Many sims are best played from a god-like perspective. You’re in charge, so you need to view the action from high up. You oversee large-scale projects, like constructing skyscrapers, re-routing highways, designing roller coasters, and populating entire worlds. You can play Planet Zoo from a distant vantage, and sometimes you’ll need to. But based on the hands-off demo the developers walked me through at E3 2019, the real fun in Planet Zoo happens on the ground.
Down there is where you’ll find giraffes pulling leaves off trees, where saltwater crocodiles bathe in the sun, where cheetahs get restless and sprint the perimeter of their enclosure. The animals are incredibly detailed (provided your GPU is up to the task), from the bears’ intricate fur shading to the reptiles’ glossy, reflective scales. I’m no zoologist, but the animations looked convincing, too. And the poop? There’s so much poop.
If you don’t have enough zoo keepers to keep the poop scooped and the animals fed, you’ll have unhappy beasts. Each animal has a list of preferences and needs based on their real-life environments, and it’s your job to make sure they’re met. Herd animals aren’t happy unless they’re in a group of their own species. Others, like alligators, are territorial and will get agitated if you cram too many in a small space. With indoor exhibits, you can adjust the temperature and humidity levels to the animals’ liking, but this costs in-game money. When all of the animals’ needs are met, they’re more likely to breed and give you adorable animal babies.
Your goals in Planet Zoo are the goals of a real zoo.
Your goals in Planet Zoo are the goals of a real zoo: to build a harmonious layout that meets the needs of guests, keepers, and animals alike; to maintain a balance between income and spending; and to educate guests about animals and conservation.
A lot goes into each piece of the puzzle. Designing a zoo to keep guests happy requires pathways, restaurants, bathrooms, and easy access to the animal exhibits. Guests don’t want to be distracted by the zoo keepers, so you can make staff-only areas that are off limits to customers. If you like designing your own buildings, you can hand-craft every wall, window, and door in your zoo. If you’re more of a big-picture person, you can use blueprints to construct pre-designed buildings.
As for teaching the guests about animals and conservation, that happens through education boards you can set up near the animal exhibits. Real-life animal information is added to the boards as you research the creatures, and the information gets recorded in your Zoopedia, so you can read it yourself to learn while you play.
So far so good, but I could only gather so much from a hands-off demo. I don’t know how well-balanced the in-game economy is, or how easy it is to navigate the UI for the actions and information you need. Maybe creating an obstacle course for chimpanzees is an exercise in tedium. It remains to be seen. Regardless, it looked fantastic from where I was sitting. If you’ve grown tired of managing settlements and amusement parks, maybe your next venture should be a zoo.
Chris Reed is IGN’s shopping and commerce editor, and he owns exactly one cat whose happiness is impossible to ascertain. You can follow him on Twitter @_chrislreed.