Get Ready to Fall in Love With Every Single Animal on Planet Zoo
Though animals tend to make appearances in games as companions, as enemies, and even as decorative background fixtures, it’s rare to find a game that treats them as living things with elaborate inner workings. But in the real world, they’re exactly that: complex creatures with social lives, environmental preferences, and nuanced temperaments.
Enter Planet Zoo, the latest business management simulation game from Frontier. In Planet Zoo, animals aren’t merely attractions that you can purchase and place around your park however you please. They’re mortal, emotional beings that will likely become the object of both your fascination and affection.
If you’re familiar with the management simulation genre, Frontier is likely a studio you know. The studio was responsible for the highly popular RollerCoaster Tycoon series throughout the 2000s. They also made 2016’s Planet Coaster and 2018’s Jurassic World Evolution, a game that puts players in a supervisory role as the titular park goes haywire. The former saw the studio returning to their roots and innovating upon the foundation they’d set with RollerCoaster Tycoon.
“Planet Zoo’s world and personality shares a lot with Planet Coaster,” Game Director Piers Jackson explained. “Planet Coaster was our way of bringing those classic tycoon games into the modern age and introducing coaster park sims to a new audience, and we’re aiming to do that again with classic zoo management sims in Planet Zoo.”
Planet Zoo’s gameplay revolves around the well-being of your animals, who are each designed to feel robust, dynamic and, well, alive. “In Planet Zoo, every animal is an individual who thinks, feels and explores the world you create around them,” Jackson explained. “We’re proud to say we believe Planet Zoo’s animals are the most authentic, believable animals ever featured in a video game.”
Planet Zoo’s animals feel most realistic in their interactions with their surroundings. “Your animals will react to the habitats you build for them, so it’s not enough to only build something beautiful; you’ll have to meet the needs of the animals, too,” Jackson said. Their habitat should reflect the environment in which each animal thrives: while Grizzly Bears prefer rocks and grass, African Elephants require lots of space.
Planet Zoo also asks players to consider the climate of your zoo when placing habitats. “Where in the world you build your zoo matters,” Jackson explained. “Building a zoo in the far north on the world map will give it a very different climate to a zoo built on the equator.”
This means that harsh weather conditions like rain and snow can be an obstacle to housing exotic animals in your Norwegian zoo. This will be an important thing to consider as you take on the game’s narrative mode, which tasks the player with running a variety of different zoos around the world, each with their own challenges and wacky characters.
Additionally, as a zookeeper, you’ll need to tend to much more than your animals’ basic needs like food and shelter. You’ll also have to monitor their mood and foster a healthy social life for them, making sure they’re as happy as they can be. Different animals have different social needs; some prefer a quiet life on their own, while others only thrive in large herds or family groups.
This requires an intimate knowledge of each animal in your care. It’s impressive for a management sim game to allow you to invest, as a player, in both the microcosmic and macrocosmic at once. You’ll likely find yourself growing personally attached to each animal as you tend to them from birth to death.
Jackson made it clear that Frontier did their research when designing the game’s animals. “We’ve met with zookeepers, watched hundreds of hours of footage, and read volumes of information on every animal in the game, from the towering Reticulated Giraffe to the tiny Brazilian Wandering Spider,” Jackson said. “Every animal is unique, from their food preferences to their social needs to when they like to sleep to the volume of dung they produce!”
This is, after all, coming from a studio that, during development of Planet Coaster, sent an audio engineer to a theme park in Indiana to capture field recordings of crowds, coaster sounds, and park ambience. Frontier doesn’t kid around when it comes to field research.
Of course, contemporary development technology and PC hardware granted Frontier the ability to make a management sim game unlike any they’d ever made before. “The increased power of PC hardware has really set our team’s creativity free,” Jackson said. “Only now can we make a zoo management game in which you can watch hundreds of animals in your zoo from a sky-high level, all of them living and moving around with incredibly complex intelligence — and then zoom in on a single West African Lion with the ability to see individual tufts of fur in its mane and light shining in its eyes.”
This is the level of detail that, ideally, a truly modern management sim should possess. There’s a special satisfaction that comes not only from appreciating your system working as a whole, but also from observing how your big-picture decisions service the individuals that belong to it.
Jackson explained that Planet Zoo was always on their list of dream projects. Having recently become an independent studio, Frontier was excited to revisit their roots with even more ambition than before.
“In many ways, this is unfinished business for us,” Jackson said. “There’s still so much more to explore in this genre and we’re pleased to be bringing it back. We have a team who are passionate about animals and management sims, so for us, Planet Zoo is both a great fit for the studio and a game we really wanted to make.”
Follow @PlanetZooGame on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to gain access to the latest news, future animals, and gameplay feature reveals. Planet Zoo will be available this fall exclusively for PC.