Tycoon games have been some of my all-time favorite games to play ever since middle school. I loved the aspect of conquering financial challenges mixed in with the creativity of building a whole new realm, so to speak. Rollercoaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon are by far my favorites out of the tycoon games that I’ve encountered. I could still play them all day, everyday if time would allow it. When these sorts of games started getting updated to be playable on today’s computer systems I got really excited. I’ll admit that when I played Planet Coaster specifically, I was a little let down due to the fact that it seemed to be more centered around the roller coasters themselves and the immersive perspective of the game rather than any sort of “tycoon” factor. However I did recognize that this game wasn’t really marketed as a “tycoon” game, but more of an amusement park building game with monetary challenges that you could use to create some sense of actually working towards a goal (some of which are actually quite challenging!). So, when I saw that Frontier Developments was finally releasing a zoo game with the actual title of “Zoo Tycoon,” I thought this could be the gateway to that childhood nostalgia I was seeking. I honestly have not been more wrong about something in a very long time. This game should not be classified as a tycoon game, it should be classified as a zoo keeper simulation game. For those who loved the original games and were hoping that this would be an updated version, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the only things these games actually have in common is that you build zoos in both.
I try to look for at least something to praise in any game I play or situation I find myself in, and there are a few positive qualities about this game that I’d like to highlight. I really enjoyed the option to be able to walk around the zoo and watch the animals play in their enclosures and whatnot, that’s one of the qualities that also made Zoo Tycoon 2 so appealing to many people. The graphical detailing on the animals was well done as well; everything was very beautiful to look at in this game. The other thing that was done well in this game was the multiplayer option. They did a great job of making the interface usable with multiple people working on the same zoo at once. I was able to work on and build one section of the zoo while my roommate was able to expand the other side and had it not been for the many other frustrating parts of this game itself, we might have been able to have a very good time building and maintaining a park together.
When I loaded this game up, I immediately pulled up sandbox mode, thinking it would be rather self explanatory and I could get the basics figured out on my own. This was absolutely not the case. Walking around, I had no idea how to do anything, which is fine because that’s what tutorials were created for. I entered the tutorial screen and it was separated out into 10 different parks that are supposed to show you different things that you can do in the game. The text for these tutorials were repetitive and superfluous, and most of them could have been combined together. Instead, players have about maybe 10-15 minutes that the player has to play through in each of the parks. It took me just shy of 2 hours to get through all ten of them. I could probably go on and on about picking these tutorials apart more and other things and microtransactions that I didn’t like about them, but I think that covers the bulk of it.
The Animals and Enclosures
The game info listed on Steam boasts that you can get up close and personal with, “almost 200 visually stunning animals and the largest, most detailed selection of environments ever”. This statement is a complete joke. Yes, there are many animal varieties to choose from, but in reality there are maybe 40 actual animal types and the varieties come into play with specific sub-species types. For example: if all of the animals are unlocked and the player wants to adopt some elephants, there are about 6 different types of elephants available such as an Indian Elephant, Sri Lankan Elephant, Borneo Elephant, Sumatran Elephant, African Bush Elephant, African Forest Elephant, etc. So, while they’re saying they have this wide variety of animals, it looks more like they were lazy and didn’t want to have to create more animal models, so they essentially reskinned the animals and counted each one as a completely different animal.
One part of this game that actually legitimately made me angry is how they approached a lot of things having to do with the animals themselves. One of these being the animal interaction stations. One of these stations involves you cleaning some of the bigger animals with what basically looks like a fire hose water gun. Another involves you helping improve the “social needs” of animals with a large glass window station so you can make faces back and forth at them. These are completely unrealistic animal interactions and would honestly be teaching any young children that might play this game poor animal etiquette. To top it all off, after you’ve interacted with the animals enough to get them to level 15, you’re encouraged to release them into the wild. No, I’m sorry. No. Under no circumstances ever after an animal has been under such intense human interaction and dependency should they be released into the wild. I don’t know what on earth these game developers were thinking but that is absolutely absurd.
In regards to the claims again in the game info on Steam, of the enclosures being “the biggest, most detailed selections of environments ever,” that may be true, but players have basically zero customization factor in creating these environments. All of the enclosures are pre-made and the only choices players get to make in them are where it goes, which animals get put there, and where the necessary animal care and enrichment items are placed (there are pre-determined slots for you to pick from specifically). There is no creative aspect of getting to build a home for the animal. There is no trial and error factor or challenge in order for players to learn what the animal is going to like best. Players just place it all down and continue on. This was one of the most heartbreaking aspects of this game for me because that extra creativity and freedom was one of the things that really made players feel like a god in the original games. In regard to the other areas of the park and their customization opportunities, they are also extremely minimal and players are restricted to placing certain things such as benches and trash cans only in specific spots.
Gameplay and Sandbox Mode
This game was originally released on consoles, so it does make sense that it would work better with a controller, however it seems like they put absolute minimal effort in making the controls work with a mouse and keyboard. When playing this game, there are so many different controls to remember that it’s entirely overwhelming and frustrating. They really needed to simplify and streamline all of the controls to help the players actually be able to know what on earth they’re supposed to be doing. There are also multiple ways to get around your zoo, through zoo view or tycoon view, or the completely unnecessary addition of the buggy transportation system. The buggy is basically useless. The controls for it are completely ridiculous, and it seems like the only reason that they added it in was so that players can have the option to race each other when you are playing in multiplayer mode. This racing option also has no positive quality to it because it’s just driving and trying to get to different checkpoints and back first. Players are both driving on pathways that are already almost too narrow for even one buggy to be driving on.
As far as the sandbox mode goes, that was equally frustrating. In my mind when I think of sandbox mode, I’m going to have full access to everything the game has to offer so I can do and build whatever I want. This is not the case. Even in sandbox mode, players have to level up the fame of the zoo in order to have access to all that this game has to offer. On top of that, as different things are being unlocked, players unlock certain animals before they can actually unlock the enclosures that the animals are supposed to live in. It was all just a mess and I felt like I was running into one issue after another while I was just trying to sit back and have fun making a zoo.
All in all, this game really was just awful. I had so many more minor complaints with the game, but I’ll leave it at that. If you’d like to see my initial reactions and commentary of my 3 hours of gameplay, the VOD will be temporarily accessible for the next couple of weeks or so on my Twitch channel. My roommate and I have already both gotten a refund for this game, and I suspect that many others who gave it a try will be doing the same. If anyone was thinking about getting this game, I can say definitively that unless they’re just looking for a way to be up in the faces of animals and interacting with them in an inappropriate manner, don’t waste money on it. I was wanting so badly for this to be the tycoon game I was waiting for, but it seems that I’ll have to keep on waiting.