Review: Zoo Tycoon (Xbox One)

If you thought looking after your dog, your cat or even your hamster was a costly and problematic experience, imagine looking after the likes of hippopotamuses, tigers and bears. Zoo Tycoon allows just that. The business simulation title was originally released on PC and Mac in 2001, following on from the success of Rollercoaster Tycoon. Fast forward to 2013, and the title has been rebooted for the launch of the Xbox One.

The first of the four game modes on offer in Zoo Tycoon is Training Mode, which contains detailed tutorials allowing players to learn the ropes. However, due to the simplicity of the title and the well-designed menus featured throughout, this game mode is a tedious introduction to the title.

Challenge Mode provides players with limited funding in order to complete the timed challenges, while Campaign offers 20 already-built zoos for players to complete scenarios within. Finally, Freedom Mode gives players a blank canvas and unlimited money to create the zoo of their dreams.

None of the game modes are particularly challenging, presumably to cater for the casual market. However, skilled gamers will be able to boost their funding by placing the correct buildings and objects, including plazas, concession stands and exhibits for animals.

Customising zoos is very simple. Players are able to place exhibits, attractions and decorations in the available space in their zoo, with paths automatically connecting the surrounding features. Players are also able to select between a range of designs for everything, including paths, benches and even bins. Whereas the customisation doesn’t give gamers full control, it gives enough to allow for creativity within the title.

But what would a zoo be without its animals? Zoo Tycoon contains over 100 different animals, including giraffes, lions and monkeys. There are also some species exclusive to the Xbox One version of the game and variants of each can be created. Each animal needs to be cared for as players monitor their mood, hunger and social needs. This is done by regularly refilling food stations, frequently interacting with them and clearing up their poop which (bizarrely) explodes in a similar fashion to death piñatas in Viva Piñata. Unlike in real life, the animal’s needs aren’t too demanding and it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the title.

Zoo Tycoon utilises the Kinect sensor, allowing gamers to interact with the animals through hand and face movements, as well as limited voice commands. Feeding the giraffes and having chimpanzees imitate your movements is a nice addition to the title, though it does come with its flaws. The Kinect camera can be unresponsive at times and the feature can prove more hassle than it’s worth, especially when the tasks can be completed with less difficulty on the controller. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome implementation, especially for younger gamers.

With the exception of the Training Mode, each game mode can be played with up to three friends simultaneously over Xbox Live by uploading the zoo to the Cloud. Friends can continue to work on the zoo, even when the owner isn’t present. While Zoo Tycoon won’t be many gamers’ first choice to play with their friends, the multiplayer is a strong inclusion and a great addition to the title.

The community aspect of Zoo Tycoon comes in the form of monthly challenges which focus on endangered animals within the game. Each month, players are invited to vote for a non-profit organisation they wish to benefit and, upon completion, Microsoft will donate $10,000 to the chosen one. It’s a great incentive for gamers to make a difference without having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Navigating around the zoo is quick and painless. Players can control a zookeeper on the ground, as they walk around the establishment on foot or drive a buggy (which can also be used for checkpoint races). Alternatively, gamers can traverse the zoo from the traditional bird’s eye view that has been evident in previous titles in the series.

Graphically, Zoo Tycoon brilliantly shows off the capabilities of the Xbox One. The attention to detail, especially when getting up and close with the animals, is excellent. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the audio, which gets repetitive very quickly.

Unfortunately, the game’s biggest problem is its lack of depth. The same tasks reappear on a regular basis and the amount of content on offer is very limited. Nevertheless, this is something that may be rectified at a later date through the release of downloadable content.