Planet Zoo is Jurassic World Evolution with less death but more depth

Planet Zoo isn’t just about managing animals, people, parks, and pathways; developer Frontier Developments wants people to think about conservation and education, too. While players are concerning themselves with putting nice bridges over the bear sanctuary, they’ll also be learning about how bears are threatened in the wild. In-game this helps them to learn what a grizzly bear’s needs are so they can look after them better, and the tourists visiting their zoo will be entertained learning those same facts from speakers around the enclosure. And you’ll be a better person for it, too.

Planet Zoo is the latest game from Frontier, the studio behind Planet Coaster, Jurassic World Evolution, and Elite Dangerous. While this latest game is the next management-strategy in the team’s Planet series, it’s also a follow-up to Frontier’s dinosaur exploits, too. Planet Zoo is a meshing of both Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution, combining the depth of the studio’s theme park sim with the animal management of its dino disaster-em-up.

Planet Zoo preview | The pirates don’t eat the tourists

Similar to Jurassic World Evolution‘s dinosaurs, the animals are the big draw in Planet Zoo. There will be over 50 in the final game, although I only got to check out about a dozen, including lions, elephants, wolves, zebras, and bears. Frontier says that it plans for the game’s attractions to be “the most real and authentic animals in any game,” and the team’s well on the way to succeeding.

Even from the little gameplay we’ve seen, these animals have wants, needs, can make decisions (questionable or otherwise), can play around, and according to Frontier, individual animals even have their own unique personalities. While it’s a little too soon to call this for sure, I did see an elephant poop on his own food bowl.

The developer has also set out to improve on a few points from Jurassic World. The animals can move in herds, and can decide to stay in groups or on their own. Getting new animals isn’t a matter of making one in John Hammond’s back room, as now the animals can breed for themselves. You even have to be careful to breed with a diverse stock, as if groups start to engage in too much inbreeding the animals will start to get sick. However, the one thing taken away from Evolution is that if any animals escape, they’ll no longer hunt and kill visitors. These are friendlier beasts than the likes of the t-rex and velociraptor.

Planet Zoo preview | Hakuna Matata

Planet Zoo is looking to add some of the depth from Planet Coaster that was missing in Evolution. While Frontier doesn’t want Planet Zoo to focus on micromanagement (“don’t expect to micromanage every detail,” we were told), since the developer is expecting the game to have a wide appeal, there will be plenty of options there for players who want it. There will be a full weather system for example, and players will have to make sure the animals have shelter and are warm when it snows, and keep food and bedding under cover so they don’t get wet when it rains.

Players of Jurassic World Evolution had to take the needs of the dinosaurs into consideration, such as space, tree density, population, and which other animals a dinosaur was prepared to cohabitate with. These are all back in Planet Zoo and are taken even further. For example, apart from trees and space, players also have to consider terrain. Some animals won’t be happy if they don’t have sand, or water pools to swim in, or long grass, so you have to make them happy along with any other animals also living in the same environment. It’s a juggling act to maintain your animals’ happiness levels.

Planet Zoo preview | Arachnophobia

Planet Zoo will also offer a lot of options when it comes to styling your park; there are options for zoo facilities, construction, nature, barriers, habitats and more. There will be numerous “style” types so you can get your zoo looking specific ways, although the only options we were shown were African and UK zoos. Like Planet Coaster, you’ll be able to customize your zoo and its features however you want and can even stick the blueprints on Steam Workshop if you wish. Oh yes, the game’s definitely coming to Steam.

I saw a range of neat little features too, such as bridges going over animal enclosures. Even the ability to put down trash cans is somehow appealing after the minimal visitor interactions of Jurassic World. The dinosaurs were undoubtedly the stars in Evolution, as the animals are here, but in Planet Zoo more consideration has to be paid to both the guests and staff, who have their own needs to attend to (although not as much as the animals).

Players are asked to manage simple things like ensuring drinks vendors are near to their park’s guests, that the animals easy to get to (and see), and that the spiders being kept safely in their tanks. Yes, there are spiders in this game. Sorry, arachnophobes.

I was only privy to a small piece of Planet Zoo‘s gameplay, and I didn’t get to go hands-on with it as it’s still in early pre-alpha stage, but it’s already looking fun. Jurassic World Evolution and Planet Coaster were both incredibly enjoyable, and if Frontier can successfully mesh the depth and customization of Coaster with the fun animal management of Evolution, then Planet Zoo could be a truly special management game. As long as those spiders don’t get out.

Planet Zoo will be released on PC in Autumn 2019.