I have never been much of a PC gamer during my many years of playing games, for me there is nothing better than sitting on my couch, turning on a TV, grabbing a controller and then just having a good time. But this does not mean I have never been involved with PC games, although I never played much I had quite a liking for things like Sim City, or the Tycoon games, I enjoyed the first and second Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon 2 was one of my all-time favorite games to play. I loved sitting down for hours working on building my dream zoo, placing animals in good environments, providing enriching tools for them and just having a good time. In the modern era there is two problems, one I am not fond of playing on computers and two Zoo Tycoon 2 is outdated, so this lead me on my search to find a new way to play and I was initially happy when I found out Zoo Tycoon was available on the Xbox One.
I was originally skeptical when I first saw this game, in the past I had been burned before in my search for Zoo Tycoon with the two DS releases which were not overly good. So, I needed to stop and think could Zoo Tycoon be better than that train wreck, well it was on a console so already there were points in its favor, so I put aside my skepticism and got set to play and to some degree I which I hadn’t.
This particular version of Zoo Tycoon is not that great of a game, speaking as a fan of the second game for the PC I know when I have come across a good game and this really does not do the classic series even a moment of justice and in all just feels like a complete mess. Maybe I am sounding a bit harsh here but to me Zoo Tycoon seems like something it would be hard to get wrong but somehow Frontier has managed to do just that.
Allow me to explain the problems, on the surface Zoo Tycoon does not seem that bad as you load up your first tutorial to learn the basics things seem to have potential, but this is all just a ruse and something ugly lies underneath this otherwise nice looking experience. When it comes to these games I am a big fan of building my ultimate dream zoo and so I always look forward to tackling the freeform modes, I enjoy a good challenge mode as well but it removes that same freedom. The thing is when you first load it up it looks great and you can set out freely to create what you want but this is really where the game plummets.
The fun part of Zoo Tycoon games is in building your animals enclosure from scratch, choosing a fence, placing specific foods and environmental pieces to make animals happy. This though is not actually possible, you can choose the animals you place and the specific things placed in an enclosure but the rest is out of your control. The idea of creating an exhibit is as simple and dull as choosing your biome, the size of the exhibit be it small, medium or large and placing it in a certain spot that the game allows. This is excitement territory right here that pretty much removes all creative control out of the player’s hands, I wish I could say I liked this and it improved the experience but it lacks the feel of self-design and sense of ownership. Though I will admit I don’t mind the stock standard looks of some of these enclosures with the edition of waterfalls among other things, they are just all generic and feel the same.
This delves into a further issue when it comes to placing items in your enclosure, most of these ask you to place things like a shower and food tray in your animal’s enclosures, and I would be fine with this if the lack of freedom did not extend to this as well. Much like the lack of ability to build an enclosure the exhibit also features many restrictions which make it difficult to feel any sort of connection to the zoo. When it comes to placing things you are given specifically designated spots which is where food or other objects must be placed, there is no option for creative freedom or for something to be placed where you want, everything is far to strictly controlled.
I do wish I could say that this was the least of my problems with Zoo Tycoon but the game just gets worse the further I delved into it, for starters this section drop that occurs with enclosures happens with everything. Something as silly as placing a food or drink store takes up a decent amount of space that just felt wasted, sure I could go along and add tables to the surrounding area, but the space taken feels like something I could use for something better. But this happens for everything, you choose your object or enclosure and the game takes further space, it was more often than not that I felt like space was being wasted, but sadly this was not even the worst problem.
When you think of freeform you consider complete freedom with no compromise, even with all my prior problems that I encountered they seemed pretty minor compared to the biggest problem of an object limit. For my first freeform zoo I had an immense amount of space and I looked forward to building until I had no room left to place anything, sadly certain restrictions removed this goal. After so much has been placed in your zoo the game refuses to allow any more items to be placed without you destroying something else, I could understand this limit in something like Challenge mode but this is Freeform to me this just felt inexcusable and cheap. By the time my limit was reached not even a third of my zoo’s potential landmass had been filled and this really left me disappointed more than anything else, this is the one thing that they should have done right and not included.
The menu system while building your zoo has also been poorly implemented, every time you need to find a specific item you need to navigate a barrage of different boxes. I would be fine with this if it seemed to remember what I last used and the icon sat on that animal or item but it doesn’t. Every time I went to do something I had to navigate through boxes constantly and this added with my other issues really feel like more of a chore then it should have been, Zoo Tycoon is supposed to be a placid time waster but it was more of a frustrating experience.
Thankfully there is at least one really nice thing I can say, and this is just how wonderful the game looks. At no point did I ever think that the game was up to Xbox One standards for its visuals but I was fine with this, it looks like they directly ported the Xbox 360 version but the game still looks wonderful. Switching from Tycoon mode to Zoo mode is impressive and you can see all the little details in your zoo which look just look great, I think some slight textural improvements might have helped the animals but I was never unhappy with what I saw. It was the rare moments that I just took in the sights that my issues with Zoo Tycoon just washed away and I was enjoying the game like I would going to an actual zoo. I did notice some deeper graphical issues with areas outside of my zoo such as buildings, and while I could forgive this as they are not really important I do think they disrupt the vibe of the zoo and are more of an unpleasant distraction to the eye.
I had so much hope for the console version of Zoo Tycoon but in the end I was just left saddened by the very offerings handed to me. Zoo Tycoon has such potential, and this in part feels like a game with a series of bad ideas just thrown in and rushed onto the console. I wanted to like this game but unfortunately what little there is to like is overshadowed by the poor quality of its equally poor design and lack of freedom. I’d say perhaps they intended this for children but I think even they would get annoyed at what this game offers, and they too would not stand for the lack of freedom.