I have been a big fan of other Frontier simulation games for a while now, with titles like Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution. So, when Planet Zoo was announced I was ecstatic. When I got the opportunity to play the Planet Zoo beta, of course, I had to check it out.
If you’re unfamiliar, Planet Zoo is a zoo-building simulation game developed by Frontier Developments. Billed as “the ultimate zoo builder,” it lives up to the name. As you begin building your zoo, it’s immediately clear that every choice has a real impact on the welfare of your animals, the character and structure of your connected zoos, and your visitors’ satisfaction. The aim of Planet Zoo was to make the world’s most authentic and detailed zoo and to invite players on a globe-trotting journey as they learn and build every facet of running a socially responsible zoo. Planet Zoo requires you to focus on habitat design, animal welfare including nutrition, social health and research, guest satisfaction, business and finance management, and so much more. Planet Zoo really goes beyond just a set it and forget it sim.
The Planet Zoo beta consisted of two of the four game modes that will be in the full game, beginning with the new narrative-driven Career Mode. Here, players begin their journey in the Temperate Biome as they learn to manage and expand an existing zoo. You build habitats, adopt animals, and tackle a range of Bronze, Silver, and Gold objectives. The second mode is Franchise Mode that brings players to the Savannah biome for a deeper simulation with an open sandbox map and the full economy, as well as online connectivity with the Planet Zoo community.
While not all animals from the final game are available in the Planet Zoo beta, it does feature a range of wildlife from around the world across both modes, including the West African Lion, Reticulated Giraffe, Bengal Tiger, Snow Leopard, Galapagos Giant Tortoise, and more, totally over 30 animal. Each has unique traits and personalities. The final game will more than double this at launch.
I want to start by saying if you are a fan of previous Frontier Development games or the simulation genre more generally, then you are going to love this game. There so is much detail and authenticity put into this game that it blew my mind. The level of detail runs the gamut from habitat management to animal genetics. In fact, each animal design is so detailed that you need to look at animal behavior, their wants, and needs, all to make sure that they are being taken care of. In addition, you have to pay attention to the smaller things. such as does this animal-like long grass.
This high level of management may seem tedious, but as a person that has spent a greater portion of his life working in the sciences and ecology, every detail matters to animals. Truthfully, from my background in biology, seeing each of these things play a role in setting up a habitat was a joy to see.
In reality, you can’t just throw random plants in a habitat and expect the animal to be good, and that’s how it is in the game too. Additionally, the animal designs are beautiful and the game’s graphics feel like you are really at a zoo. So good in fact, that it is worth your time to actually just watch some of your animals play within their habitats, taking advantage of the game’s orbital camera to explore your exhibits and watch them.
The addition of different biomes, weather types, and continents adds another level to what animals you want in your zoo along with what materials the player has access to. We only had the India and Savannah biome to make our zoo in, which meant it was relatively easy to make habitats for grassland animals versus some of the tundra animals which required the addition of snow and coolers among other things. This also affected the guests, as some complained about it being too hot in the zoo. Then, add in some of the weather effects. These things allow for a variety of zoo designs and give the player unlimited possibilities.
This brings me to the next part of Planet Zoo: education. The “Zoopedia,” as it is called in the game, is an informational guide that gives details about each species of animal in the game. Not only does it explain how the animal pertains to the game but it also features real-world information about the species. When you bring up a species in the “Zoopedia” you get your basic habitat requirements so that you can design and accommodate a habitat for your zoo. At the same time, the tool also gives you its wildlife status. It tells you if they are endangered, where they can be found across the globe, some facts about their behaviors, what they like or dislike, and even in some cases how humans have affected their population sizes and habitats.
While the animal facts alone are great, the addition of the real human effects on them is better. The “Zoopedia” presents players with population dangers like deforestation, climate change, poaching, and other negative effects we bring to the animals we want to put in our zoo. By featuring real-world conservation information, Planet Zoo puts importance on educating players beyond just what size habitat their snow leopards need. Additionally, education and conservation are parts of your zoo rating, so showcasing this information in your zoo is important. Items like conservation boards can be placed around the zoo and when clicked on, give short articles about actual conservation topics for the player to read.
The online Franchise Mode also helps this education and conservation component of Planet Zoo. Breeding and selling on the animal marketplace is a fun additive to the game that not only helps you get funds for your zoo but also provides a fresh and unique way of getting new animals outside of standard buying from an arbitrary game shop for a set price. This marketplace is also used to help the genetic diversity of your zoo. Genetics are incorporated into the game and play a role in each animal’s wellbeing and overall life span. The more genetic diversity you have, the better genetics your animals will have which ultimately help them stay healthy, fight diseases, and live longer.
The Franchise Mode also showcases the importance of conservation by rewarding conservation credits, one of the in-game currencies for logging in, completing zoo and community tasks, releasing animals into the wild, and selling animals on the animal marketplace. The marketplace had two ways of acquiring animals either through direct cash (Zoo funds) or conservation credits with the latter being for the majority of the high-end animals. It has not been said what all these credits will be used for yet within the full game, but it is clear that they are important to this mode.
Since these credits are going to be used for a variety of things within the game this gives incentive to releasing animals into the wild, since the healthier the animal is the more credits the animal is worth. This also teaches the importance zoos play in animal rehabilitation and conservation, valuing the life of the animal over the funds it can make in your exhibit. Over the duration of the Planet Zoo beta, we also got a taste of the community goals. On the launch of the beta, the community was given about four days to release 75,000 West African Lions into the wild to achieve a conservation goal. Each West African Lion that was released by individual community members all contributed to the goal.
This Franchise Mode was originally only supposed to be done as an online community component to the game, but due to beta feedback Frontier is making an offline version. Overall, this mode is going to have plenty to offer, and the community aspects should keep this game fresh with new goals and ideas. The gameplay is very in-depth and can be overwhelming at first. The controls take a little bit to get used to, but everything can be key bounded to the user’s liking and once you get the hang of things navigating through menus is quite easy. There is a help menu that can type in exactly what you are looking for and will bring up explanations for everything so this is your friend for the first part of the game.
Micromanaging, like in any simulation game is a huge component and this game is no different as you need to hire, assign, and train staff; Research new items for your animals such as better food quality, toys, and the like; Design habitats properly, make sure guests are happy and manage resources. Frontier Development has stated they aimed for Planet Zoo to be the most authentic and detailed zoo simulator ever and it shows. The amount of work and detail is unbelievable that any fan of simulators will be left in awe.
All that said, this is a beta and it really felt like one. There are definitely some issues that need to be sorted out before the final launch of Planet Zoo. One of these issues was navigating through the menus which had plenty of response issues. Sometimes it took multiple times clicking items to get them to work. The UI for the research screen seemed to have the most issues for me. There were times I just couldn’t select something to be researched at all.
In addition, the research aspect of the game, having your staff research new park materials and animals knowledge could benefit from having notifications added to it in order to make it more of a priority. There were many times where staff, whether be vets or mechanics, just quit researching and I had no idea that nothing was being researched or even why the research had stopped.
Another issue I had was with the scrollbar feature for setting prices and barrier/path length. While this may have been user error and not necessarily a UI issue, setting these numbers was extremely hard to do. When I tried to raise prices at a concession stand it was like rolling dice as to what price I was going to land. The path and construction building is also really frustrating at times, especially when using the path-building tool and trying to get everything to connect properly. This could easily be fixed by allowing for a textbox in addition to the scrollbar.
Now, this is clearly a beta and I really don’t want to harp on these issues too much since these kinds of things are expected. But beyond that, Frontier Developments has done a fantastic job within the beta of listening to the community and making fixes for the bugs and issues that were brought to their attention immediately. There is still plenty of time to fix these issues and given how responsive they have been and their past games I fully believe should be ready to go for launch. There was nothing that I encountered that was game-breaking and while the game did crash multiple times for me during the beta the game was much fun that I just loaded back up and kept playing.
Overall, Planet Zoo is shaping up to be another solid addition to Frontier Development’s game library. The Planet Zoo beta has been an amazing thing to experience. I mean, I have 30 hours of playtime so far, and while I was already excited about this game before playing this Planet Zoo beta, the beta has solidified that the game is a must-buy for sim fans. There is still plenty of work left to be done before launch, but if this is any indication of what is to come for Planet Zoo then there will be plenty of happy fans when it launches.
Planet Zoo releases exclusively on PC on November 5, 2019.