Zoo Tycoon 2
At last E3, I met up with the guys from Blue Fang in a Microsoft booth and they showed me a preview of Zoo Tycoon 2. This meeting resulted in my preview which concluded that I had been very much impressed with what I had seen and that the game might very well be worth checking out. Now that the game has been released, it’s time to see whether things still look as good as they did last year in LA.
When a sequel to a game is made, people want to know what has changed. What makes this version better than the original ? Sometimes there are little gameplay changes and companies like EA have made it an art to release a “new” version of an established product on a yearly basis. Not so with Blue Fang however. Zoo Tycoon 2 has combined the well-known gameplay with a whole slew of new features that make the sequel more than interesting to play.
First of all, the graphics have been greatly upgraded. Of course you still have your top-down view but now you can zoom in up to the point that you get almost a first person view in 3D. When choosing the visitor- or zookeeper-view, you go to a true 3D first person view and can roam around in your Zoo. Here, you can also take pictures and store them in your photo album which can be shared with other players to brag about just how great your park is. A fine way to create interaction between gamers without adding a true multiplayer option.
Most tycoon games work in a similar way: build stuff that makes money, and hope you get enough visitors that pay for the things you sell. Blue Fang has slightly changed this setup in Zoo Tycoon 2 and although your revenue is still partially based on shops in your zoo, it isn’t the main income anymore. The main amount of your money arrives in the form of donations from your visitors. The happier your animals are, and the better your environment, the more donations you will get. Shops are still a part of the game though, and you shouldn’t neglect their influence. However, while they used to be a financial necessity, in Zoo Tycoon 2 they are more a necessity to keep your visitors happy. After all, people that wander around for a whole day will need places where they can buy food and drinks or they’ll be grumpy and starving when they leave and that will have its effect on their donations.
The 3D engine and the donations are already two major changes in the game, but there’s one left that will certainly make a lot of people happy: making the environment doesn’t cost anything. That’s right, making mountains, grass, deserts, … it will cost you absolutely nothing at all! The new brushes make it easy to create specific environments that are suited for your animals and your Zoo will never have looked any better. Mountains, swimming pools, ravines, deserts, swamps, waterfalls,… you name it and you can make it!
Well, not everything of course. Bridges and such are not an option but with some imagination you can arrange quite a lot of stuff. The major cost in your habitats will now be your fences but if you play it smart, you’ll make natural barriers and have only a small part of the habitat that needs fencing so your animals won’t get out and your visitors won’t get in.
This habitat creation is made very simple so it can be done in a few seconds, but people that really want to make a beautiful environment for their animals can really spend hours on one part, just to make it perfect. The amount of possibilities is so big, and the options so wide, that you can really let yourself go with this.
One thing I did notice when building a habitat is that it doesn’t cost you anything to make an environment, but you can sell newly trees, plants and rocks to generate money. I don’t know whether this is done intentionally or whether this is a bug, but it makes wanting a cheatcode unnecessary. Need some extra cash ? Just brush some unused ground with trees and rocks and sell them off! Not that it’s so hard to get cash coming in. If you look out a bit, it won’t be hard to make sure your zoo makes money. Blue Fang has really made sure that the player can focus on his zoo and the caring for the animals, that he doesn’t have to watch out all the time that he doesn’t run out of money, something that often is the problem in f.i. Sim City.
There are several game modes present but the variation is pretty limited. You get a zoo (or have to build one), fullfil some challenges and once those are done you can choose to either continue with the scenario you’re currently playing (without new challenges) or go to the next one. There’s also an option to play without any limits and although it sounds cool to be able to do what you want (without the need of any cheats), I found it quite boring as I didn’t get any challenge from it. Of course, this mode is perfect for people who want to build the most beautiful park and get their fun out of spending hours building environments for animals.
While we can expect some expansions to be coming up, much like it was the case with the original game, you don’t need to wait for those if you want new content. Blue Fang constantly works on additional stuff that can be used in Zoo Tycoon 2 and at the moment of writing, there are already new challenges and animals available at the official site. To make things even more easy, Zoo Tycoon 2 has an in-game download system that makes it easier for you to get new content. The only downpoint here is that when you’ve installed something new, you’ll need to restart the game before being able to use it.
I didn’t notice any real problems in the game, but I did experience some things that made me raise my eyebrows. Some examples :
- Having an animal die of old age can be fatal for completing a challenge which means you need to restart the scenario in order to be able to complete it
– Having an animal eat another animal because you forgot to feed it doesn’t cause any problems at all
– The caretaker sometimes has difficulties reaching a trashcan that’s in the middle of the road and not blocked by anything
– The zookeeper has the same problem at times with animal poo or food&drink baskets
– An animal that gets pregnant apparantly needs more room eventhough the little one hasn’t been born yet
All in all, Zoo Tycoon 2 is a great successor to the original. It truly adds new gameplay options and the new 3D engine gives it a very refreshing look. The challenges will be able to keep you occupied for quite some time and if you’re fed up with them, you can have fun building the most beautiful Zoo you could ever imagine. And if that isn’t enough, Zoo Tycoon 2 even contains a part of Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia with tons of information on all available animals so the game even has educational value !