Publisher: Koch Media
Developer: Deep Silver
Release Date: July 17, 2006
Animal lovers, raise your hands. If you've ever been to a zoo where what qualified as a sanctuary was four grey walls with the animal sulking moodily in a puddle of its own urine, and you thought to yourself, "I could do a better job," then this is the game for you. Wildlife Park 2 puts you in the place of a wildlife park developer who jets around the world between dilapidated zoos and neglected animal reserves waving your magic wand and making things right. It's a well thought-out blend of education and entertainment that should please zoo fanatics and tycoon management gamers looking for a new challenge.
You can opt between following the mission scenarios or building freestyle without limits. Each scenario is preceded by a short, imaginative and well-written story narrated in a grandfatherly manner that loosely follows your quest to find your missing father who disappeared on a wild-goose chase to find a prehistoric whale. Following these missions will introduce you in a foolproof way to the basics of gameplay and will take you to all corners of the world from Alpine wilderness to the African savannah to desert scrub.
At its most basic level, your task is to build enclosures for your animals, and furnish them with creature comforts to make their stay a happy one. Since animals will starve to death if you don't feed them, this should be your first priority. Every animal has a different appetite, and you will need to build greenhouses, and fish and poultry farms to cater for the wide diversity in tastes. In addition, the more fussy inhabitants will need water, shelter from bad weather, hills, scratching material, a place to swim, and the list goes on. The game includes utilities that will allow you to terraform to your liking, adding cascading waterfalls here, or deep valleys there, and those with the more patience and aesthetic judgment than me will be able to create some beautiful wildlife parks. The two botanists reading this review will appreciate the wide diversity of flora present in the game, each with their own temperature and soil preferences.
By clicking on an animal, you get the informational equivalent of a Dr. Doolittle consultation. The detailed animal statistics will let you know loud and clear what the animal needs or lacks. For example, the raccoon who told me, "I'd do anything for some raw meat." We all know that feeling. If managing animals were this easy in real life, we'd all give up our day jobs. Sadly, while this utility makes it easier to cater for your animals' needs, the over-wrought interface also removes some of the natural feeling that should come with managing wildlife, even if it is digital wildlife. A happy animal is a healthy animal that will eventually feel the urge to make the beast with two backs and endow your zoo with lots of babies to make visitors go, "Awwww."
Perhaps most fun of all, at least for five seconds, is placing predator and prey in the same enclosure. Although I'd always assumed it, Wildlife Park 2 helped to confirm for me the fact that the last thought to go through a mountain goat's head before it gets devoured by a ravenous cheetah is, "Help, I've been injured!" Wildlife Park 2 is also the only game I know of where you can put a giant squid, an African elephant, a band of chimpanzees and an angler fish all within the same enclosure just to see what would happen. However, you do risk having a group of animal rights activists turn up waving placards to protest your inhumane treatment.
Once the animals are happily housed, you'll need to think about providing for the visitors if you want any income. A large number of facilities exist for just this purpose, including food stands, souvenir shops, restrooms, botanic gardens, and jeep safari-style monorails. You can even micromanage beverage stands, toilets and other shops, tweaking the prices here and there to milk your visitors for all they're worth. To attract more visitors to your park, you can run marketing campaigns from the cheap and nasty pamphlets to the costly extravagance of a regional TV program with your zoo as the star of the show. Park decorations, like a recreation of the pyramids of Egypt or a panda sculpture, will help visitors forget about the cost of admission.
One group of people you'll want to treat well and not neglect and is your park's employees. The animal keeper manages what goes into the animals, while the handyman cleans up what comes out. The doctor, bin man and gardener all have important roles too, and their stations only have a limited range of effect – something you'll have to take into account in designing your park. You also have the option to turn your environmental facility into a P.T. Barnum circus attraction by training your animals using a host of contraptions, such as the treadmill and the podium. Training will take time, but it's a guaranteed moneymaker, and a chimp that can sing and dance will sell for more than one that can merely scratch itself.
As if looking after the animals, visitors and employees weren't enough, you'll also be talking a lot to the trees to find out about their complaints, which are usually that the ground is either too hard or too soft. Thankfully, Wildlife Park 2 makes it fantastically easy to cure these issues by allowing you to select and effectively paint different land textures onto your park, from mud to concrete, to best suit your animals and plants. No back-breaking digging for you.
The mission goals tend to become a little repetitive after a while and do not present any major challenges except to your time. Usually, you will be required to achieve a certain population of animals and make sure they all reach a certain percentage of happiness. At other times, you will have to achieve monetary goals or make sure your park visitors are sufficiently catered to. One interesting mission has you up to your elbows helping entrepreneurial ostrich farmers to breed and sell off the long-necked birds for profit.
The graphics succeed most in rendering the vast range of landscapes and climates with a satisfying degree of fidelity. From the Galapagos Islands to the dry desert hues of Burundi, the developers have done well in capturing a sense of location. Plants in your park also look decent, and they wither or flourish, depending on how well looked-after they are. The water is as clear as a swimming pool and has some basic lighting effects, as well as pretty particle effects when it cascades over rocks or a waterfall. One criticism is that the landscape is static for the most part and lacks much ambient detail, which leads to a slightly barren feeling. The interface tends to take up an overly large part of the screen, which sometimes makes it difficult to get up close and personal with the animals. These windows can be closed for when you want to take your own private safari around your park.
Of course, the most important aspect is the animals, which generally look good, while not necessarily outstanding. The designers have paid a lot of attention to detail so that a male ostrich will look noticeably different from a female, and baby offspring bear the marks, colors and stripes of juveniles. Where the game really trips up, however, is in the animation. If the animals attempt anything more strenuous than a walk, they lose any shred of authenticity you might once have been willing to grant them. You can probably count the number of frames of animation involved in a mountain goat's leap on one hand, and eating is miraculously accomplished without the food ever coming anywhere near the animal's mouth. This is a real shame because a lot of work has evidently gone into reproducing realistic animal behaviors, such as pigs wallowing in the mud, and various mating acts.
One further interesting idea that comes straight out of "Jurassic Park" is the ability to harvest genetic material for researchers to recreate ancient extinct species. Once you locate a genetic dump, you build a research station nearby, and the men in white coats will dutifully appear to collect samples for analysis in the lab. Given enough time, they will be able to reproduce animals fresh from a test tube that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
The game features a fantastically appropriate soundtrack brimming with pan-global music featuring pan pipes and enthusiastic chanting that never really feels too repetitive. Zoom in closer for the bleats, chirps, purrs, roars, squeals and growls of a zoo full of (hopefully) content animals.
Behind Wildlife Park 2's somewhat childish demeanor is a strong tycoon management sim which tasks you with making all the people happy all of the time. Think of Rollercoaster Tycoon where the rides have needs and wants, and you're approaching the complexity of this game. Yet instead of feeling overwhelmed, you're more likely to feel busy and engaged. If you can look past the sub-par animal animation, Wildlife Park 2 gives you the chance to create the zoo of your dreams, and with more than 50 different animal species, there's certainly more than enough here to keep you occupied for a very long time.
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