Not your father's Zoo Tycoon(: Ultimate Animal Collection)
simulation Microsoft Play Anywhere Blue Fang Asobo
I'm posting my thoughts on the most recent iteration of the Zoo Tycoon series to emerge on the PC. I haven't gathered enough information on the game to do a full-fledged review, but I am basing my remarks on working through a collection challenge in challenge mode, having gotten my zoo up to level 16, as of this morning. Before I purchased the game at its MSRP of $30, I read various comments by Windows 10 users about the nature and quality of the game, and for the most part, they are quite accurate.
- The KB+M controls for the game are very wonky. Sometimes the game flat-out won't recognize your input, even after numerous keystrokes. This makes certain actions and the tutorials impossible to complete using KB+M alone. Even in fullscreen mode, which conventionally means that the game is taking up ALL of the real estate on your display, the mouse will lose focus at the top and bottom of your screen and your game cursor will vanish. These issues feed into several other points.
- There is a distinct lack of control on the part of the user. Paths cannot be placed anywhere you desire, the size of exhibits is fixed (although you can choose different size classes), terrain cannot be modified, predators and prey cannot be placed into the same exhibit, animals cannot wander loose in the park, and, perhaps most peculiar of all of the design decisions, certain classes of animals (the most interesting ones, IMO) are relegated to very small mini-exhibits with few customization options.
- Gameplay is very kid-oriented. The interactions with animals are limited to three types that are basically designed as "gamey" elements: one for feeding herbivores, one for interacting by making motions that animals will follow along and respond to, and one that involves spraying animals with a high-pressure hose for cleaning purposes (which seems very sadistic). Fortunately, outside of specific challenge requests, these activities appear to be largely optional. There are no complex SeaWorld-esque animal shows for marine mammals, and as far as I can tell, there aren't actually any marine mammals here anyway. The difficulty level seems to be fairly low, from what I've seen thus far, unlike some of the earlier games in the series where the difficulty tended to ramp up as you got further along.
Having said all of that, am I enjoying the game so far? Yes. Honestly, I'm mostly running through challenge mode to unlock things to tinker with in sandbox mode, but if you take the game for what it is and don't have expectations that are too high (i.e., don't look for this to be Zoo Tycoon 3), you can have fun with it. It's ostensibly a graphical upgrade to the 2013 Frontier Games release, but many of the models don't look especially sophisticated. I've noticed a few other quirks: there is no day/night cycle and it never seems to rain or snow; there is some artificial difficulty introduced to some of the requests you're given because the directions are unclear (criteria for an acceptable magazine photograph, where the medicine is located that you are supposed to deliver to sick animals, et cetera); and sometimes the game doesn't really give you enough information about animal diets (are these bears piscivorous and need a fish feeding station or as ominvores, should they have both fruit and meat feeding stations?). Also, don't bother playing without a controller, for the reasons described above.
If you're interested in the game and are more patient than me but not patient enough for a 50-75% off sale, it is on sale for $20 this week as part of the Shopping Hell Days festivities.