One of the jobs I wanted to do when I was young was to be a Zoo Keeper. At the time it sounded like the most amazing job in the world. While that didn’t quite pan out, Planet Zoo comes pretty close to realising that dream.
Frontier’s success with their latest title won’t come as a surprise to those who have played Planet Coaster. This feels like a natural progression while, at the same time, being very different just by the nature of its subject matter. Similar levels of detail and the love for the subject shine through here, making this arguably the best zoo management game of all time (and, surprisingly, there have been a fair few).
One of the best parts about Planet Zoo is that it doesn’t drop you right in the middle of things and expect you to just get on with it, though you can if you want; with Franchise, Career, Challenge and Sandbox modes on offer you can play in the style that suits you best.. The career option contains a beautifully told story that acts as tutorial and entertaining main game, guiding you through the management of a zoo and beyond. It is, however, a management game and as such you’ll need to put your dreams on hold for a bit while you get used to the hundreds of menus and options that keep flooding your vision until you’ve chosen just the right plant for that habitat or the right rock for your tiger to climb on without it leading to an escaped animal running amok.
Even the animals themselves require a lot of research, from feeding and habitat to breeding and general well-being. Keeping them safe, healthy and happy is key to providing a profitable working zoo. Not that animals are the only factor here, there are visitors to contend with who will end up trashing your zoo if they’re unhappy, animal rights protesters who will charge in if they catch drift of any mistreatment and your staff who don’t always get everything right. In other words, you’ll be busy all the time but the payoff is worth it. You also learn as you work. This game requires a lot of processing of information and it provides an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge in bite-size chunks to help you do that, but keeping all that information in your memory while dealing with yet another failed attempt to place a donation box by a bear cave can be hard work. By the end of it, though, you’ll have felt like you’ve read a life-time’s subscription to WWF magazine and can recite animal facts till the cows come home.
Planet Zoo doesn’t just provide a huge, complicated world of animal management, it also lets you enjoy the fruits of your efforts, too. The ability to wander around and take in your zoo is amazing and most of the time it really does pay off when you see that sunbathing tiger, wallowing croc or contented panda (if you’re really lucky). A lot of work has been done to make this the most beautiful management game yet and animals are fairly realistic, meaning that you’ll most likely have more of an emotional attachment to them.
Not everything works, though. There are perhaps a little too many menus to wade through at times and the chaos that sits just a stone’s throw away from providing a perfect park seems quite cruel at times. Some of the building elements are also needlessly fussy, including paths and waterways. The game is also a little buggy still, as with most management games where many different things are going on at once.
Despite those few issues, though, Planet Zoo is an excellent management game for animal fans everywhere, as long as you’re willing to put the work in. It’s rewarding, heart-warming and heart breaking in equal measure.