As a big fan of the first Zoo Tycoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Zoo Tycoon for the Xbox One on launch day. The game boasts ‘the best Zoo Tycoon experience ever’, with 101 animals to adopt and nurture.
Users can navigate in-game using either a 3rd person view with a zookeeper avatar, or a birds-eye view of the zoo and surrounding terrain. A vague but simplistic levelling-up system prevents all animals and buildings being accessible straight away – building more enclosures, visitor buildings and facilities will increase this level. After reaching a level, and unlocking say a larger habitat for an animal, it can be researched. Zoo rating also plays an important role, attracting more visitors to your zoo. Everything requires maintenance, from the animals themselves to burger stands – so an eagle eye on status bars is important.
Certain animals within enclosures can be interacted with by using a controller or Kinect – all 3 of the interactions (feeding, cleaning and imitation) were great to look at, but definitely seemed more appropriate for children. Even as an adult, I had a lot of fun out of a cheeky baby monkey imitating my facial expressions – the imitation interaction is quite accurate and tested the Kinect’s capabilities.
I went through all 10 of the tutorials in-game. They were very long-winded and repeated sections that had already been covered multiple times, but I didn’t feel at all confused going into the main campaign afterwards – which is nice for a game usually suited for PC. I think the game would have benefited from a tutorial that was integrated into the main campaign, rather than it being separated – there wasn’t even an achievement for completing all 10 tutorial missions, even though it took over an hour to complete them all. The campaign does noticeably increase in its difficulty – especially when you are tasked to adopt any animal from a certain location. The suggestions to look at an in-game encyclopaedia of animal knowledge isn’t a 100% surefire way to find out an animal’s locale – South-east Asia now apparently stretches to India!
The UI can be quite frustrating at times, with over-complicated menu sequences and menu loading times. With both of the birds-eye and third person views available at any one time and being able to access all the menus whilst in either view, precious campaign time will be wasted through incorrect navigation.
Animal traits and characteristics are spot on – they look and feel the part completely. Watching the animals in Zoo Tycoon isn’t an exact replacement for going to the zoo, obviously, but it will fill the gap in the meantime! I’m saddened by the fact that the zoo keeper avatar can no longer enter animal exhibits, animal cages already are pre-built and pathways are already pre-built, which takes away from the customisation level of previous Zoo Tycoons. Luckily, you can still shovel poop, and there is even an achievement for it!
Overall, I’m impressed with the accuracy with which the animals are brought to life and feel that this game would be great for children to play on. Frontier (the developers) seem to have taken away some of the zoo simulation/customisation from previous games to simplify this one for consoles, but haven’t considered the impact on gameplay that the complex menu system has. The latest Zoo Tycoon doesn’t yet foot the title of the best Zoo Tycoon ever, but the foundations have been set for a potentially great sequel, should user feedback be listened to.