Gaming Today Reviews: Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals
Recently I had the opportunity to set down at my uncomfortable computer desk and play the largest and latest expansion for Microsoft’s Zoo Tycoon 2. As someone who has played the game on and off for about two years now, I can say with authority that Extinct Animals is a decent game. Decent in the fact that it has more of the same animal husbandry elements that those who have played the game are used to. To me the only saving grace for this new expansion is that the banality of the game steps up a notch – not a huge notch, mind you, but a large enough step to warrant not getting tossed into a pile with the rest of the used games on the floor. Now, before you continue reading this with the mind set that I am going to give Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals a horrible review, let me clarify something for you – banality is not always a bad thing. Granted, I prefer and am used to games that require me to think in terms of stealth, magic, item collection, and “how in the heck am I going to destroy an ogre that is 40 times larger than me with just a sword? “ instead of games where I must build the ultimate in animal housing. That being said, the newest installment in the Zoo Tycoon 2 franchise is a fun little game, and what it lacks in the department of cerebral stimulation, it more than makes up for it in the curiosity department.
MORE AFTER THE BREAK
Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals has the player doing some of the same types of challenges in the expansion that you did previously with the other expansions. In the majority of the challenges, you have to meet or exceed certain goals and criteria before your zoo will be awarded more animals, or monetary grants. In one such instance, a wealthy entrepreneur wishes to invest $10,000 in your zoo – but the catch is that he takes a percentage of your donations every month until you pay the loan back, and with 4% interest on top of it. I was in the red for almost a year during that challenge, and because of the money I was missing out on, I could not afford to purchase more animals or upgrade my exhibits to draw in more customers. This being the case, a lot of my zoo visitors were irate that there were not enough bathrooms, or places to eat – and trust me, there never seems to be enough bathrooms for your visitors in the game, no matter how large your zoo is or how much money you have to spend. The challenge games are fun, nonetheless, and the rewards you reap from winning the challenges usually make up for the stress it may cause you when you have to lay-off a few zookeepers and clean Hippo poop up yourself.
The newest expansion has you building an extinct animals laboratory, and you have the option to hire a paleontologist to help you search for fossils. You collect these fossils and put them back together in your lab, and like a good Dr. Frankenstein, once you have assembled your fossils you now have the ability to create these creatures in your lab, thus saving you $1500 and upwards if you were to just go out and buy the animals for your zoo yourself.
The Extinct Animals expansion also includes new items for your zoo, such as Jeep excursions for your visitors to take a ride through dinosaur infested exhibits, a sky tram, new food carts, and more beautification items to make your zoo look top notch. The addition of over 30 new animals to choose from also keeps you from getting bored with your elephants and those zany kangaroos that seem to do nothing more than breed like rabbits. Just like in the other expansions and base game, I found that I spent more time adopting Kangaroos out and releasing them into the wild that the time I spent on anything else. Stay clear of the Kangaroos no matter how cute they may be – they will only cause you aggravation.
My biggest regret with the game in the way of playability was that I already have the Dino Danger Pack installed on my game, so the addition of more dinosaurs for the game was not something that interested me too much. There are many extinct animals to choose from, and the addition of so many dinosaurs was a waste in my opinion. If they wanted you to have this many dinosaurs, they should have just made a Jurassic Park expansion pack with nothing but the great lizards and just made this one cute and fluffy little critters. With that being said, my favorite of the lot has to be the Dodo – not only was this silly looking bird adorable enough to pull at my cold, dead, heartstrings a little, but they bred just as fast as the kangaroos; thus giving my zoo a greater reputation for releasing them back into the wild and adopting them out.
The graphics have not changed much in this expansion. It is the still the same sim- style that players of the game are accustomed to, and the only difference I could see in the game is that the pixels were possibly more smooth and less boxy than before. They have added more attention to detail in the way of fencing and paths, but they could have done a better job when it came to plants. The trees still look fine, but the other flora in the game could have used a make over. When you place a certain plant in the animal’s environment, on your screen where you pick out the plant to place in the enclosure, it may say African violet and be very lovely and purple – but once it is placed it looks more like grass with a hint of color. Granted, when you go into Zookeeper Mode and are actually walking through the exhibit instead of just looking down on it in a god-like view, you can see the different details in the plant life, but only in that mode. I really think that they could have put a little more work into that aspect of the game, but other than that the detail on the animals themselves is quite good, and they are absolutely adorable.
I have never been too impressed with the sound in the game, and the expansion is no exception. The animal noises are pretty realistic, but other than that the music is as annoying as before, and you hear the same sounds coming from your visitors over and over again. Once in a while you hear laughing, clapping or a “yeah!” coming from a few individuals, but that is about the extent of it. It would have been much more fun if they threw in some crying babies, yelling, and other nonsensical ravings you would normally hear when you have a crowd of people together, let alone when gathered at a zoo full of extinct creatures.
Like the other Zoo Tycoon 2 games, not much has changed in the way of gameplay -you still build exhibits, make sure your animals are healthy, happy, and fed and you must make sure your guests are happy. The changes in this game lie in the way of the additions of the extinct animals and the items that go along with them. So while I was accustomed to the gameplay, the parts that I think they could have improved on were not only NOT improved upon, they were worse. For example: Just like in the original game, when a new item is available for purchase you must research the item before you can purchase it. We will use the new electric fence for the dinosaurs in this example, because not only was it extremely expensive to research the item, the price of the fence was beyond outrageous. Three panels for the fence cost me in excess of $1500.00 and when you are a fledgling zoo trying to bring visitors in to see your dinosaurs, it takes a year or more to build the enclosure because of the cost of the fence. While the developers of the game improved upon the time it takes for research, they made these new items much more expensive than previous barbed wire fences. You cannot put velociraptors in an exhibit with only a wrought iron fence between them and your guests, otherwise they will escape and rampage through the park scaring your visitors. Therefore you have to purchase good fencing and that takes too much money and time.
There is an amusing if not stressful plus side to a rampaging dinosaur though – when you decide to put dinosaurs in your zoo, you better be prepared to hire a dino–capture team. When the dinosaurs escape (and they always do) you get to go with them and wrangle the noisy lizards by shooting them in the ass with a tranquilizer dart. THAT was fun.
I mentioned earlier that you have the opportunity to hire a paleontologist. This employee will save you loads of time when searching for fossils while you focus on running your zoo. The paleontologist will bring whatever fossils they find to your lab where you will assemble them to create more extinct animals for your zoo. If you are inclined enough to search for fossils yourself, you have a handheld device that will go off when you are near a fossil and the game tells you where to dig which is as easy as hitting your keyboard’s space bar. The only thing I disliked about the fossil digging was that it just so happens that every fossil you need is buried at your zoo. Is that convenient or what? All the extinct animals in the world decided to gather at this particular location to die so that in the future you would find them much easier. How nice of them. It would not have taken much creativity on the developers’ parts to have you get in a plane and fly to Africa or Montana for an archeological dig for your zoo. It just makes more sense.
This is where Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals excels. With so many different challenge modes, the option of building a zoo in any part of the world, mini-games, or taking on a troubled zoo – the replay options are endless. You could build a new zoo everyday of the week, with the same animals, and the same zoo items and still have a different game. The AI in the game works rather well in this respect, and when you add all of the other expansions in with the newest one, you have so many options that it will make your head spin.
Overall I give Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals a favorable review despite the silly sound effects, the highly priced zoo items and general tameness in the excitement department. For children between the ages of 8 and 15 this is a great game, especially for girls as it is a safe, and good clean fun all around. For the adults, I see it as nothing more than something to pop into your disc tray when it is raining outside and the blood and gore from your usual gaming faire has given you a slightly bad taste in the back of your throat. For someone who was kind of excited to get the game, the banality and frustration I felt sometimes was evened out by the shear cuteness of the game and some of the harder challenges. If you want my honest opinion, the next time that Microsoft decides to create another expansion for Zoo Tycoon 2, they need to delve into the mythical realm and give us an assortment of imagined creatures such as centaurs, unicorns, minotaurs, and maybe a pegasus or phoenix to round it out. Think of the possibilities and challenges you would face trying to keep a dragon happy. THAT is something I could really get on board with, and it may even appeal to a broader audience if such additions were made. All in all, if you are an animal fan, this is a fun little game and you will get much enjoyment out of it – if however have more of a strategy or cerebral mindset, Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals will not even cross your mind – as I am sure you never had the base game to begin with.