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Zoo Tycoon review

Tom Morgan
6 Jan 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
50
inc VAT

Cutesy, kid-friendly fun, but Zoo Tycoon lacks challenge and misses an opportunity to shine a light on conservation

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Read our full in-depth Xbox One review now.

Microsoft has one of the most diverse launch game line-ups ever with the Xbox One, with Zoo Tycoon being the most family-friendly. It's a console re-imagining of the PC management sim, which lets you build and maintain a virtual menagerie of animals as you try to cope with finances, employees and conservation efforts.

We usually prefer to play management games with a mouse and keyboard than with a console controller, but Zoo Tycoon makes it much easier for Xbox One gamers to get the job done by putting them directly in the shoes of one of your keepers, rather than an all-seeing top down view. You can walk around the zoo at your leisure, or jump into a buggy to get around a little faster. This brings you much closer to the animals, which are clearly the main focus; adding concession stands, children's entertainers and cafes will fulfil certain visitor needs, but they are far more interested in getting up close and personal with the creatures on display.

Zoo Tycoon

Petting virtual chimps not your thing? Feed a virtual elephant instead

Players can join in using the Kinect camera. Adding interactive experiences to each exhibit will let you feed each animal by holding out your hand, or pull faces at chimpanzees to raise their happiness levels. There are over 100 breeds and species to choose from, but some are more interactive than others. Motion tracking isn't perfect and the voice commands are barely any faster than using the controller, so unless you're keeping young children entertained with the animal reactions you're better off passing over the Kinect component entirely.

Once you've learned the basics in the comprehensive yet monotonously long tutorial mode, you can jump into the freeform mode which removes the need to earn cash and just lets you fill your zoo with animals. With all the challenge removed, you can quickly reach the exhibit cap, leaving you to juggle animals as you open larger enclosures and sell smaller ones, or fire janitorial employees to make room for an extra breeding researcher.

You'll quickly reach the limits of what one person can do, so you'll have to switch to the more familiar top-down view and hire additional keepers to keep the feeding troughs topped up. Unfortunately it's down to you to clean up after your animals; despite exploding in a cloud of confetti, there's no escaping the fact that you're spending your gaming time picking up virtual dung.

Zoo Tycoon

The traditional top-down view will help you manage your Zoo, but it's less immersive than walking around

Even once you migrate from free play to the Challenge mode, the difficulty very rarely spikes. The toughest challenge objectives are relatively easy to complete, so we were never in danger of running out of funding of being forced to shut our zoo altogether. Obviously this is a game party aimed at children, so it has a difficulty curve to match, along with a constant stream of awards. Every time you reach a new level, which happens roughly every five minutes, you unlock new animals and exhibits or upgrades to existing ones.

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