Review in Progress: Zoo Tycoon

Let there be lemurs!


Sometimes, when you're looking for a new source of meaning in your life, you buy a zoo. If you can't quite afford to do that, you might settle for watching the film We Bought a Zoo. Or, if you want the experience of managing a zoo without having to clean up actual animal poop, you can pick up the new Zoo Tycoon for the Xbox One. I've been building zoos and adopting animals in this accessible, family-friendly management sim for the past few days, but I'm not quite ready to weigh in with a full review, since multiplayer functionality won't be available until a day-one patch. Still, I wanted to give you a sense of how my adventures in the exciting world of zoo management have been going.

Zoo Tycoon made a very positive first impression. Within minutes of firing up the game and diving into the first tutorials, I'd experienced the magic of feeding an elephant and the silliness of speeding around a zoo in a buggy that looks like a tiger. Seriously, the buggy has a handbrake! You can burn rubber in that thing! And as long as you're in this ground-level "zoo view," doing things like watching lemurs frolic or trying to take a perfect snapshot of an adorable baby chimpanzee, Zoo Tycoon is wonderfully charming. Animals behave in ways that are authentic and endearing, which makes your zoo a wonderful place to spend a little time.

Watching animals interact with toys and with each other is the best part of Zoo Tycoon.
Watching animals interact with toys and with each other is the best part of Zoo Tycoon.

But the nitty-gritty business of building and managing your zoo is mostly done from the overhead "tycoon view," and I'm finding this aspect of the game less successful. Aside from the 10 tutorials, there are three ways to play Zoo Tycoon: Freeform mode, which gives you unlimited money; Challenge mode, which doesn't; and Campaign mode, which presents you with a series of specific goals and time limits.

The interface leaves some things to be desired.
The interface leaves some things to be desired.

Whichever way you opt to play the game, you spend a lot of time placing habitats for animals in your zoo, and these habitats almost always require feeding stations, cleaning stations, and, ideally, some sort of toy or activity to keep the animals occupied. The process of clicking through menus to place these things in exhibits quickly becomes time-consuming and tiresome, and it wasn't long before I wished that I were playing the game on a PC with an interface that let me quickly click on slots in habitats and plop my desired object down with the press of a hotkey. There are Kinect voice commands for just about everything in the game, but in my testing thus far, these have been wildly inconsistent, and certainly haven't been a substitute for a proper hands-on interface.

At this point, I love the animals that populate my zoos, and appreciate the accessibility of Zoo Tycoon's concepts, which make the needs of your animals and your guests very clear so that you can quickly focus on addressing them. But I'm finding that the game's interface brings some tedium to what should be a breezy process of managing a fantasy zoo. Still, this isn't my last word on the game, and as I make my way through some of the more challenging scenarios in Campaign mode and continue to see what I can do with the unlimited money of Freeform mode, my feelings may change. Check back for my full review after the game's release!

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