Genre: Strategy/Building Simulation
Developer: Dreamcatcher Interactive
Publisher: Dreamcatcher Interactive
Release Date: 10/2/06
Windows 2000/XP, 2 GHz Pentium 4 or Equivalent Processor, 512 MB RAM, 16X Speed CD/DVD ROM, 64 MB DirectX 8.1 Compliant Video Card, DirectX 8.1 Compatible Sound Card, 1.5 GB Free HDD Space
Windows 2000/XP, 3 GHz Pentium 4 or Equivalent Processor, 756 MB RAM, 24X Speed CD/DVD ROM, 256 MB DirectX 9.0 Compliant Video Card, DirectX 9.0 Compatible Sound Card, 1.5 GB Free HDD Space
I have an interesting relationship with building simulators. Games like Sim City 4, Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, and others call to me like a siren song, and I absolutely love them, even though I continue to prove that when it comes to PLAYING them, I absolutely suck out loud. I guess I lack the fundamental faculties required proper business and property management … or I just spend too much money on trains and airports. One of those.
Anyway, Wildlife Zoo is one of those kinds of games, but it’s less like a Sim City (which I suck at) and more like a JP: Op Gen (which I’m not terrible at): build a park, show off animals, sell cheap salty pretzels and high-priced drinks, the works. These sorts of games are becoming their own little cottage industry thanks to the “(X) Tycoon”Â franchise, and there’s a reason for that: they’re not too hard to do right. Wildlife Zoo takes this sort of game design and puts you in total control: all of the most minor aspects of zoo management are at your fingertips, ready and waiting. The question is, I imagine, does Wildlife Zoo do this right? Is it worth your $20? Let’s find out.
1. GAME MODES
There’s a story built into the missions, but it’s not exactly… um… “deep”Â, so we’ll skip it. Wildlife Zoo offers you the two standard options that come with this sort of game: Missions, where you take on specific missions that have requirements that must be met before you can advance, and Free Play, which just gives you a tract of land and lets you go buck wild. It’s all pretty cut and dry, to be honest; you’re given what you’d more or less expect to get from such a game, and nothing else. I can’t really think of anything else that could be provided by a title of this sort, except perhaps for the ability to build your own custom maps (you’re only given the option to choose maps that come with the game for free play, but there are twenty of them, at least), but for the sort of game this is, it offers enough to entertain the player, if not anything new or exciting.
Game Modes Rating: 5/10
By and large, Wildlife Zoo looks solid enough, but it’s not uber-impressive or anything. On a top of the line system, it really moves smoothly and animates well, and the various animals look as they should, but it doesn’t seem like all of the required system power is really needed. I’m imagining that the requirement of the high level processor is due to the volume of action going on; the various animals and people wandering around require a large amount of processing power, I’m guessing, to do all of their independent actions at once. The lighting and water effects look pretty as well, which is good. The plant life, however, looks a little rough around the edges and appears slightly jagged, even with the settings cranked all the way up, and the environments aren’t anything terribly special, though they look fairly appropriate. Clipping can be a problem from time to time, though it’s infrequent and, due to the fact that you’re usually zoomed fairly far out, it’s not often noticeable. Overall, the graphics do the job that’s requested of them, and they manage to do so without being glitchy or ugly. They might not be great, but they’re good enough to get the job done.
Graphics Rating: 6/10
The music in Wildlife Zoo is quite possibly one of the best things about the game, as it has this “traversing the wilds of the Serengeti”Â quality about it that’s just entirely cool. Outside of its context, it’s nothing immensely special, but in context, it sounds very good and works with the theme and atmosphere nicely. There’s only one voice actor in the game (the narrator of the various missions), and he’s pretty solid for what’s expected of him. As for the sound effects, there are plenty of ambient sounds in the various environments, and the animals you place in your zoo will make their own appropriate noises (well, semi-generic noises that sound like noises the animals would make), but there’s not a lot more to the effects than that. All told, Wildlife Zoo sounds pretty good, though this is mostly due to the solid soundtrack; while the sound effects are okay, they’re nothing special.
Sound Rating: 7/10
There are two main modes of play in Wildlife Zoo, as noted above: Mission mode and Free Play. Mission mode is dedicated to the idea of telling a kind-of sort-of story involving your wondrous zoo expertise and following in the footsteps of your father and such, but what it’s REALLY there to do is act as a tutorial. Free Play just drops you into the world and says “Here, get to it”Â. For obvious reasons, you’ll want to go through Mission mode first to learn the ins and outs of the title, but both modes play essentially the same otherwise.
As is standard for this sort of game, you’re given a 3/4ths isometric view of the world below, and from this viewpoint you make your magic upon the world below. The concept is simple: build cages, put animals in them, furnish and decorate your park, and so on, in hopes of attracting people to come and see what you have on display (and hopefully shell out lots of filthy cash). If you’ve played a building simulator in the past, oh, decade, the basic controls should be understandable in seconds, but if not, they’re easy to pick up. You can pretty much do everything with the mouse; moving the view around, zooming in and out, and turning the camera are all accomplished this way, and clicking on things will bring up various amounts of information about them, whether they be employees, customers, animals, plants, or structures. From this information, you make modifications to your zoo as needed in order to achieve a balance of happiness, among other things. Various things in the game will also have little bubbles pop up over their head to indicate their displeasure with various things, and a simple click on these things will tell you, on-screen, exactly what they’re pissed off about, and what they want from you.
And that’s what makes Wildlife Zoo interesting: there are a lot of variables you’ll have to maintain in order to keep every one and thing happy in your zoo. Animals will have all sorts of requirements that will need to be met in order to keep them happy, and you’ll have to work around those requirements in order to keep them content in their captivity. Some will want harder or softer grounds to walk on, some will want shelter from the rain, many will have various different tastes in foods that will need to be accommodated, and most will want some sort of thing to do to keep themselves amused. It’s all very complex at first; you’ll have to micro-manage the existence of your zoo animals to make sure they’re content before you bring in more and repeat the process over again, which can be very daunting at first. With some patience, though, it’s a surprisingly intuitive system that works well, and you’ll find that you can master what your animals want in no time. Your plants will issue similar complaints as well, but thankfully, their needs are far simpler. You can also look in the in-game encyclopedia to find information about your animals if you’re so inclined, but most of the time simply observing them and watching what they want directly is sufficient.
But the experience doesn’t end there. You can also breed your animals to keep the attractions going, as animals will eventually die (old age and such), or you can sell them to keep the zoo in the black. You can also hire animal trainers, who will set to work getting the animals into top shape and getting them ready to do performances, which is pretty amusing. And, perhaps most interestingly, if your park has genetic material on the grounds, you can hire researchers to analyze the material and extract DNA from extinct animals, which can then be synthesized and placed in the park as attractions. Having a Dodo Bird or a Sabertooth Tiger as a viable attraction is a pretty interesting concept, and the game implements it well enough that it doesn’t seem weird or out of place.
Oh, and before we move onward, yes, you can unleash violent animals into the pack and watch them wreak havoc. Yes, they can kill other animals. No, they can’t kill people, but they can knock them out and wound them badly. If you’re into this sort of thing, that should tell you what you need to know.
Park management isn’t just limited to the plants and animals, though. You’ll have to lay out the park with all sorts of decorations and pathways for your guests, as well as facilities for your staff. Not only that, you’ll also have to recruit staff of various sorts, including medics, janitorial staff (bin men), and general maintenance folks, to keep the park clean and maintained. You can also manage your zoo’s merchandising, food, and bathroom facilities so you could, in theory, make drinks cheap and make bathrooms expensive to access. And in a neat touch, you can choose how to advertise your zoo, including flyers and advertisements and such, to help bring in visitors. In short, you’re provided a very deep amount of control over how the zoo is operated and maintained, which makes the experience a lot more interesting.
You can also zoom in to ground level and maneuver around the park if you so desire, ala the PS2 version of Theme Park or Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis; this allows you to get a visitor/staff level view of the things going on in the park. This is neat visually, as you can get an up-close-and-personal view of the animals goofing around and such, but unless you have interest in seeing the giant browns made by the elephants and such, there’s no real practical use for it otherwise. Still, it’s a neat thing to have, so kudos to that.
Wildlife Zoo does have some notable gameplay flaws, though. While it’s nice to be able to recruit various staff members, several games of similar type have offered the player the option of being able to choose staff of different skill levels for different prices; this is absent here, unfortunately, which is surprising, given the detail present in the game. You can raise and lower the level of ground as needed to accommodate the animals in your park, but the actual tools involved in doing so don’t work terribly well a lot of the time, which usually ends up with your animals complaining about the land having “weird hills”Â. An option to build your own park land would have been appreciated, too; while the twenty plots of land the game provides you with are nice, the option to build your own land is missed. Also, if you don’t go through the missions to learn the basics of the game and instead choose to jump into free mode, you’ll most likely end up confused… a lot of the facilities and development options aren’t intuitive, and without the tutorial of the missions, you’ll wind up confused. Also, a lot of the familiarity of the game comes about from the game not really doing anything different; while it’s very deep, it’s also very repetitive of other games in the genre, sadly.
All told, though, Wildlife Zoo is a very well designed gameplay experience. It’s very familiar, so players who have experience in this sort of game should be able to pick it up simply enough, and with the missions to guide you, you’ll be building your own badass zoos in no time. There are some control issues to work around, and the game is very complex, but if you can dedicate the time to learning the systems, you’ll find yourself enjoying what is a very strong, if repetitive, gameplay experience.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10
Resource management simulations are almost always infinitely replayable, and Wildlife Zoo is no exception. Perverse entertainment derived from setting the animals loose upon the visitors aside, there are a sufficiently large amount of maps available to build your zoos upon, and there are so many different kinds of animals to choose from that you can build them to cater to all sorts of different themes. Some additional maps might have been a boon, as would’ve the ability to build custom maps, but you’ll still find plenty to do to keep you interested in Wildlife Zoo for a while.
Replayability Rating: 7/10
On one hand, Wildlife Zoo is a very complex title that requires a great deal of resource management to be successful. You’ll need to monitor the health and happiness of your animals, as well as that of your guests, in order to build an entertaining and impressive park that brings the tourists running, and that can be challenging. The missions can offer a solid, reasonable challenge that will keep players occupied for a while, and running your own park can become quite the challenge, especially as it becomes larger. You can also adjust your cash reserves in free play, so if you’re a resource management god, you can start yourself off really poor, or if you’re “teh suxxorz”Â at such games (like me) you can severely jack your cash out to ensure enough time is available to build the park of your dreams before you go belly up. How easy or difficult the experience is depends somewhat on your personal preference, which is very positive, but the game is never really too difficult that you shouldn’t be able to do acceptably.
Balance Rating: 7/10
If you’ve played one of these kinds of games, you’ve played most of them, and Wildlife Zoo does very little to distinguish itself from the rest. The ability to research and create extinct species is neat, but the game feels like it’s treading a lot of the same ground as its competitors without really doing anything different. I will concede that it is most likely rather difficult to make any sort of dramatic changes to the formula, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Wildlife Zoo feels like I’ve played it before. This isn’t really a bad thing (games like this are always welcome if done properly), but it’s still not terribly original.
Originality Rating: 2/10
To me, building simulators are judged not by how addictive they are immediately, but rather how much you want to go back to them after you’ve stopped playing. In that regard, Wildlife Zoo does a great job; I don’t really feel the need to play more than a couple of hours in any one sitting, but I enjoy coming back to it to try different things with different zoo concepts. This sort of game has nigh-infinite replay value if you’re into the concept (hell, I still bust out Theme Hospital from time to time), and Wildlife Zoo is about as addictive as it can be. The massive depth in building your park helps a lot with that, as does the variety of animals and building materials. If you’re at all a fan of zoo building, Wildlife Zoo is a game you’ll find yourself wanting to play, just because it’s so in-depth and well implemented.
Addictiveness Rating: 7/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
The building simulator genre, despite being somewhat heavily saturated at this point, is still going strong, and lots of people love these sorts of games. Add in the fact that the game is budget priced at $20, and the zoo management theme, which kids will enjoy, and it’s a sure fire appeal for most folks. The complexity of the title might put off those who are less skilled in the genre, and there are already zoo themed games of this sort, but with so much to actually do in the game, the low price, and the ability to create extinct creatures for your zoos, Wildlife Zoo ends up being a fairly appealing little game.
Appeal Rating: 7/10
One minor bug came up while playing: when I went to save a game as a dialogue box popped up, the dialogue box refused to leave the screen until I quit the game and restarted. Otherwise, the game seems reasonably bug-free; it didn’t crash or lock up in the time I spent playing, and nothing seems to glitch in any notable way, which is very good.
That said, I’m largely indifferent to Wildlife Zoo. It’s an entertaining game, by and large, and I’ll be back to it enough that I’m glad to have acquired it, but it’s not anything unique or special. As this sort of game goes, it’s in a market alongside hundreds of other similar titles, several that are even within the same genre, and while what it does is very nice, it’s not anything that’s dramatically special beyond what’s been done before. It’s not a disappointing game, and if you decide to pick it up, you’ll find there’s enough to do, but it feels like you’ve done this before, which is kind of a shame.
Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10
Overall Score: 6.0/10
Final Score: 6.0 (FAIR).
Short Attention Span Summary
Wildlife Zoo is a solid, if unremarkable, zoo themed business simulation. What it does, it does very well, and it has enough novel concepts within it that it’s a good purchase for fans of business simulation titles, of fans of zoo-themed titles in general. It’s by no means perfect, and if you’re looking for something new and different you won’t find it here, but what you will find is a very solid budget title that’s quite in-depth and worth the $20 it costs.