Sunday 23 February 2014

Zoo Tycoon

When I heard that Zoo Tycoon was being revamped and released on Xbox One, my inner child squealed. Having played the first two to death (expansion packs and all), I was excited to see what the new instalment would bring. I was sceptical, however, as business simulation games are seldom seen on consoles and perhaps the reason for that is that they don’t adapt well. But curiosity and the 10 year-old inside got the better of me and I picked up the launch title slightly after launch day. So over 10 years after my first dose of Zoo-creating, I plunged blindly into the colourful world of Zoo Tycoon.

I wasn’t expecting much to have changed since Zoo Tycoon 2, released 10 years ago. That would have been okay with me, as the original was simple yet effective. However, Zoo Tycoon (XOne), has changed vastly. You are no longer required to construct paths between your exhibits, shops and decorations, instead they connect automatically as you place one of the aforementioned - a subtle change that sacrifices creativity and control for simplicity, a change that may suit a younger audience over and older one.

It’s not all dictated however, the shops can be customised with the use of themed props such as bins, benches and paths, and the paths themselves are shown before you place the concessions, giving you the option of placing it elsewhere. A large range of shops to research will keep you busy in that department, and the same can be said for decorations like fountains and statues. While there is variety here, the variety of animals is perhaps the game’s Achilles’ heel.

Before release, Microsoft and Frontier boasted a roster of 100+ animals, which on the face of it is certainly something to boast about. However, the reality of the roster is rather disappointing. There are over 100 animals, but most are different sub-species. For example, there are 9 sub-species of giraffe, 13 sub-species of bear and 7 sub-species of lions. For me, if I have one type of lion, I have enough, and the same goes for many of the others. Granted, Grizzly and Polar Bears are very different, but at times it just seems like a clever marketing ploy.

That being said, the inclusion of some animals did appease and pleasantly surprise me. Meerkats, Tortoises and Red Pandas offer some consolation but all of these are suited to mini-exhibits, meaning you cannot interact with them and cannot edit their exhibit.

Interacting with animals is a feature that was expected as the developer was responsible for Kinect-harnessing-title Kinectimals on the 360. In Zoo Tycoon (XOne) you can feed animals, like elephants, clean animals, like hippos and even play with animals, like monkeys. The play interaction is the shining light where the Kinect is concerned in this game. It can register facial expressions and arm movements causing monkeys to copy and smile back at you or wave hello. It may seem trivial but it is rather enjoyable and impressive, especially to a child who dreams of being a zookeeper.

This is the other main change. You can now build your zoo through Tycoon View (a top-down editor) or run around your zoo in third-person as a generic zookeeper with devilish good looks. The third-person mode allows you to take photos, interact with your animals and even race buggies, a small yet entertaining feature. Customisation is possible too, showing that the developers have thought about the little things.

Zoo Tycoon was one of the only launch games that held a PEGI 3+ rating, and was thus seen as a children’s game. When we consider it as this, a children’s game, it is fantastically interactive, wondrous and great fun; but to fans of the original series and hardcore gamers, it is perhaps trivial and limited. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lack of variety is leaving room for future DLC or expansion packs.

A fun, vibrant reboot that leaves us wanting more, but not for the right reasons. Zoo Tycoon gets a 3/5 [].

Jonny Naylor

Zoo Tycoon at CeX

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