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Planet Zoo

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release Date: Nov. 5, 2019

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'Planet Zoo'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Dec. 16, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Planet Zoo is the ultimate zoo simulation featuring authentic living animals, rich management, and limitless creativity, players can build and manage a truly modern zoo where animal welfare and conservation comes first.

With every "park" game that it develops, Frontier Developments gets closer and closer to the ideal game of the genre. This recent string started with Planet Coaster, which was a deep yet difficult-to-approach game and continued with the easier and much simpler Jurassic World Evolution. With Planet Zoo, Frontier has managed to get even closer to what a good park-building game should be: tons of customization but enough of an on-ramp to understand it before being thrown into the deep end.

It's best to start with the Career mode, which starts with three tutorial levels specifically designed to help you understand the basics. Each of the three levels puts you in charge of a fully established park that needs a few tweaks. There is a lot to understand to start a park of your own, so these first few levels are key to learning the game foundation. At any given moment, you might go from fretting over whether you need more soil or long grass in your panda enclosure to balancing vendor prices of your concessions stands, and these tutorials hold your hand through the basics.

Ultimately, your park revolves around the animals, which are kept within enclosures that keep them within their own exhibit. The walls of these enclosures can be wooden walls, one- or two-way glass, or even natural barriers like buildings or cliffs. The size of the habitat depends on the animal type(s) you want to hold; some animals simply need larger space than others.

You must also worry about the terrain type of the enclosure to make sure it's the right mix of grass, sand, snow and soil to accommodate the animal as well as if they need any natural water formations. It is a lot to worry about, and that is before you consider other needs, such as social and food enrichment items, population needs, or other aspects that can affect an animal's welfare.

Thankfully, Planet Zoo does a great job of plainly spelling this out and giving you the tools to address any issues with an animal's welfare. For example, if you select an animal within a habitat, you can see all its needs and if they are being fulfilled. In the case of things, such as enclosure size or terrain types, you can also see the range that they're comfortable with, taking the guesswork out of tweaking the habitat to suit the animal. To find whatever enrichment items work best with the animal, you can simply go the place within the UI to purchase them and filter them based on the animal type.

This lets you more effectively handle the animal needs, which makes them happier. Happy animals are rated higher, which draw larger crowds of people to your zoo. It's dealing with these crowds of people that becomes another important part of maintaining your zoo. Guests not only have needs, such as being able to eat and use the restroom, but they also want to be educated about the animals. You can do this by placing displays featuring the animals next to their exhibits and/or speakers, which go a long way toward sating the guests' desire for knowledge.

You also must be mindful of how much your guests can see behind the curtain. As important as your veterinary clinics and water treatment machinery are to your zoo, guests get a negative impression whenever they can see them. This means that you have to design the zoo in such a way that is conducive to the habitats and so the guests can easily see the animals — while keeping everything else out of sight. How you do this is up to you; you can hide things behind walls or other buildings, or you can build the guest walkways above the staff facilities.

It is a very daunting task to tie everything together and build a zoo from scratch. Invariably, you start out with the best intentions, but things go a little sideways from there. Planet Zoo sometimes provided a daunting list of alerts that provide information about vital happenings around the zoo, ranging from animal welfare issues to notifications of high amounts of litter or protestors entering the zoo. Overall, the game does a good job of letting you know how well you are doing.

Where the game falters is in how it describes other issues with your zoo. As some examples, it is difficult to see what your keepers and mechanics are working on, and at times, you'll wonder why your vets don't seem to be researching anything. Are they too busy? Do you need more research stations? Do they need to be assigned to specific work zones? You end up fiddling with settings until it seems like the administrative part of the zoo is working well, but it's hard to learn anything from the experience.

Planet Zoo features an incredibly robust system for placing objects, and by objects, I mean just about anything you can think of. It's entirely possible to look at a Chief Beef vendor, notice that it is getting a low scenery score, place some plants next to it, and be done with it. It's also possible to intricately place every bush and have full control over its elevation and orientation. You can craft custom habitat shelters, fancy bits of architecture for your park, or get creative in your habitat designs. I found myself spending an inordinate amount of time making sure my lemurs had a climbing fixture in their habitat that was just right.

The game features 76 difference animal species that you can adopt, some of which are exhibit animals to be kept in small glass enclosures, such as spiders and snakes. The rest are habitat animals, which are everything from Indian Peafowl and Sable Antelopes to Bengal Tigers and Grizzly Bears. Western Chimpanzees gracefully swing around their enclosure, assuming you've built a place for them to do so, and Saltwater Crocodiles can lurk in your water-filled habitats.

You can click on any animal and then enter a camera mode that gets up close and personal with the creature. Planet Zoo's attention to detail with animals is stunning, down to how light shines through the creature's fur or how it looks after taking a dip in a pond. It makes you want to take care of them as best as you can, as they look and behave a lot of like their real-life counterparts. They are the stars of your zoo after all, so it is only fitting that they look the part.

I suspect that many players will have an uneven time with Planet Zoo. At times, it's pretty straightforward and provides the player with plenty of feedback so they can improve their zoo. Other times, the game has you digging around in areas that are unnecessarily tough to figure out, with tutorials that barely touch on the feature (if at all). The thing with Planet Zoo is that it is so charming and appealing that the fun parts outweigh the frustrating ones. It's not a perfect game in the genre, but it is one of the best ones you can play right now.

Score: 8.7/10

Reviewed on: Intel i7 4790k, 32 GB RAM, NVidia GTX 2070 Super

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