previews\ Aug 19, 2001 at 8:00 pm

Zoo Tycoon - PC - Preview

Here you will find tigers, and lions, and polar bears, elephants, giraffes and … well, the list goes on and on.

Question: Have you ever played a game that, from the moment you actually get into it, you knew it was going to be one of your favorite games that would bring hours of enjoyment? Zoo Tycoon is such a game. Mark this down as a certifiable hit waiting to happen.

Microsoft and Blue Fang are the creative tandem behind the program, and even though it was a preview (with a few bugs that caused it to crash every once in a while, but that’s to be expected from a preview copy), it managed to provide a great deal of family-oriented fun. One of the household testers, a 12-year-old girl, was immediately addicted to the game, as was her parent.

Zoo Tycoon is built along the same premise as many of the other ‘tycoon’ games on the market. You are given a certain amount of funds, and you have to build and manage a theme-based park – in this instance, a zoo. You begin with one enclosure, and one animal. You will need to hire a zookeeper to care for that animal, as well as landscape its habitat. As people begin to pour in to your park, you will need to decorate it in a most pleasing manner (the patrons will give you feedback on how they think your park looks – although, let’s get serious here, no one is twisting their arms and making them attend), hire maintenance personnel, tour guides, make sure there are concession stands and bathrooms, places for people to rest, and plenty of exhibits.

As you can imagine, each exhibit costs money to construct. You can, however, set the fees for the park, and moderate the prices on the concessions sold. The idea is to make a profit.

But this game will appeal not only to those with a hankering for building and management, but to families who would like to teach younger children about animals. When you build an enclosure, you select the animal your zoo will adopt. Each animal comes with a bio that talks about its native environment, what it eats and whether it prefers company or not. These species’ biographies are quite informative. Presumably in the final master of this program, you will see a picture of each animal featured in the bio.

And if you create the right environment, and put in the right animals (gender-wise), you may have little ones to brighten up the zoo. Two gray wolves can quickly become four. Too cute.

The game comes with preset scenarios. There are two tutorials, which will give beginners a nice introduction to the game, and then there are scenarios for beginners, intermediates, advanced, and very advanced players.

The player interface doesn’t take long to master, and is quite easy to navigate through. Every option is a click or two away. When it comes to building environments for the animals, this is quite similar to building homes in The Sims.

As your zoo develops and grows, expect to hear a cacophony of animal noises. From the roar of lions to the growl of grizzlies and the howl of the wolves, this game is rich with sound. And the graphics are very nice. A zoom feature would aid the program, allowing players to get close and personal with the exhibits.

Zoo Tycoon will appeal to the young and old, alike. It is clever, attractive, challenging and highly addictive. At a time when many real-life economic sim games are retracing the same ground, Zoo Tycoon is offering a new slant – one that is wonderfully presented.

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