Originally released in 2019, Planet Zoo was released and published by Frontier Developments for PC. Dubbed a spiritual successor to Zoo Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon 2, it cast it’s nostalgia line and reeled in a formidable and loving community. When it comes to sandbox games, Planet Zoo is as good as they get.
Let me start this review by taking you back in time. It’s 2012, you’re 15 years old and your idea of a fun weekend is sat inside your room, curtains closed and face plastered to a screen. You’ve got a TV show, one of your favourites, in the background. But where your attention is drawn to is what you’ve been spending hours on. Zoo Tycoon 2 Ultimate Edition. This one game you bought on a whim because you liked the box art has now gripped you. You started it up and were welcome with a charming tune and then a promising animated intro.
You were greeted with the Sandbox option, and thus a core memory was made. This game never got old, you loved it so much that no day went by when you got bored of it, and it remained a constant in your life.
So high standards have been established right? Who could ever come close to Zoo Tycoon 2? Only someone who clearly loved the original Zoo Tycoon games and had the skill and talent to create a successor would be able to even come close, right?
A Labour of Love
You don’t need to play for long to see just how much love and adoration was put into Planet Zoo. You’re first welcomed into the tutorial zoo, where you get to learn the basics whilst also seeing just what you could be making soon. Exhibits a-plenty and animals galore. In this tutorial level, it’s kind of like stepping into a veteran’s game as they place their hand on your shoulder and urge you to try too!
But you also start to realise that this new game is a lot more in-depth and more complicated. This new complication comes from the sheer amount of customizability. In Zoo Tycoon 2 you thought you had a pretty great degree of freedom, you could build your enclosures and exhibits pretty well. But of course, being a game from 2004, there were reasonable constraints. Then comes Planet Zoo where you are suddenly able to do everything and anything. I’m no paraphrasing either, you’re given all the pieces to a puzzle only you can see. The game features a dynamic and intuitive building feature. So if you really want to, you could make your own staff buildings or guest facilities from the ground up. You start to wonder whether you’re playing a zoo tycoon game or a new carpentry simulator.
And although I’m not the best builder, and most of my builds look pretty tame and average. What some people are capable of with this game, the kinds of buildings and exhibits they make look phenomenal.
Being able to mould the earth, create ravines, lakes, rivers, mountains, valleys or canyons means you can create astounding exhibits. But hey, if you’re like me, the person who’s not too savvy when it comes to shaping the ground up then you won’t be punished or incapable of enjoying the game as much. That’s the beauty of these sandbox games, you can be a typical and normal player and enjoy it just as much as the builders who spend hours on a single exhibit or building!
Even better, players can share their builds on the Steam Workshop (if you bought the game via Steam). Which means you can download others’ builds and place them in your own zoos. Although, be wary! Some players have created fantastic builds that have a lot of parts to it and whilst their PC was able to handle it, yours might not be able to!
A Real Zoo
One of the things I love the most about Planet Zoo lies within the space in-between creation. You’ve spent a lot of your time working on a build, you’ve finally perfected it and placed it in the world. You’ve set your animals loose, now what? Well you can go straight to expanding your zoo even more. Or you can do what I do, set the Animal Camera mode on, sit back, and watch these animals do their thing.
It might not sound like the most interesting thing, but if you like zoos and if you like the animal you’ve placed. You might find that the whole ‘watching your animal’ for a few minutes is surprisingly relaxing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not felt great, I got a Steam Workshop exhibit, then placed my favourite animal in it. Seeing these gorgeously designed and fantastically animated animals just plodding about, playing with their toys or each other has been strangely therapeutic.
If you’re the type of player who enjoys sandbox games, and tycoon games then Planet Zoo is a godsend. This game is such a treasure, and whilst I may go a month or two without playing it, I will return to it and spend hours upon hours enjoying it. The community is thriving and the developers have shown a great degree of care and love for both the game and its fans.
Whilst the gameplay is wonderful, I would be a fool for not mentioning the sheer brilliance of the soundtrack. The in-game music, by J.J. Ipsen has found a permanent spot on my own playlists. The perfect cherry on-top to an already great game, the music just pulls it all together and ties it into a red satin bow.
I cannot recommend or encourage you to try it out for yourself enough!