Gamescom 2013: Zoo Tycoon First Impressions Preview - Monkey Business
Written Monday, September 02, 2013 By Dan WebbView author's profile
I'm going to be perfectly honest here, when we were booking appointments for Gamescom this year and Microsoft mentioned they were bringing Zoo Tycoon to the show, I kind of signed up to see the game without a care in the world. Mainly because it was next-gen. I had never played a Zoo Tycoon game before and I had no idea what to expect, whether it be a hardcore sim or a set of bestiality mini-games. I couldn't have been more wrong… on the latter, that is. What we were actually presented with was a surprisingly deep simulation game that not only seems accessible for newcomers, but one that can appeal to families also. It's a play it how you want to kind of game.
At its core, Zoo Tycoon is a zoo simulator - the clue's in the name. It's a simulator that has multi-faceted levels though, and anyone who is familiar with the franchise will feel right at home here. Frontier, the developer that also most recently created Kinectimals, is looking to do a number of things with Zoo Tycoon: it's aiming to create the most beautiful animals in gaming; to have the most streamlined interface in the franchise's history; to utilise the full capabilities of Kinect HD; as well as focusing on the community - with community events and what not; and bringing multiplayer to the franchise for the first time in the form of 4-player simultaneous co-op.
The crux of Zoo Tycoon for those unaware of the franchise is to build a zoo, and make it a successful one, which comes about by keeping your animals and visitors happy. It's your job to build entertainment, decorations - and customise them how you see fit - and facilities for the animals, as well as feed them, clean them, breed them, research them, with the ultimate goal of releasing them into the wild - a la a real zoo. It's all about conservation.
Zoo Tycoon is about allowing players to build an emotional connection with their animals, whether that's getting down to ground level and checking in on the animals and interacting with them at a third person level, or receiving updates on animals you've successfully sent into the wild. How this new version differs from the 2008 version is simple: it's fundamental game loops are the same, but now there are a lot of layers on top for those that want them.
Players can zoom into third-person level to see the animals, manually feed them, bathe them, and so on, but only if they so wish to, as players can set this up to be done automatically. It essentially allows you to get up close and personal with the animals (not like that), and while this might not be appealing to some people, it's worth it just to see the animals in their absolutely stunning 1080p glory. Think Kinectimals' cubs and then some. It's all about pleasing the old fans of the series, and also catering to families as well, without ever making one audience feel like they're not getting what they want from the game.
Like any good sim, being successful is about managing your objectives, checking the status of your zoo and filling in where necessary. That'll mean seeing what makes your punters happy, seeing what they're lacking, and so on. Whether you want to play it on a controller or Kinect, the choice is yours, but with Kinect 2.0, players will be able to get more out of the game, especially with the whole animal interaction malarkey - there's even a 'monkey see, monkey do' style thing with monkeys who copy your every move.
Zoo Tycoon is broken down into various modes: campaign mode, a freeform mode (where players have infinite money) and a challenge mode. Frontier also touched upon some of the conservation efforts that are also tied into the game, mainly that when the community completes a community challenge - i.e. to breed 1 million polar bears because of the harsh winters in the real-life world - Microsoft will donate money to that charity. A noble move if we say so ourselves. There's a learning element to the game too, as is the case with real-world zoos, and thanks to the Zoopedia you'll be able to read about your favourite animals. You'll probably learn something along the way, no matter who you are, as Frontier has numerous developers on its roster with actual zoology degrees.
Zoo Tycoon for all intents and purposes combines hardcore simulation elements for those looking to test the old noggin', with more family orientated elements, like feeding and nurturing the animals in third-person view - whether with Kinect or the controller. How you approach it is entirely down to you, whether you do one or the other, or both, and that's the beauty of it. It's essentially the future of simulation games, allowing you to play from up above and then jump into the action in an instant and get up close and personal with the incredible looking animals at your disposal, whether alone or with a friend. I went in a skeptic and came out a Zoo Tycoon believer.
Zoo Tycoon is scheduled to launch alongside the Xbox One later this year, as well as on the Xbox 360, although it won't be the same game as the one you read about here.