'Zoo Tycoon' will be available for Xbox One at launch on 22 November.
- Create very large immersive zoos
- More than 100 animals
- Kinect-controlled 'interactions' bring you closer to the animals
- Online co-op and community features
- 15-hour story mode, plus sandbox and 'Challenge' mode
- Beautiful 1080P graphics
"Let your imagination run wild with Zoo Tycoon on Xbox One! Build your dream zoo alone or with up to four of your friends on Xbox LIVE, choosing from over 100 visually stunning animals and the largest, most detailed selection of environments ever."
By any measure, 'Zoo Tycoon' is a bit of a weird choice for a next-generation console launch exclusive. There are no guns. There are no spaceships. There are no cars - and although you can ride around in a variety of animal-head golf carts, you can't hit any of the guests. If you're unaccustomed to the series you might spend a good half an hour of frustration wandering around your zoo, desperately trying to work out if you can kill anything. (You can't).
Which is why the game is such a pleasant surprise. Because it's also very well designed, fun, entertaining and cute, and in fact a perfect fit for a console which has clearly been designed to sit firmy in the family living room, and not the gaming dens of the great unwashed.
The aim of the game is simple: build a zoo, keep the animals happy, get more guests, build another zoo. But while the game has some depth as a simulation - there are many different elements involved in making an animal happy, for instance, and all of the individual creatures have their own quirks, this is also a game with its eye firmly on a younger audience. There are no deadly animal escapes, no one gets in with the bears for a quick cuddle and a mauling (despite the lack of any real fencing) and the more fiddly elements - path placement, for instance - are handled automatically, by default.
More directly aimed at the young-uns are the animals. All of the critters (there are more than 100 in total, including a generous 12 types of bear) are realised beautifully in full 1080p, with realistic fur and movement - which is pretty enjoyable just to sit and watch. The behaviour of the animals is a bit more lively than in real life, as anyone who has watched a poor old captive ursus maritimus can attest. But it's accurate enough to be engaging.
Better still, for kids, all the animals can be interacted with directly using the Kinect camera. You can fire water guns at them, feed them fruit with your open hands and get to "know" them in a fairly natural and convincing way. 'Tycoon' also does its best to educate young players about the animals, with the included "Zoopedia" detailing everything from their basic stats and traits to conservation information. Though it never quite resolves the tension between becoming a zoo 'Tycoon' and being nice to animals, which isn't always the same thing.
Luckily, for both young and older players, the game is also quite challenging in some respects. "Challenge" mode forces you to grow your park while dealing with a running series of quests and tasks, from preparing for an inspection to making certain animals as happy as possible, all under strict time constraints. It's not exactly hardcore, but there's enough here for fans of the original Zoo Tycoon games to get their teeth stuck into, while still enjoying the gentle happy tone at its heart.
Technically it's also a solid experience. Zooming from a "god view" of the whole park (which can be many square kilometres in size) down to a "park keeper's" view, in which you run around as your character in third-person and watch the animals, keep an eye on the guests and test your various attractions, is quick and smooth. The controls are solid and not fiddly - which is often a flaw of these types of games on console. And the variety of global parks on offer is wide, though not always that significant in terms of what you can and can't build.
Collaboration is also key this time around. With Xbox Live you can work with up to four players to build and maintain your zoo, while also trading rare animals with the whole community, and working together on challenges which result in real-world donations to animal conservation charities. We haven't tried this yet - the functionality won't be turned on until later this week. But it sounds like a worthy addition.
Zoo Tycoon is not going to blow most gamers' minds, but it's hard not to like it. Alongside its core mechanics, which are fun and entertaining, it's a beautifully presented game with stunningly animated animals, and will appeal to a family audience more than any other launch title. In truth it feels like it might have been more at home on the Wii U - but that's not a criticism. The Xbox One would do well to encourage more games of this type - families will surely appreciate it - as well as titles of this overall quality. And we can't wait for the surely inevitable dinosaur DLC, so we can fire a hose at a T-Rex.