I’ve always been a fan of business sim games. Ever since I played Theme Park and Theme Hospital way back when, I’ve loved jumping in and trying, unsuccessfully, to run a viable business. See, while I love these games, I am terrible at them. Woeful in fact. Which is why Planet Zoo from Frontier Developments makes me really happy. It’s really hard to fail…so far.
Recently, Planet Zoo hosted a closed beta and I was fortunate enough to be invited to play. Having spent far too much time playing Zoo Tycoon and Jurassic World Evolution, I hoped that Planet Zoo would scratch the same itch.
Does it ever. And then some.
Planet Zoo takes everything great about Jurassic World Evolution, does away with some of the frustrations and adds a tonne of new features designed to make it the best business sim ever.
Not to mention an adorable, digital collection of some amazing animals.
Planet Zoo Hands-On
On starting Planet Zoo you create your Zookeeper, choose their home town and enter some details. This is to link you to the global Planet Zoo server and marketplace where you can trade and sell your animals to other zoos the world over.
Once that’s done, you can dive into the freeplay mode or tackle the campaign. The beta only included one scenario and one freeplay location/zoo but even then, I’d still advise you to play the campaign first as it teaches you how to play.
There is an incredible and intense amount of detail included in Planet Zoo which all comes together to inform how your zoo runs and functions. You’ll need to manage your staff, animals, guests and actual zoo grounds amongst dozens of other things to keep the front gates open.
Making sure your animals are happy requires more than just an enclosure and some food. You’ll need to make sure it’s the right size, the right temperature, filled with the right plants, has enough water, the correct type of ground and enough stimulation. There is a huge list of things to keep an eye on to make sure your animals are happy and each species has different wants and needs.
And that’s just the beginning!
You’ll need Vets, maintenance men, researchers, scientists, gardeners, food vendors and on and on the list goes.
It might sound tedious, but Frontier nails the insane balancing act of all of the competing interests and manages to make everything fun and interesting.
This is largely due to the animals themselves. They’re beautifully rendered and are full of personality. You can zoom right in on them and even enter animal cam to view the world through their eyes. While zoomed in you can watch them go about their day, playing, feeding and simply wandering around.
They’re so endearing that you can’t help but want to give them the best possible life so it makes being a good zookeeper a little easier. It’s not just about the money, it’s also about making this digital fauna happy.
A big part of Planet Zoo is the animal marketplace. Here you buy, sell and trade animals with other Zoos. When you purchase animals with in-game cash, you’re not able to earn conservation credits which are key to unlocking more features and building a better zoo. You earn these credits by releasing animals into the wild, through completing daily-logins and in-game quests.
Conservation is a major theme underpinning Planet Zoo and Frontier has built emphasis on it right into the fabric of the game. Play as a conservationist and you’ll progress much more quickly and gain higher tiers of animals. Choose not to and you’ll be struggling with lower tiers.
For me, playing the campaign was and will be far more enjoyable. I need guidance and missions to get the most out of these games. If you prefer the blue sky approach, then you’ll love the free play mode. You choose your continent and set to work building the best zoo you can from scratch. Whatever you want, you’re able to make.
I struggle with so much freedom, so my zoo had two zebras and nothing else before I abandoned it. Don’t worry, I released them into the wild first.
Already looking gorgeous and playing just as wonderfully, Planet Zoo is a smorgasbord of stats, objectives and to-do lists. Type A gamers will get a huge kick out of Planet Zoo as will animal lovers.
If you’re not one for stressful, stat balancing then Planet Zoo can still be fun. You’ll just have to play it a lot more casually, which is, surprisingly, an option.
After my hands-on with Frontier for making an intense, deep and complex business sim that can and will appeal to the hardcore and casual gamer alike.
Planet Zoo launches for PC on November 5, 2019.