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Publisher: MacSoft    Genre: Simulation
Min OS X: Any Version

Zoo Tycoon 2
April 24, 2006 | Jonathan Lowrie

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The "tycoon" genre of games is arguably one of the most popular in computer gaming. First made popular by games such as Railroad Tycoon and RollerCoaster Tycoon, tycoon games have spawned dozens of wanna-be's including titles such as Pizza Tycoon, Airline Tycoon, Lemonade Tycoon, and dozens of others.

Released in 2003, Zoo Tycoon became one of the more popular tycoon games thanks to its easy of use and good playability. Now MacSoft brings us Zoo Tycoon 2 for the Macintosh, a sequel that has gained a few new tricks along the way.

Jumping In
Zoo Tycoon 2, like its predecessor, lets you build a zoo full of different animal exhibits and challenges you to make sure everyone in the zoo stays happy. To be successful in the game you have to keep your animals and visitors happy and, of course, watch the bottom line. Without any profits, your zoo will be closed.

In Zoo Tycoon 2, there is a circular quality to it all. You have to keep the animals happy, and they in turn entertain the guests. If the guests are happy, they in turn spend more at the gift shop and eat more overpriced hotdogs. The extra funding from the guests pays for the staff, which in turn allows you to keep the animals happy. That's the general gameplay in Zoo Tycoon 2. Once you get the feel for it, the game does then to get a bit mundane, but getting there, of course, is half the fun. The plays like a hybrid cross between a Tycoon series game and a SIMS game.

Your initial goals are to create your zoo, then your exhibits, then start making money and keep everything and everyone happy. On the surface this might seem like a daunting task, but Zoo Tycoon 2 makes the animal husbandry of your digital denizens far easier than the original. In Zoo Tycoon 1, getting your peeps happy required you to add and subtract trees, plants, and scenery until your exhibit was just right.

In the game, you can view your zoo as a guest or as a zookeeper. As a zookeeper, you have access to the animals for feeding, care and even poop scooping. You have instant access to the tools you need to keep the animals happy and can add new foods or enrichment as needed. As a guest you are restricted to the other side of the fence. In this mode, you see the general mood of your guests and how you are doing in their eyes. As you stroll though your zoo you can really see if the view is as good as you wanted.

Game Modes
There are a total of three game play modes in Zoo Tycoon 2. The single player campaign features 17 scenarios, with each scenario getting progressively more difficult. The scenarios felt more like a primer to playing the game and learning your way around. The early scenarios were especially simplistic and the later scenarios just a bit too short. The scenarios, in general, require you to manage budgets, pick the best animals, and research the best amenities and enrichment for the guests or animals. To power through all of the scenarios expect to dedicate between 8 to 12 hours, maybe a bit longer if you are new to the Tycoon genre.

The next mode in the game is called Challenge Mode. Here you construct custom zoos and have a specific goal, such as earning a certain dollar amount. Advanced players can alter the amount of starting funds to make things a bit more of a challenge.

The mode I found to be most inline with tinkering around with the inner workings of a zoo is the sandbox mode. Here you have unlimited funds, and plenty of time to bulldoze your way to ecological balance and design the ultimate zoo of your dreams.

The 3D engine of Zoo Tycoon 2 really shines with the open-ended sandbox mode. Here you can alter terrain and build and modify exhibits and zoom in on animals and people. The terrain editor lets you go hog-wild making animal exhibits. To prevent animal escapes, you can build a trench around each enclosure and a small fence. The problem is that the animal AI is a bit on the dumb side and your animals will sometimes blindly walk into the trench, so you sometimes need to build ramps to get them out. Most species tend not to walk into 15-foot chasms on a regular basis, but the animals from Zoo Tycoon 2 tend to be a bit slow in this regard.

The economics of the game do not live really up to the Tycoon family name. They are rather simplistic and making money is relatively easy. The higher your park rating and fame, the more donations you get. To increase fame, you add a few more animals or view stations and the ratings just shoot up. If only it were so easy in a real zoo. The nice aspect of all of this is that you can play zookeeper without having a Harvard MBA.


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