Planet Zoo is a zoo building simulation game developed by Frontier Developments. I had a chance to play and review the beta earlier in the year and knew that the game was for me. Planet Zoo consists of four game modes. Career, Franchise, Challenge, and Sandbox. Challenge is the new offline franchise mode that was added after receiving feedback from players in the beta. But no matter which mode you choose, this game is about being a zookeeper, a builder, and a conservationist all in one.
Honestly, this review has been a struggle to write since there is plenty to love about this game, but there are also issues. For the very first zoo I tried to make in franchise mode I spent a few hours assembling the zoo before pressing play because I am a “pause builder” especially in the beginning. Then, I finally pressed play to get this zoo running and I noticed that for some reason I had no guests.
To my surprise, the reason was that the zoo entrance was glitched and patrons were just bundling at the entrance only to turn away. I proceeded to spend next hour or two attempting to redo and fix the entrance as it was not blocked and well connected from all visuals I saw before finally giving up. In total I spent close to five hours only to have to give up and start over for some unknown reason.
I have also had plenty of stability issues along with just random game crashes, I was forced to quit playing for awhile because the game would randomly crash once I would open the animal marketplace. That said, Frontier has done a great job in their first round of patching and they continue to listen to feedback from the community as I mentioned in my beta review. Fixes have come and I know more are on the way. They not only accept responsibility but work on keeping their zookeepers updated on the status of fixes and known issues. With that said, it was hard to ignore the issues especially when I ran into more at launch than I did in the whole beta.
But, there are plenty of good reasons to invest both your time and money into Planet Zoo. The Career mode offers some various challenges and allows people to expand their creativity in doing things they made not have thought about. This mode highlights each of the different biomes in Planet Zoo, allowing players to see what each biome has to offer in terms of animals, weather, and building style. The story and characters are a nice touch that gives the player a sense of purpose while they build. The game does allow for players in Sandbox and Challenge mode to do scenarios that take place outside of career mode to push players to complete various objectives. While these are fun and add value to the game, the real meat of the game is found when building a zoo from scratch.
The amount of detail put into the game is phenomenal and getting to see all the options that players have at their disposal can keep even the average sim lover busy for hours. The various building styles allow for some diverse building. With over 2000+ accessory items there is something for everyone and not every zoo will look alike. While the building mechanics can be a little convoluted at the beginning, after completing the tutorials along with the help database within the game, you get the hang of it. Now, the building mechanics aren’t perfect by any means and making things exactly how you want them can take time. However, there is a grid system that helps alleviate a lot of issues when making large scenery or facilities.
One of the building mechanics is making sure staff facilities, along with water/power items, are hidden or placed far enough away from the guests. If the radius of the facilities overlaps with guest areas, they cause negative effects on your crowd and will drive down visitor welfare. With that said, I hope Frontier adjusts some of the scenery settings in regards to facilities. Despite hiding your facilities in buildings behind multiple walls, they still cause negative effects on guests, as if it was right along the path. I made a fancy facility central hub, and despite being in a large two-story building with multiple walls in between the buildings and the guests, they would regularly leave comments saying, “I did not come here to see staff facilities.”
But, in a game as detailed as Planet Zoo, there is more than just that mechanic. When crafting enclosures you need to make sure that the walls you choose work for the animal that they’re enclosing. They need to high enough, strong enough, and secure enough. To help with this process, Frontier added barrier information, which was lacking in the beta, which is fantastic as it was confusing to know what needed to be built for each animal.
That said, the elephants do need some updating as the game states they are good with a grade three barrier yet the elephants will definitely destroy grade three barriers. No one wants an elephant trampling their wood fence and running out. Additionally, building on and off grid systems in the same zoo can lead to some weird building logic within the game, especially with barriers. However, overall, the building in Planet Zoo is very entertaining, and with all of the options available, players have more than enough to choose from.
The other large piece of the game is management. One of the major components to any sim builder, this plays a large role in Planet Zoo. The need to hire and manage staff is vital to a successful functioning zoo. One of the big changes I noticed from the beta to the full game is that your staff seems to get an auto-raise to fit their skill level when you train them. This became very tedious as your zoo grew and a large staff was required in the beta so its good to see this update. Travel time between staff facilities and work zones also plays an important role, along with hiring the proper amount of staff, especially as you grow your zoo past a couple of habitats.
The keeper’s logic behind supplying food to the animals could use some work, as it seems that the keepers will just fill up the food enrichment items instead of the food trays within a habitat. That said, I did not have any trouble with starving animals, but there were a few times I got worried since I saw no food in my habitat. I eventually just deleted the food trays as they were never filled once a food enrichment item was placed within a habitat.
The biggest thing about building any zoo is the animals and Planet Zoo has plenty of them. There are over 70 animals in the game that come from various locations all around the globe. They each have their own set of needs and wants. This means you need to manage and pay attention to your animals just you do with your staff. There is no just making a habitat, throwing an animal in there, and moving on to the next one. The animals enjoyment with toys change over time, their moods change with the weather, and even group size as breeding occurs.
Group size ranges not only just one particular species but also for interspecies habitats, since some species benefit from being in a habitat with a multitude of different species. Conservation is also a large component of this game which makes breeding and overall animal welfare a focus in Planet Zoo. In Franchise mode, earning conservation credits is just as important to success as the finances of your zoos as dollars are.
The higher quality animals are usually only available for purchase with these conservation credits so wanting to breed healthier animals and release them into the wild is a great way to earn these credits to purchase these animals. I wrote extensively about the importance and value of conservation within the game in my beta review and they have only added more conservation challenges for players to complete.
Overall, Planet Zoo is a fantastic zoo-building experience, and a game that has this many moving parts while being so in-depth was bound to hit a few bumps. Frontier Developments has already shown from the beta and has continued to show post-launch that they are committed to the quality of this game.
I am excited to see where the game goes from launch. With so many animals left in the world that could be added and building possibilities, this is just the beginning for Planet Zoo. I see and understand some of the frustrations from other players, but this game is too good and has too much to offer to just be tossed aside this early in the game’s life. If you a fan of the simulation genre then I fully recommend Planet Zoo.
Planet Zoo is available now on PC and has a console edition on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5.
Overall, Planet Zoo is a fantastic zoo building experience and a game that has this many moving parts while being so in-depth was bound to hit a few bumps. Frontier Developments has already shown from the beta and have continued to show post launch that they are committed to the quality of this game.