Electronic Theatre Preview: Zoo Tycoon

The Xbox 360 has strived for years to appear to have a complete software catalogue with videogame titles suitable for all audiences. While the likes of Viva Piñata and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts went down well amongst a certain percentage of the install base […]
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The Xbox 360 has strived for years to appear to have a complete software catalogue with videogame titles suitable for all audiences. While the likes of Viva Piñata and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts went down well amongst a certain percentage of the install base they did little to promote the console to new players. With Xbox One Microsoft Studios are hoping to improve on this lukewarm performance from day one, with Zoo Tycoon offering family appeal that stretches beyond simply being colourful.

Developed by Frontier, the champions of Xbox 360 Kinect for many players, Zoo Tycoon is a return to the established franchise exactly how you would expect it. Players must build enclosures and facilities, purchase new animals, feed and clean their stock and attract new visitors in order to pay for it all. The financial aspect of the videogame appears to be a little lightweight – though this could of course be due to the whistle-stop feature tour of the preview offered to Electronic Theatre – but in all other regards Zoo Tycoon is looking set to be a masterful rendition of a management simulation.

The animals themselves are the most immediate highlight, each looking absolutely fantastic and featuring lifelike behaviour. When purchasing the animal the player will be given an array of statistics and personality traits to help them choose which is right for their enclosure. Washing and feeding can be done directly – either with the control pad or via Kinect HD – or it can be automated if you’re the kind of player who’s less involved with the animals and more with the park as a whole. Players can also build rides and other attractions, as well as amenities, and doing so is a very simple procedure.

Simply selecting their chosen development from the menu will give the player a floating rendition of the building as their on-screen cursor. They can then move this to any free spot, put it in place and watch the park automatically evolve to accommodate it: paths will be placed and expanded to reach it and visitors will immediately take interest. Players are able to move any established attraction and the same will happen again, leaving them to solely concentrate on making the best arrangement of features that they can.

Zoo Tycoon goes one further than most management simulations with this aspect. It’s clear that the player is given the opportunity to express their own design appeal in Zoo Tycoon, but they can also invite their friends to lend a hand. Up to four players can reside in the same park at any one time, but even more impressive is the use of cloud storage: players can allow their friends to access their park even when not online. They can set limitations, such as budget and available builds, and also work together to create new themes for specific areas of the park. Zoo Tycoon was always a videogame that encouraged experimentation, and now with Xbox One it brings a whole new dynamic to it.

Zoo Tycoon will feature structured gameplay also, with a campaign that will last around fifteen hours according to Frontier, as well as tutorial, challenge (short tasks around fifteen minutes long) and a freeform mode (infinite money). Couple with this additional features such as a Smartglass ‘Zoopedia’ and the promise that community events will raise money to help animals in the wild, and it’s clear that Frontier have a commanding launch title on their hands. Zoo Tycoon is a familiar management simulation experience, but at the beginning of the next console generation it’s likely to stand alone as the sole representative of its genre.

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