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Zoo Tycoon 2
game: Zoo Tycoon 2
three star
posted by: George Holomshek
publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
developer: Blue Fang Games LLC
ESRB rating: E (Everyone)
date posted: 12:00 AM Fri Nov 19th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Fri Nov 19th, 2004

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Have you ever played a game that you just couldn't figure out what it was that compelled you to play it?  Zoo Tycoon 2 is one of those games.  The game consists of nothing more than setting up a zoo and putting a variety of creatures in it.  Yet, for some reason, you feel strangely influenced to keep playing.  Before you know it, you have created a massive zoo with enough guests and animals in it to take over a small country.  But soon after this you realize that you have spent the past several days seemingly under some kind of magic spell, forcing you to play this odd form of entertainment.  Now you ask yourself, Why?  Why was I so into this game??

The visual style of Zoo Tycoon 2 has a very cartoonish look to it.  Intended for a fairly young demographic, this provides for an entertaining and easy going atmosphere.  However, this does not save the fact that the people walking around your zoo look absolutely horrid.  The characters are blocky and they all walk like they have sneakers made of lead.  The animals, on the other hand, don't look nearly as bad.  More smoothed out and possessing far better textures than the androids on the other side of the fence, they closely resemble the real-life creatures they are modeled after.  Along with simply looking the role, the animals even behave like their tangible counterparts.  I was completely amazed when I saw a flamingo standing on one leg in the water.  It wasn't until I took a closer look that I realized how realistically these creatures behaved.  I saw beavers messing around with pieces of wood, elephants blowing water onto their backs, and all kinds of other neat little actions made specially for each species.  The sounds used in this game, however, are anything but good.  Just one type of growl or snort is all you will ever hear come out of any animal, and it is also a rare occurrence to hear guests make even a simple noise.  Not to mention that the ceaseless cricket buzzing and bird chirping which is used for background noise quickly becomes nothing short of annoying.  It may, in fact, actually enhance your gaming experience if you turned the game sounds off and pulled up a few MP3s to give yourself some background music that you would actually enjoy listening to.

Included in the game are three modes in which you can play: campaign, challenge, and freeform.  In campaign mode, you work your way through a series of about twenty scenarios.  The scenarios have varying degrees of difficulty, but unfortunately the hard? levels only require a little bit of actual problem solving, and the lesser levels can be veritable nuisances.  If you choose the challenge mode, you are then given a limited? budget and only a small number of animals and equipment to work with.  I disagree with the use of the term limited? because you can set your starting funds anywhere from $5,000 up into the millions.  The true meat of this game, however, lies in its freeform mode.  It is here that you can truly do whatever you please.  You are provided with infinite money and every single creature and item is available.  Let your imagination run wild.


The gameplay itself is mind-numbingly easy.  The majority of the game consists of doing nothing more than drawing paths, placing fences, and then decorating the exhibits to make your animals happy.  In doing this you will attract more guests to your zoo, thus raising your fame.  This increased fame opens up more items for you to use in your park.  But, as you can imagine, this cycle tends to get a little dull and repetitive.  To help alleviate some of the tedium, you can switch into guest mode and stroll through the park to see your zoo from a guest's point of view.  Another feature of this mode is that you are not constricted to the paths; you can go through the gates and into the pens to get a close up view of your creatures.  This is also helpful if you want to have a hand in the maintenance of your zoo.  You are able to provide your animals with food, to clean their exhibits, or you can just wander the paths picking up litter as you see the sights.  Along with making your zoo look and smell better, this also comes in handy if you are too poor or just too big of a penny-pincher to hire more workers.  Another mode which is similar to guest mode is safari mode?.  In this mode you can go around taking pictures of your animals, which are then put into your essentially useless photo album.  Even though there aren't any sights or events in this game worth being reminded of, the pictures themselves actually can benefit you.  Every once in a while you are presented with a challenge to take a specific picture, usually of an animal engaging in a certain action, for which you will be rewarded.  Another good use for these two modes is to simply kill time due to the disappointing absence of any sort of time acceleration? feature.

So, after much thought and deliberation, what is it that makes this game appealing?  Well, it is the simple fact that you are running a zoo.  To some this sounds like a ridiculous notion, but the truth of the matter is that we humans love to be in control.  In video games we have built cities, commanded armies, and even ruled entire civilizations, but never before have we tried our hands at running a zoo (never a 3D zoo, anyway).  Zoo Tycoon 2 offers this unique experience to us.  Granted, this game doesn't have mind blowing visuals, and is better suited for the younger aspiring zoo manager.  Zoo Tycoon 2 may not be every gamer's cup of tea, but if you enjoyed the original Zoo Tycoon, or even if you are just a fan of the simulation genre, it is definitely worth a look.

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