When I was young, I intended on ending up with a number of careers when I grew up, from astronaut to policeman to airline pilot. One that I remember quite vividly was wanting to be a zookeeper. The idea of being able to be around these amazing animals every day really intrigued me (except for the spiders, of course). But, as do many young aspirations, my career path took me to a completely different sector of life. However, there is still a little part of me that thinks it would be a fun job to have. Zoo Tycoon 2, from Microsoft Game Studios and MacSoft may be just the thing to satisfy those urges.
Like most "tycoon" games of its ilk, Zoo Tycoon 2 gives you total and complete control over the destiny of your wildlife park. You control the exhibits, the vendors, the employees, even the lay of the land. The only thing that you can't completely control is whether the public thinks you're doing a good job or not. Such a fickle thing is the consumer. But, it is the consumer who will either make you the best zoo in the world, or leave you to languish with the miniature golf courses and skeeball arcades.
For those who played the original Zoo Tycoon on the Macintosh, you will be pleased to know that everything that made that game great has seemingly made the transition to Zoo Tycoon 2, and been made even bigger and better. There are over 300 different buildings in the game, and nearly 30 different animals. There is also an option to gain additional buildings, animals, and challenges by downloading updates from within the program over the Internet.
The single biggest change is the move to a true 3D engine. Of course, this ups the system requirements for the game beyond those of the original, but the trade-off is more than worth it. The 3D engine brings the game from a "sim zoo" to an immersive zoo experience.
There are some new gameplay modes that make extensive use of the new 3D engine. The Guest mode allows you to play the part of a guest at the zoo. Using the mouse or keyboard, you can move around the zoo in a first-person perspective, taking in the sights and sounds that your zoo has to offer the public. This mode is a lot of fun, and allows you to really experience your zoo from a whole new perspective, so to speak. An additional mode related to the Guest mode is the Photo Safari mode. With camera in hand, you can go around the zoo and fulfill all of your National Geographic dreams. Take pictures of animals in the natural habitats, acting as animals often do. Once you've shot your roll of 24 pictures, put the ones you want in your album and shoot some more (haven't we entered the digital camera-age yet?). You can export your albums to HTML pages which can be uploaded to your favorite Web host to share with friends and family. Another aspect of the Photo Safari mode are challenges that you can accept. These challenges are based on the type of zoo that you have, and often require you to capture different animals exhibiting different behaviors. Successfully completing photo challenges will unlock further challenges, and give you some very impressive photos for your albums. Personally, I found this mode to be a blast, being something of an amateur photographer myself. I could easily forget about the rest of the game and just go around the zoos and take photos.
The other mode that makes use of the 3D perspective is the Zoo Keeper mode. This allows you to take a "hands-on" approach to zoo management. Go around the park picking up litter, cleaning animal cages, caring for sick animals, getting food and water, it's all up to you. Whether you are picking up the slack for lazy zoo keepers, or you're trying to save a little money on staff, it makes for a very unique experience, and really adds to the realism of the game. If sitting around waiting and watching your zoo from on high isn't enough of a challenge, this is the mode for you.