Another Tycoon title is upon us, this time from Blue Fang and Microsoft, entitled Zoo Tycoon. This is the latest sim title to hit the shop shelves and challenges gamers to build and maintain a successful and profitable Zoo.At the start of the game you’re presented with two options, the mission type scenarios or the freeform gameplay mode. The freeform mode allows you to start a zoo from scratch and quite simply get your creation off the ground and keep it up and running. There are a variety of different locations to choose from before you start, all of different play area sizes and include tile sets such as jungles, deserts, forests, volcano and even Mars. If you prefer a challenge then the game’s mission scenarios give you problems to overcome and solve in a certain time frame.Zoo Tycoon features around 40 different animal types right from the start with more creatures available via the auto-download feature included in the game. Microsoft have been releasing new creatures to add to your zoos since the game was released so you can expect regular updates. Each different animal has their own unique requirements and it’s up to you to get to grips with the demands of each animal.Zoo keepers can be employed and will give you advice on what is best suited for each animal and also tend to the animal’s needs including healing them if they become ill. After a period of time it gets easier to figure things out and a certain amount of common sense comes in handy when creating the animal enclosures. One gripe we do have with the game is that the animals can sometime be too picky. For example, some animals require more than one different type of enclosure floor covering and one square too much of one type can make the world of difference to the animal’s happiness. It’s not always evident exactly what is too much or too little which can make the game a little frustrating at times. Happiness of the animals is indicated by small green smileys if they are happy with your action but if they disapprove a small red saddie appears. It’s best to use the undo button at this point and undo your last action.Other employees are at your disposal for a monthly salary. Maintenance workers will go about the zoo repairing and keeping the place tidy and to keep the visitors moving around the zoo a tour guide can come in handy.Animal care is a priority, any animals that are neglected will bring a penalty so keeping all the animals well cared for and happy will allow you to progress further in the game. Should you neglect animals, animal welfare will come down heavy and prevent you from adopting any further animals which halts zoo expansion forcing you to get your act together.There are various types of enclosures to choose from, select the wrong one and you could be in a whole load of trouble. It’s never particularly advisable to place a blood thirsty tiger behind a small wooden fence, if it escapes the visitors will start running round in a panic screaming until you can secure the animal by picking it up and placing it back into the enclosure or into a holding box. It’s not always that obvious what enclosures can hold which animal so it’s a bit of trial and error at times, at least to begin with.To run a successful zoo you not only need to keep the creatures happy but the visitors need to be constantly amused. The animal attractions and enclosures have to be suitably well laid out and there has to be enough amenities to keep the demanding visitors happy. Amenities are essential to keeping the zoo functioning, items like toilets and food and drink stalls can be placed with the click of a button from the main interface and you’ll also need to keep an eye on litter, after all and untidy zoo is an unhappy zoo.Throughout the game finances have to be managed, which includes price of tickets and the price of attractions like rides you may have placed. All these add up to keep the bank balance healthy. Should the zoo start running out of funds you’ll get a one off grant to keep the zoo going but after that you’re on your own. One way to keep funds up is to sell things within the zoo grounds, like trees for example. It’s a bit weird selling off natural areas of beauty within your zoo just to get cash when you are actually trying to preserve habitats. Keeping track of finances is nowhere near as difficult in Zoo Tycoon as some sim titles, once you get the basics there’s not too much of challenge to keep the zoo going.No zoo would be complete without constantly changing exhibits and through the research panel you can a*ign a certain amount of funds per day to research new habitats and features to add to the zoo. In the earlier mission based games, research is not so important but in freeform mode, research is essential to keep your zoo thriving and full of interesting features for your visitors to see.One of the main plus points of Zoo Tycoon has to be the interface, it’s been well thought out and constructed. On the left of the screen are icons with pop-out menus to the main selection screens. These screens allow you to select new creatures to adopt into your zoo, pick enclosure types and add zoo essentials like litter bins and benches for the visitors as well as access to the research panels. Along the bottom of the screen are the main zoo information icons which provide information on your employees as well as the finances. Once you’ve played for a while and figured out how to keep things nice and balanced you probably won’t need to use these functions that often.Graphically Zoo Tycoon is not particularly stunning, the graphics can look a little blocky at times and the game only features 2 viewing modes, one that allows you to zoom in on the action and the standard view. The zoomed in view doesn’t do the game too many favours and only highlights the games rather average graphics.Gamers can also rotate the map into four positions which helps you get a better view of each exhibit. Although this is a useful feature, if you have a lot of trees in a particular exhibit, things can still be obscured from view despite rotating, making it harder to identify problem areas which are making your animal unhappy.The sound in the game, like the graphics, is pretty average. Each creature tends to sound similar. There are atmospheric sounds for things like the food stands and rides but nothing to really shout about. The sound doesn’t make any real impact to the gameplay, so much so that when my speakers went into sleep mode I didn’t notice the sound had gone off.To wrap things up, Zoo Tycoon is fun to play but it’s not quite as challenging as other sim titles, the pace can be slow at times. Despite that, the game is satisfying when the zoo starts filling up with happy punters and you have plenty of exhibits on the go, just watching zoo visitors go about their day out can be rather relaxing. The mission types are fun but after playing the game for a while the freeform mode is the more attractive option and gives more of a free reign to be creative. If you’re gagging for a new sim title then this may well be worth look.
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