Planet Zoo is the latest simulation game from Frontier Developments (Planet Coaster, Jurassic World Evolution). There are 76 species that can be adopted into your zoo, including the classics – lions, monkeys and elephants – as well as more obscure mammals, creepy crawlies and reptiles from across the world.
There are three different modes that you can play (career, franchise, sandbox) meaning that there is something for everyone. The sandbox mode allows creative freedom with all the resources, research, animals, biomes and climates unlocked, as well as an unlimited spending cap. While the tools and controls are similar to Planet Coaster, they can sometimes be quite fiddly, especially when working with details and different terrains.
The campaign, or career mode, holds your hand through managing 12 different zoos across the globe, some fully pre-made and some that you have to start from scratch as you progress further into the game. At first, the campaign does seem to give you less creative freedom and has stricter instructions. Yet as you progress through the zoos, earning star rankings for each that you complete, you are given more freedom. The characters you meet along the way are all kind and soothing, especially the elderly lady with a Welsh accent.
The developers focused less on the design of human characters, such as the zoo guests and the playable character (that you can customise, which is always nice). The decision to be more basic with these design elements is justifiable as soon as you see the design of the animals. They are breathtaking. The realism put into the graphics is unreal, from the deep textures on their fur to the flawless animations. It’s a good job the tasks don’t have time limits, as I found myself just sat watching the apes; eating, climbing, interacting with their offspring, and even doing their business as though I was a guest at a real life zoo.
Alongside this, the in-game music is soft, calm and relaxing, reminiscent of Minecraft music, to make the managing experience less stressful.
Another impressive, realistic feature of the game is the climate. Depending which biome you are in, such as temperate, tundra or tropical, the weather in the zoo is correspondent. For example, in temperate areas, it rains, and in the tundra biomes, it snows. Although this small detail makes the game more interconnected with the real world, a downfall is that when there are extreme weather conditions, it can be difficult to see the animals or where you are building.
Each animal has tailored and specific needs, such as the food they eat, enrichment activities they enjoy, and even the plants natural to their home habitat. This makes the game not only enjoyable but educational, as you can learn about the different animals and understand their needs even deeper with the more research you do. Getting it all perfect, although time consuming, is important as you need to have high animal welfare levels to progress further through the campaign. However, things can go wrong quite quickly. Elephants can barge down the glass barriers and the cheekier monkeys will climb up over the top of their fences; so you really do have to focus your time, making sure the habitats follow the exact needs of that animal.
Overall, the soothing music, astoundingly realistic graphics and a huge amount of details and facts about the animals that inhabit our planet, make this micromanagement game more relaxing than laborious.