‘Why don’t you get Battlefield 4 instead?’, ‘Ryse looks beautiful, why would you want to play that rubbish?, ‘Lolololololol’. Those were just three of the comments passed to me by fellow Xbox Live gamers whenever I mentioned my excitement over the impending Xbox One launch day release of Zoo Tycoon.
And to be fair, they were probably right. Why would anyone in their right mind want to play a game that revolves around clearing up animal poop when they could instead bw sniping someone from afar or sticking a dagger into someone;s back?
I’ll tell you why. Because Zoo Tycoon is something different. It’s not a full on shooter. It’s not a big fast racer. It doesn’t need to look absolutely stunning. It needs to do a job, a relaxing job at that. And I’m glad to say it fulfills that requirement entirely.
Now, everyone the world over has played some kind of tycoon/simulation title. Whether that be something like The Sims, SimCity or everyone’s old favourite Rollercoaster Tycoon, the premise is basically the same for all; start from the ground up, look after what you have, reap the rewards and then rinse and repeat, changing things ever so slightly as you go.
And Zoo Tycoon on the next gen is no different.
From the start you are given four different game mode options and depending on your mood, three of them are just as good as the other. The tutorial option is where you’ll need to start, cutting your teeth and learning the controls and impacts each decision you make have on the game. You won’t bother visiting this too often though even if a quick once over is always good for the soul!
Freeform mode will probably be your next port of call after the tutorial. Giving you unlimited cash and the freedom to do with that cash whatever you like, it’s the best place to be for anyone who wants to throw the game on for five minutes, have a little play and then jump back out to something else. It’s also the place to be if you wish to experiment a little with the different animals, enclosures or entertainment areas. If something goes wrong, you can just delete and start again with little to no impediment. I also found it as my go to point when searching for the hidden animal coins that are embedded into each of the animals enclosures. Some of these are a god damn pig to find and the chances of discovering them whilst under the strict time and cash restraints of the other game modes is near on impossible. Thankfully the freeform mode allows you the time to do this along with the photography of the many animals that you’ll no doubt adopt.
After that, any self respecting zoo keeper will probably try their hand at one of the many challenge modes on offer. Starting with a limited fund pot, the aim is to start up a new zoo and do with it what you will. It’s basically the same as the freeform mode but without the unlimited funds. You’ll need to think about what you are doing but in the end, everything you do accomplish will be done through your own decisions. It’s a great way to test the waters before jumping into the big campaign mode but due to zoo limit sizes, slightly lacks in overall depth and no matter which challenge you choose from around the world, most of the time your zoo will end up roughly like all the others.
And so we then move on to the main event, the campaign modes. The place where you really do get to prove yourself as one of the best zoo keepers in the world. With twenty scenario based zoos already up and running, you quickly find yourself pandering to the needs of both the animals and the general paying public in what turns out to usually be a race against the clock AND your bank balance. Whilst you can start off with the easy scenarios, the step up to the normal challenges and then eventually the hard ones come as a shock the first time you try it, and will no doubt need at least a couple of attempts before you manage to pass them with flying colours and earn the relevant rewards.
All of the game modes can happily be played alone, but if you team up with a friend (or friends as you can roll with up to three others), things get a hell of a lift in the fun stakes. If you find yourself struggling with one or two of the scenarios in the campaign, the recruitment of a friend over Xbox Live can sometimes be just the tonic and sharing the workload (including clearing up that Elephant dung), can be just what is needed to get your zoo up to scratch. It’s just a shame there is no couch co-op mode available, as splitscreen could most definitely be something that would work well. There is currently a little lag between what you and your co-op partner see and do, but only by a few seconds and is only noticeable when you are chatting away to each other trying to plan your next strategy. An option to actually see them feeding the giraffes rather than just watching them standing there doing nothing would have been nice, but it’s nothing that really detracts too much from the experience.
I’ve yet to mention any of the animals and that’s been done for a reason. Whilst there are over 100 different animals (of which you can find the full list here), alot of those are different varieties of the same species. It’s all well and good having 13 different types of bear and 10 types of antelopes, but there are some major omissions. A zoo isn’t a zoo in my eyes without a snow leopard or cheetah whilst the aquatics have been missed out completely. No penguins? C’mon, what’s that all about? All this lends itself massively towards some of those lovely DLC packs we have grown to love/hate, and I personally would be very surprised not to see something come out in the near future. To help you learn more about the animals, where they prefer to reside and what food they like to take in, there has rather helpfully been a Zoopedia section included. If you have any hopes of succeeding with the game, this section is absolutely vital and will help you out no end whilst you decide where to put a certain species. The animals that have been thrown in are lovely to look at though, and each has it’s own unique character. The next gen power is definitely something that shines through with the animals, even if their surrounding areas are a little basic.
So anything else not to like? Well, you quickly notice that the areas you can use to create your zoos are massive. Too big in fact, but the chances of you ever filling one is rarer than seeing a Kakapo pop up in your zoo, as there have been some crazy zoo limits included which unfortunately stop you in your tracks just as you’re about to get going. It’s a shame because I’d love to eventually fill a whole area with all manner of exotic species and would therefore love to see these limits increased. Other than that, there’s not a lot to dislike.
Implementation of Kinect is a massive draw and for the most part works well. The option to use Kinect to actually feed your elephants is a good one and gives out good vibes whilst the social interaction with the chimps, pulling faces and the like, is first class. If you have any kids under the age of 12, then they will absolutely love this feature and probably the game as a whole.
Zoo Tycoon is a very solid game that comes alive when played via the Xbox Live co-op. Zoo limits aside, there’s nothing too much to worry about, but the sooner some DLC (preferably free), comes out to add some more animals into the mix, the better.
If you are after something slightly different from what you’re used to, buy Zoo Tycoon and then sit back and tell your BF4 and Ryse friends just how much you are enjoying it.