reviews\ Nov 9, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Zoo Tycoon 2 - PC - Review

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Zoo Tycoon was one of those games that the critics, on the whole, weren't that wild about. However, GameZone liked it (The Badger gave it an 8, and I agree with the review), and it turned out to be a commercial success, despite the lukewarm response from the gaming press. Sometimes it's hard to tell what John Q. Public will like, as in the game Deer Hunter, which was ridiculed all over the place as a "Wal-Mart shopper" type of game, but which was a big seller. Zoo Tycoon was a much better game in terms of complexity and design than Deer Hunter, it just didn't have the best graphics out there or offer as much design options as Roller Coaster Tycoon. But the gameplay was fun, with the right mix of exotic animals, economic simulation campaigns and a sandbox mode, plus it was a great family game, with something in it to please everyone.

After two add-ons to the original, Microsoft has now released a new edition, Zoo Tycoon 2, which is very similar to the original, but has an updated 3D graphics engine, streamlined information menus and a new ability to view the park in a free camera mode. For the most part, these new features have really added to the game as a whole, and I believe that fans of Zoo Tycoon will be well-pleased with this updated version.

At the main menu, players can choose to play either a campaign mode, a challenge mode, or a freeform mode. The campaigns each have several scenarios that are linked together, and begin with easy tutorials. Later campaigns become unlocked as the game progresses. The challenges are similar to the campaigns, but are much harder. The freeform mode is the sandbox area, where unlimited funds and items are available for use.

The tutorials present the game mechanics in easily digestible servings, with just the right amount of information at a time. Players are walked through the menus used to build exhibits, unhouse animals, hire staff and add money-making revenue sources. If successful, they can continue to play the scenario, or move on to the next campaign.

The menus have been streamlined from the first game, with three main menus for construction, animals and landscaping. The landscaping menu features a handy "biome brush", which airbrushes the appropriate landscape for the animals. Individual plants and rocks can also be added in this menu. The construction menu gives players a choice now on the method used for laying out fences: an expandable square of fencing, a rubber band mode and an individual section placement method. The expandable squaring is a useful idea, but the actual working is a little awkward, as the square often will only expand in one direction, instead of all around, which is more useful. The animal menu offers choices of animal enrichment objects and food. There is also a menu choice for choosing staff.

Screen Shot for Zoo Tycoon 2

All the information needed for each individual animal's enrichment is accessible by clicking on the animal. The correct biome and other factoids are available, as well as the stats on how the animal is doing.

This compacting of menus works very well, and players won't have to hop all around the universe looking up factoids about their animals' needs. I previously stated in the original review of Zoo Tycoon 2 that the people stats menu from the original game seemed to be missing here, but that was wrong. The people in the park can be accessed from the Zoo Quick Stats screen, by choosing the Guest Information tab. This allows players to see at a glance how their animals, people and staff are doing, which is needed in order to see where potential problems may be occurring.

The new freeform camera viewpoint is the best new feature, and it works very well in this game. It's extremely easy to move around the zoo, zooming in and out, using the mouse and keyboard simultaneously. The rotation is also done well. Another new feature tied in with this new up close feature is the First Person mode, where players can interact with their animals by feeding, grooming and cleaning them. Specific actions are undertaken by tapping the spacebar when certain messages come up on the screen, such as "feed the camel", "clean up the poop", "give a bath", etc. This sounds like more fun than it actually is, although my daughter thought it was neat. It didn't do much for me, though.

The graphics have been changed to 3D, and the overall quality is pretty good. The animals are much improved, and look good even in extreme close-up, although they are a little blocky appearing. They also will walk through objects and each other at times. The buildings are attractive, and most have little vendors attached to them. The backgrounds are fairly well-detailed. While not the best graphics I've ever seen in a PC game, these compare well to other similar games on the market and are still above average.

Screen Shot for Zoo Tycoon 2

The sound effects are good enough, but there could have been more of them. Realistically, animals are pretty quiet at the zoo and aren't raising too much of a ruckus, but in a game it's ok to take a bit of freedom with reality. Some more noises would have been fun.

My 14-year-old daughter loved the first Zoo Tycoon and all the add-ons, especially Marine Mania. She is just as smitten with Zoo Tycoon 2. I like it, too. Its combination of simple gameplay, exotic animals and easy to use menus make it very accessible, but the simplicity doesn't mean it's "dumbed down"; it has plenty of challenges for players to work through. The hallmark of a good game is its appeal to the average gamer, and this is just the game that will fit the bill for most families, especially if considered as a Christmas gift.

Gameplay: 8.5
It's fun to build zoos either in the campaign modes, or in the sandbox mode. The easy interface is a joy to use, and the streamlined menus are a great improvement. There is a lot of replay value here!

Graphics: 7 
While not state-of-the-art, the graphics still are nice and do the job. Kids will especially enjoy watching the babies.

Sound: 6.5
The sound effects are ok, but there could have been more of them.

Difficulty: Medium
The game is of a medium difficulty, with the campaigns beginning very easily, but becoming harder. The Challenge mode is more difficult.

Concept: 7 
This is a new edition of an existing game, but there are enough new features to make this a definite worthwhile purchase.

Overall: 8.3
A very good family game, which people of many different ages can play and enjoy. Lots of games claim that, but few live up to that claim. Zoo Tycoon 2 is exactly that, a family game. While more choices in exhibit design and more stats would have added to the enjoyment a trifle for adults, the lack of these won't bother the kids, and really won't most adults, either. A great addition for anyone's library of games!


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