly “reach x amount of people in your zoo” and also sets up scenarios that can be interesting or difficult to take on like dealing with a zoo that has a bunch of falling apart fences for already full with animals spots or dealing with not being able to hire any new staff and being forced to learn to be efficient with work zones.
Beyond that there is the sandbox mode to do whatever with infinite funds and, more my style, the challenge mode/franchise mode. Franchise and challenge are the same thing only franchise has online sales between players of all the zoo animals. I didn’t really care for that (everything was way too costly to start up a zoo) but offline is where I’ve spent most of my time outside of the campaign. The “challenges” it gives you are all pretty much nothing, like “release an animal to the wild” or “have 500 people in the zoo” and repeat endlessly, but it’s better than nothing and most importantly it has an economy instead of the infinite funds like sandbox mode and also forces you to research everything normally to unlock new stuff. To me that’s the main difference, when I’m given 100% free everything I have a hard time especially early on, but having to still work around the money I have until later when I’m loaded and having to spend time researching new stuff? It sets a good pace and makes you set things up well instead of just throwing everything everywhere in the first 10 minutes.
I love zoos so finally having a newer game based around building and running one has been a lot of fun after there basically being nothing; last I can think of being the DLC for RCT3 which was a little more cool because you’d have a mix of zoo and amusement park with rollercoasters flying through the animal pens. You get a few options here for “rides” but it’s all transportation aside the safari 4×4 which lets people ride through the bigger enclosures with non carnivorous animals, a few places can even be walked into (very few) by people like the bird or turtle exhibits.
Something I (for some reason) really like is that they included those little exhibits all zoos have – you know the glass enclosures with like a single big snake or a few bird eating spiders, stuff like that. They’ve got those here too (and a lot of varied species to pick from for those too) and it gives it that extra step to feeling like a real zoo.
As far as decorations go, I really like how they used them here in terms of so many of them mattering. Do Not Feed signs actually will help lessen issues of people feeding your animals, putting up educational boards of the animals in a pen will give guests more happiness and more willingness to spend more money (and make it look more like a real zoo), little speakers that tell visitors about the animals in the enclosure too, loads of toys to keep the animals happy and watch them play with, and so on. There’s a lot and it keeps it entertaining to develop the park.
Visually the game is very nice too with the exception of kind of needing to keep many enclosures too empty when in reality most zoo enclosures are overly packed with plants and trees and it’d look a lot nicer in the game that way too – it looks fine as it is and some look great but when you design some you’ll end up putting 3 trees instead of 2 and suddenly the bear will want to kill itself and you’ll have a billion protesters. I wish there was more freedom with that aspect, but it’s fine and you can still decorate around the outside of the enclosure as much as you want and some animals love loads of shit.
Beyond that the actual graphical quality is very nice especially on the higher settings (I’m at about mid just cuz I’m hoping it helps with the earlier mentioned issue). Animal fur looks really good up close and the animations are fantastic, they even went through and made each animal fit how it should do things and look and move. I mean the hippos literally muck-spread, if you don’t know what that is let me quote AVGN: “That’s when a hippo takes a shit; rather than allowing the shit to drop from its anus, it presses its tail against its ass crack, waving it back and forth, shredding the shit all over the place.” Yes, they animated it. No, I’m not a scat fetishist but it’s impossible to miss when you are looking at your animals and you see shit flying out of the asshole of one and then notice its tail helicopter rotoring through it all.
Because nearly everything is just animal habitats the focus is heavily on micromanagement and keeping all the animals (and guests) happy and spending your time enjoying yourself in your own ways like perfectly designing this or that animal enclosure or making nice relaxation or shopping areas. Now that I’ve hit somewhat of a dead end on creativity for my own challenge park and finished all but the last 2 levels of the story (I’m gonna keep trying but it went from pretty easy to a situation I just can’t get past the first 10 minutes of without being so in debt I can’t recover), maybe I’ll try remaking real zoos that I’ve gone to and really enjoyed beyond continuing the challenge one further until I have all the animals in it. I’m thinking San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park combined into one thing (they pretty much are anyway, you never just go to one always both) as I went every year for my birthday for much of my young life and maybe the zoo out in Phoenix since I intended to go every week or two until diverse neighbors forced me to move at literal gunpoint.
Well, anyway, I really like this game – I got it on sale so I believe it was like $33 and 5 bucks more or so for a DLC that added 3 more animals. It’s not like it isn’t worth the full price though – you’ll definitely get the hours and fun out of it, but at the same time I feel like for some reason I’d rather recommend waiting for a sale if you want to ge tit. If you are into the tycoon style of games I’d say this definitely lives up to and exceeds the old zoo focused ones so it’s definitely worth playing, though if you’re looking for something more exciting and with massive amounts of content in comparison then go for Planet Coaster but you won’t be getting any cute pandas or wolves there.
One last thing; don’t worry, Chief Beef is here too.