About a year ago Microsoft Games released the second iteration of their zoo simulation, a fairly polished game with a charming presentation and decent gameplay. It did have a few shortcomings and annoyances, but the new expansion pack titled Endangered Species fills in a few of these irritations while giving you more to do and more to decorate your zoo with.
For those who havenâ€™t played the original, Zoo Tycoon 2 plays out pretty much as youâ€™d expect it to, given its title. At its core it is somewhat of a God game, while allowing you to literally get down into the dirt and handle things yourself if you wish to.
The game plays out in a series of campaigns, each with their own objectives and rewards. These do a good job of teaching you the various game mechanics, which is useful if you wish to be successful in the challenge or freeform modes. Challenge mode lets you choose the map type from a formidable set of choices, including desert, alpine, scrub, and wetlands. Next, you choose the amount of money you want to start with, and click start. Once inside you start with a challenge at the easy difficulty. This might require you to get a certain animal within a certain timeframe â€“ say a month or two. If you complete this you usually get money, a reward, and fame. If you fail youâ€™ll be punished somehow.
Once in the game youâ€™re given a plot of land to turn into a zoo. You set up fences and create areas suited for the animals you have in mind. Next, youâ€™ll need employees to handle zoo care, educating visitors (which in turn makes them donate more money to you), and maintenance workers to keep things smooth. Additionally, visitors have a series of needs, such as hunger, thirst, the need to use a bathroom, and more. Itâ€™s best to have something that covers these needs close to the popular animal areas, for maximum profit and the happiest visitors possible. However, visitors tend to get pickier and pickier, so itâ€™s important to keep track of the smaller things, such as making sure there are trash cans, enough food/drink variety, that the lines to the bathroom arenâ€™t too long, and so forth.
Freeform mode lets you choose the map type and play a normal game, but you start with unlimited cash and everything unlocked. This is especially fun in the expansion due to some rather big additions.
Endangered species are one of these, and they definitely require more attention than the normal animals. These can be considered â€˜high-endâ€™ animals which you need to work to acquire and keep. Youâ€™ll need a special building and areas specifically suited for the animal, with good protection and all the trimmings. Those that have spent a good amount of time with Zoo Tycoon 2 will undoubtedly be interested by these, but theyâ€™re not that accessible to brand new players. On the other hand, the new elevated paths addition can be built by anyone. This lets your visitors get close to your dear animals without posing a threat. Decorations can also be placed on your bridge/elevated path to make everything that much prettier.
Once youâ€™ve built a sizable zoo, youâ€™ll probably want to set up some kind of route that lets visitors see a lot in a short amount of time. In Endangered Species you can set up a Jeep or sky trap building and draw the route to suit your fancy. New specifically-themed tour items can be placed along the way too, such as a big bat cave, volcanoes, or other things to spice up the ride.
All this is needed if you want to maximize the popularity of your zoo, so the inevitable question arises if itâ€™s even worth the trouble. You see, not all tycoon games are terribly exciting. Sure, back in the day players played Transport Tycoon, letting the game automatically accumulate wealth while you were sleeping or at school. Zoo Tycoon isnâ€™t all that different in that respect. Once you learn the basics of the game itâ€™s fairly easy to set up a zoo that pretty much runs itself.
In some cases youâ€™ll have to build or acquire something expensive. Since you often donâ€™t start with a great deal of money youâ€™ll have to start small, setting up your zoo so that you actually earn money until you have enough. The big problem is that this takes a long time, and you know a game isnâ€™t â€˜idealâ€™ when you can alt-tab out of it and read websites, or even start a console game while Zoo Tycoon hums by itself in the corner. In other words, some parts of the game require a lot of patience.
But by all means, the game isnâ€™t always boring, and the expansion adds flavor. Personally I wouldâ€™ve liked to see more micro management, more action, and random things that could go wrong. Maybe itâ€™s a bit much to ask that you should be able to create a scenario where your 30 leopards run loose and take over the zoo, but still.
In terms of audio thereâ€™s not that much new beyond the expected animal sounds. Thereâ€™s not much music to speak of except the very nice theme song, so thereâ€™s no reason not to queue up some good music, or listen to a podcast or two while playing.
The presentation is overall quite good, sporting lots of colorful and friendly looking scenery. Also, while thereâ€™s a fair amount of detail and polygons itâ€™s not too stressing on the system â€“ especially if you turn down some detail, meaning you donâ€™t need a particularly new PC to enjoy the game.
Endangered species, elevated paths, tours, and more of everything pretty much sums up this expansion. Fans of Zoo Tycoon 2 should probably go ahead and buy this expansion. It adds what Iâ€™m sure most people will be interested in, but it doesnâ€™t do anything particularly awesome. Let me know if thereâ€™s ever an expansion for adults, with dinosaurs.