I am so excited for Planet Zoo, I've restarted the campaign in Jurassic World Evolution, pretending my little scaly monsters are giraffes, monkeys, and wild dogs. That's because the brand new game from Frontier Developments, the creators of Planet Zoo and the aforementioned dinosaur theme park sim, is offering a deep simulation experience that tackles building a park for animals. And before you start thinking that zoos aren't the best things in the world, the developers at Frontier have already thought it through. As much as Planet Zoo is about caring for animals, it's also putting a focus on education, conservation, and making sure the animal welfare is your priority.
Making your animal kingdom in Planet Zoo isn't just going to be about slapping down a building here, and an enclosure there. Instead, building on the toolset available in Planet Coaster, you'll be able to craft everything you want in your park from the foundations up. In case you were wondering just how much attention to detail is going into every aspect of Planet Zoo, one team at Frontier has spent the last year working to get the monkey animation just right. It means that, should you create a complex monkey gym from planks of wood inside of your park, you'll be able to sit there and watch in amazement as the monkeys explore your creation with a, frankly, beautiful degree of precision. Until something else calls for your attention, that is.
Animal welfare, conversation, and cuteness
That level of precision in animation isn't just for the cuteness factor, or making sure that you're spending as much time playing Planet Zoo as possible (although you can guarantee that I will be). It's about you making sure that animal welfare is your top priority, and taking some elements from Jurassic World Evolution, that includes understanding their social needs, comfort, habitat requirements (like space and size, or the amount of dirt or water they have), nutrition, population size and making sure your animals are stimulated. There are special enrichment items, like a tube with holes drilled into it for the giraffes to poke their tongues into to get new food, a scratching post for the cheetahs, and rubbing towers for springboks, for example. The happier these animals are, the more likely they are to breed, and yes, that means teenie-tiny baby critters for you to look after too. You'll be looking after these animals all the way from birth until death, although let's hope we get to release them into the wild before they hit the hay for the final time.
In spite of the slight morbidity of it all, you'll be quickly distracted by the detailing in the animals' fur and skins. It is incredible, taking the level of detail found in the dinos of Jurassic World Evolution to never before seen levels. This is a game you're going to want to play on the highest possible settings you can afford, especially as you'll be exploring a while variety of biomes as you progress through the brand new narrative mode. I was shown one particular level set in an African Savanna biome, where the focus was to get the animals to a point where they could safely be re-released into the wild. It featured giraffes, chimpanzees, plains zebras, African wild dogs, springbok, black wildebeest, saltwater crocodiles and more. (Plus, as a lovely additions, all animals come with names when they arrive at your zoo, which are sensitively themed to their country of origin.)
The more animal types you have, the more keepers you'll need on staff of course, but also the more you'll need to learn about their various habitat requirements. There are different soil types, various scenery elements to add – and the more you match the additions to a creature's natural environs, the happier and healthier they'll be – information about what other animals they like to be paired with, and how many other creatures of their species they like to be around. For example, African wild dogs like to live in large packs, while saltwater crocodiles are highly territorial and aggressive, and thus more solitary.
But it's not all about the biggest creatures, there are also exhibition rooms you can build that will be home to the smaller critters, which for this biome included the Lesser Antillean iguana that the developers had deliberately made unhappy. In Planet Zoo, all creatures great and small have needs, and this little scaley dude was in need of some serious TLC. The temperature and humidity of his tank needed adjusting, and the enrichment options on offer were lacking. You unlock them via research, and ideally you want something in each category such as a big branch to crawl on, plants and so on. And don't forget to check on them using the tank cams too – especially for a possible iguana head tilt, which, I can confirm, is as adorable as a puppy's.
Research, learn, and educate
Part of Planet Zoo's appeal is about learning as much about the animals in your park as possible. For example, the plains zebras and the black wildebeest like to exist within the same habitat, as that's how they would naturally exist in the wild, as their complementary traits means they're great at detecting predators in union. Placing them together in an enclosure in your zoo ensures their welfare, and makes for some happy critters. The more you learn about the various species through research, the more information you can display in your zoo.
Your guests will learn more through the education boards that you can place near habitats, and then choose what animals to teach your visitors about, with those details becoming more extensive the more you research in the game. It's also available in your Zoopedia too, the in-game encyclopedia that you build through play. The detail in there alone shows just how in-depth the game can become, and even in my 30-minute E3 2019 demo, I learnt a lot about a range of African animals through Planet Zoo – and I'm an Attenborough addict.
It's impressive to see that Planet Zoo is taking education and animal welfare just as seriously as it is creating a deep management sim. Your creativity is at the fore here, just as it was with Planet Coaster, but there's more to Planet Zoo than just building. You'll be learning as you create here and having a good time as you're doing it; and in a world where it feels like we're all getting stupider, I think that's super exciting.
Planet Zoo is launching on PC on November 5, 2019. For more features about animals on GamesRadar, why not go ahead and read our investigation into why we love to pet dogs in video games so much – or watch the accompanying video below!