planet zoo

Planet Zoo: Console Edition Review – Totally Wild

We bought a (digital) zoo.

After over four years of waiting, Planet Zoo has broken free of its PC confines to become Planet Zoo: Console Edition, making its way to both PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. I’d been waiting for this moment for as long as it’s been gestating and now that I finally have the chance to play this beloved zoo management sim, the question is, was it worth the wait? 

The answer is mostly yes, with some caveats, but let’s explore what Planet Zoo is first before we start to really pick at the console experience. In case it wasn’t clear by way of calling it a zoo management sim, Planet Zoo lets players live out their fantasies of owning a zoo (or five, or twenty) while giving them all the responsibility of ensuring said zoos are well-maintained, well-staffed, profitable, ethical and most of all – fun for guests. To that end, it gives players control over every little aspect from overall layouts to building and furnishing habitats, hiring, educating visitors, gathering donations and selling merchandise, researching opportunities and a whole lot more.

planet zoo

It’s all quite in-depth, so the first mode on offer you’ll really want to dive into is the Career, which serves up a handful of tutorialised missions in pre-built zoos before putting players in more freeform situations with varying objectives and added challenges to really test their skills. Outside of that, there’s also a Sandbox mode with no set objectives to let you really craft a zoo that’s all yours, as well as a Franchise mode which adds in a broader management element where you’ll open up and run a number of zoos all across the globe. Just getting through the Career mode alone and “three-starring” each stage can easily be dozens of hours of play depending on how dedicated you are, so there’s a good amount to get through here.

Planet Zoo’s considerable depth means there’s always quite a bit of information to keep track of at any given time. Even something as simple as acquiring a new animal and moving it into a habitat you’ve built comes with many considerations. Is there enough space? Does this animal live in groups or is it solitary? Will you be trying to breed it? Will it be visible to guests? Have you researched it enough to provide the proper enrichment? Is there enough education material displayed by the enclosure? All of these things necessitate access to different displays of information buried in different parts of the UI which, in the PC version of the game, is straightforward enough. 

planet zoo

On consoles though, it’s a different experience. Porting a game like this to a machine with a controller is always going to be tricky, and to Frontier’s credit it seems like the best possible effort was made here. The basics work nicely, and in some ways camera control to get around your zoo is better with a pair of analog sticks than a mouse and keyboard, but for everything else it’s a bit more cumbersome. There are just way too many menus and interfaces to engage with at any given moment, which means learning a ton of little control quirks as things change between each and every one of them. Over time, I’m talking hours and hours, it’ll all start to become second nature, but the learning curve of the controls combined with that of the game itself means your early experience of the game is probably going to be more frustrating than it should be.

RELATED:  Open Roads Review – Family Matters

I also tested out keyboard and mouse support which is super handy to have, and that smoothed over a lot of the experience. Being able to just directly click on UI elements and menus is exactly why these games work better on PC, although the lack of any settings to tweak controls for keyboard/mouse in the Console Edition is disappointing. It’s also not a luxury everyone will have, so the sub-optimal controller experience will be the only option for many. I have also experienced the odd bug here or there in my time with Planet Zoo: Console Edition, though nothing game-breaking or that couldn’t be remedied with a quick exit to menu and swift return.

planet zoo

Once you get past the minor frustrations, there’s a brilliant game here. It’s got a good level of strategy that rewards patience and a gradual understanding of its systems, but it’s not so punishing or complex that most folks couldn’t eventually get to grips with it. The animals are gorgeously-rendered and look fantastic, even if the crowds and some other bits are less impressive. There’s a ridiculous amount of customisability – if you’re willing to put the time in you can build entire structures from scratch to create fully personalised facilities for your zoos. There are some appreciated nods to ideas of conservation and protection built into the gameplay systems as well.

planet zoo
Conclusion
Planet Zoo is a fantastic zoo management sim with a heap of depth and flexibility, along with some welcome incorporation of important conservationist messaging. It's also packed with gorgeous-looking animals to fawn over. The Console Edition's long-awaited arrival isn't without some frustrating quirks, mostly when it comes to controls, but the overall experience is mostly intact and still very enjoyable over a chill weekend.
Positives
Engaging and challenging Career Mode
Franchise Mode is a neat idea
Tons of customisability and control over your zoos
Looks great, especially the animals
Negatives
Controls take a lot of getting used to
A lack of settings for keyboard and mouse
Some mild bugs
7