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Planet Zoo

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release Date: Fall 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.


PC Preview - 'Planet Zoo'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on July 12, 2019 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

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.

Planet Zoo is clearly a passion project for more than a few people at Frontier Developments. I arrived at my appointment at E3 2019 expecting to see Planet Coaster but with the coasters swapped with animals. What I saw was a promising love letter to zoos, specifically to the animals and their conservation. The level of detail was frankly staggering, from a pulled-out view of a larger exhibit down to the details in the fur of a giraffe.

That sense of scale is really something to behold. Much as it was with Coaster, in Planet Zoo, you can build your zoo piece by piece. You can customize the various buildings to your liking as well as the exhibits themselves. I was told that it wasn't the same team who worked on Jurassic World Evolution, but the ability in Planet Zoo to customize an exhibit seems like an improved version of that game's already-great formula.

Animals have specific needs, such as free space, ratios of grassland/sand/water, and even the water itself might need to be freshwater or saltwater. Of course, your exhibits will often be composed of multiple types of animals, so finding a balance that complements multiple such types is very beneficial. As you progress through the game, you can also research and unlock various enrichment objects for the animals, such as scratching posts.

The animal AI is said to be one of the cornerstones of the game, and I'd be inclined to believe it. Packs of animals figure out their own alphas, and the actions of the herd tend to follow that alpha. If the alpha gets up from the watering hole to graze a bit, the whole herd gets up and does the same. It looked quite lifelike to how I've seen animals behave at a local zoo of my own, and it was indicative of how much effort Frontier seems to be putting into the details of its game.

I mean really, it's just a tad insane. Zoom in on a giraffe, and you'll see its detailed face and the glow of the sunlight as it diffuses through its fur from behind it. Even the animal's patterning in its fur is based on its genetics, and no two animals are alike in that regard. This level of detail goes across all animals big and small; hippos swimming around will have a watery sheen before getting out and sunning themselves, African hunting dogs scratch at themselves and romp around, and chimpanzees have such a complex AI system to gracefully swing through whatever custom enclosure you make for them that the logistics hurt my head.

The animals are truly the stars of the place and are treated as such. When born, each animal gets its own name, and as it grows older and gains some star power of its own, it becomes a celebrated part of your zoo. From their birth until their death, you are tasked with their care and well-being, and to some extent, their conservation as well. You can breed your animals, and before doing so, you can preview their genetic results while avoiding inbreeding to make sure you maintain a healthy population.

A big part of your guests' happiness is beyond merely meeting their needs to eat and use the restroom but also to educate them. For example, you can put up informational boards in front of your exhibits to sate their need for knowledge. You also must design your zoo in such a way that they don't see the buildings where the zookeepers work, and at the same time, you need to provide the animals with a space where they can have some privacy of their own.

I'm sure that you'll also have to worry about getting visitors in, making money, and keeping the zoo's proverbial lights on. I just didn't get the impression that was Planet Zoo's focus. I just want to get my hands on the game and spend hours tailoring my exhibits and keeping my animals happy. The title seems happy to oblige, and if you end up making a few bucks while doing so, then so be it. Planet Zoo comes out on Nov. 5, and it was certainly one of the best things I saw at this year's E3.

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