Planet Zoo is the ultimate construction and management simulation game, and that's not an exaggeration. So much of what makes simulation games from Frontier Developments special is the unpredictability. Regardless of whether a player is constructing a theme park with roller coasters or designing a zoo for prehistoric animals, construction and management simulation games can rely a bit too much on customer satisfaction and attendance growth versus other factors. Planet Zoo takes everything, from education to the happiness of all the animals, into account.
Considering the scale and scope of zoos around the world, there's no one way to go about making a zoo in Frontier Developments' Planet Zoo, and they want players to know that. From what we saw during our hands-off demo at E3 2019 highlights two pillars: player freedom and realism. We're not talking about hyper-realistic graphics (though the visuals in Planet Zoo are quite stunning, to say the least), but rather how animals act in real-time along with what goes into maintaining their habitat.
Screen Rant was given an approximately 20-minute long gameplay demo of Planet Zoo, in which we learned quite a bit about Frontier Developments' latest "deep-management simulation", such as what goes into constructing the zoo, perfecting its day-to-day activities, and keeping the animals alive, safe, and happy, among other things:
- Planet Zoo is entirely unscripted due to the animals being "alive", which means everything is unpredictable.
- Players are in complete creative control, from the zoo's layout to exactly what goes into a habitat (including the animals). You can't put a salt water crocodile in a group of other animals, for instance. Well... you can, but it would be a bad idea. Bottom line is that everything in Planet Zoo is built "piece by piece" and determined by the player.
- Realism is the crux of Planet Zoo. How animals live and react in their environments mimic real life. For example, players will see juveniles remain close to their parents, and animal herds will have alphas (who are ultimately designated based on a number of factors that Frontier Developments wasn't ready to share).
- Each animal is unique (with its own DNA, which results in identifiable things like spots), and they each have four, fluctuating levels that need to be maintained: Welfare, Social, Habitat, and Enrichment. Players can improve a habitat and satisfy their animals by "painting" it, which could mean adding new foliage or a pond. And if an animal is hungry, the player might hear a whining sound come from that habitat.
- Because of the uniqueness of the animals, Frontier Developments has worked hard at improving the graphical quality of their game. Thanks to that, players can appreciate Planet Zoo's incredible attention to detail by zooming in on animals and seeing their hair, eyelashes, spots, and other distinctive features.
- One way to improve a habitat and maintain the animals' levels is to hire a keeper, but unlike previous games, the keeper is an actual character. So if a keeper walks around a habitat and determines that the animals need to be fed, he will walk about to his hut, get the supplies he needs, and then go back to the habitat to spruce it up. Because of this, where the keeper's hut is placed in the zoo is important. Plus, you can also follow the keeper inside the building and see the keeper make the food for the animals.
- To emphasize the sheer number of factors in Planet Zoo: one way to increase an animal's happiness (especially for the smaller critters) is to maintain the habitat's temperature levels, and doing so will determine the zoo's energy bill. After all, turning on the A/C will result in higher costs. You have to think about everything in this game.
- Of course, the animals' happiness isn't the only thing players have to worry about in Planet Zoo. Customer satisfaction is also high on the list. One way to improve customer happiness is by keeping the workers' paths behind-the-scenes (think: how Disneyland and Universal Studios keep their employee areas behind the rides). Another way to better the zoo is by adding education boards about the animals, but where you place them will matter.
- While an exact number wasn't given, there are "many more" than 50 animals in Planet Zoo.
- In order to get things right, a real zoologist consulted on the game.
Sure, streaming services like Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer will typically focus on the latest shooter, card game, or triple-A exclusive, but really, sitting and watching someone build and maintain their park in Planet Zoo is an absolutely engaging and relaxing experience. Planet Zoo was one of the most surprising demos to come out of E3 2019, and we hope that the final game - which releases on PC on November 5, 2019 - delivers on everything the studio promised in their presentation, and more.