As the second game I got hands-on with during my recent trip to Frontier Developments’ studio in Cambridge (read my Warhammer thoughts if you will), Planet Zoo: Console Edition was the game that had my interest from the invitation.
As a big fan of when Planet Coaster: Console Edition jumped from PC to Xbox, I had hopes the same magic could be achieved with Planet Zoo. After some time with the game on Xbox Series X, things are looking very bright.
As eager as I was to dive straight in, the sensible thing was to listen to the advice of the experts beforehand. Expertly guided by Principal Pipeline Artist Liesa Bauwens and Engineering Lead James Lockett, and a host of developers wandering around to offer more assistance, we were shown the ropes.
I made it all of two minutes before I had a lion pooping on screen in Planet Zoo: Console Edition. Deeply embarrassed, I quickly grasped the camera controls and focused elsewhere.
Fans of Planet Coaster: Console Edition will feel right at home here. The UI to Planet Zoo: Console Edition is almost identical to the former game, with many of the tabs you need accessed by the shoulder buttons. The essential search function is also there, on the Y button. With thousands of pieces of decoration, shelters, enclosures, amenities and other bits and bobs, finding what you need can be daunting. The filter and search function make it incredibly easy, even using a controller.
After our guided tour, we were free to experiment within one of the game’s early maps, Goodwin House. Having seen a variety of enclosures for lions, hippos and bears in the tour, I wanted to delve into another aspect of Planet Zoo: the insects. I am not the greatest with them, and with how detailed the larger animals were, I wanted to see how scary the creepy crawlies were. Throwing myself in at the deep end, I chose the Goliath birdeater, only the biggest spider in the world.
After creating a suitable habitat from the base options, I adopted the spider from the in-game marketplace. No matter what animal you choose, there are usually a variety of options that cost different amounts. You can typically find the right variation to suit your desires.
Then the zoo staff brought the spider over to the habitat, and there it sat on one of the rocks. You can choose to focus on a specific animal in an exhibit using the camera options. You can monitor its behaviour, its interactions and more, and doing so feels very therapeutic. The incredible detail on the animals means you can while away the hours just watching these animals live in their habitats.
And the same too goes for the Goliath birdeater. There it was, minding its own business, and even for an arachnophobe, it was fascinating to watch. Not particularly doing much, but more the attention to detail that shines through on these animals.
We also got to take a good luck at many of the amenities that will be available. As any Frontier Developments aficionado will tell you, the exhibits are only half the fun. Strategically arranging drinks, food, and souvenir stands can make all the difference.
Planet Zoo: Console Edition also goes another layer down when you consider animal habitats. Putting the right fauna in there is a good start, but you also need to consider the plumbing and electricity. Setting up the water pumps and electrical hubs near an exhibit makes your life a lot easier. Better still, there are tools in the park maintenance menu that can show you the areas these pumps and generators are effective to. True park planners will be able to make sure these areas cover more than one exhibit too.
It probably wasn’t the intended feature for these different maps to show, but you can really dig deep into the granularity of your park and make it run as efficiently as possible. My expertise isn’t necessarily in designing individual food stands and bespoke animal enclosures (something definitely possible with the right imagination) but spending time improving park efficiency is where my talent, and time, will be best spent.
But if you can manage to tear yourself away from simply watching the animals or checking how much of your park is covered by toilets long enough, there is still a game worth playing too. Our time with Planet Zoo: Console Edition was brief, playing only in Sandbox mode. There are three other modes to choose from though: Career, Franchise and Challenge. Included in all this is over four years of updates to the PC game, straight to the console on day one.
But when is day one you ask? Sooner than you think, with Planet Zoo: Console Edition launching on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 come 26th March 2024. And, in a variety of flavours too.
First up, any pre-orders will get access to three exclusive animals: the Komodo Dragon, Pygmy Hippopotamus and Thomson’s Gazelle. The Standard Edition will cost you £39.99. The Deluxe Edition is £10 more at £49.99: this comes with 16 additional animals and extra scenarios that cover Southeast Asia and vibrant wetlands.
If you want the full whack though there is the Ultimate Edition at £99.99. This comes with the Season Pass that will deliver fourteen upcoming DLC packs, which will be announced at a later date.
We do not yet have Xbox store links for these, but we do have a Steam link (where the game is already available) and the announcement trailer for you to view:
For fans of the 2013 Zoo Tycoon reboot and the very good Planet Coaster: Console Edition port, Planet Zoo: Console Edition on Xbox and PlayStation is shaping up to be the next evolution of sim management.
And if you need a buddy to share animals with through the Frontier Workshop, add your Gamertag to the comments below.
Again, huge thanks must go out to Frontier for inviting us to some time with Planet Zoo: Console Edition on Xbox. Stay tuned for our full review.