The recent release of Jurassic World: Evolution 2 reminded me of another game that bears many marked similarities to it: Zoo Tycoon. Both games are about running successful amusement businesses, as well as about taking care of animals with their different needs and wants. Honestly, in many ways, it feels like Evolution 2 is just building on the exact same mechanics that Zoo Tycoon brought to the world all the way back in 2001, especially when you throw the whole ‘Dinosaur Digs’ expansion into the mix. So, does this old game still hold up over 20 years later? There’s only one way to find out.
Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection – A Total Package
The biggest shock about revisiting Zoo Tycoon was probably just how easy it was to get running. Most of the time, running an early 2000s PC game on a modern Windows 11 PC would be a total nightmare. For some reason, I put the discs in, installed them both, and was just able to play without much trouble. Even better, once installed, this package includes the extra downloadable creatures as well. So, that means as well as regular zoo animals and water-park attractions, you get access to Nessie and Bigfoot. That’s an immediate leg up on Jurassic World, at least in terms of mythical creatures (just you wait, Frontier is going to announce a unicorn expansion or something now).
The basic premise of Zoo Tycoon is pretty simple. You have to create and run a successful zoo. You can either run a ‘free game’, which has no particular objective, or you can play one of the scenarios that task you with getting a particular stat high enough before a time limit. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s guests, and occasionally it’s even about making the animals happy. Other than that, if you’ve played a modern version of this same thing, then you’ll probably be pretty familiar with how it works.
You need to build appropriate enclosures for the animals that are in your care. This means making sure there’s enough space, enough animals to prevent loneliness and the right sort of terrain and features. You’ll need some animal specialists to inform you of what each animal needs, of course. But honestly, in many ways, this system works better than in many more modern examples (not counting the 2017 reboot, as I have not played it yet). Rather than having your zookeepers scan your animals to see their conditions, your employees are assigned to enclosures pretty much permanently.
Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection – Immediacy
Another great feature of this title is the fact that you get immediate visual feedback on what you’re doing. Whenever you change an exhibit in any way, a bright green or red face appears from the animals. So, if they need sand, and you start adding sand, it’s immediately clear when you’ve gone too far because suddenly red faces are shooting out of the animals. Aside from being some very weird imagery, this makes it really quick and simple to know what you’re doing is having a positive effect.
The controls in Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection are almost not worth talking about. It’s an early 2000s PC game, so it’s almost exclusively controlled with the mouse, and it works fine, even on modern hardware. There are some shortcuts, but they mostly feel pointless. If I had to make one complaint, it would be that scrolling isn’t exactly smooth. You seem to move in increments rather than smoothly scrolling across your zoo. It still works fine, but it makes the entire thing a bit more janky feeling than it necessarily needed to be.
Fortunately, the way you actually plot out your enclosures and such works relatively well. Enclosure walls snap around corners easily, meaning you can erect a new enclosure in seconds. Then, it’s just a case of adopting animals into the enclosures and adjusting them to your liking. You basically do this for every type of animal you have, and there’s a whole suite of options to use. You can adjust terrain type, enclosure features, shelter, etc, to make your animals as happy as possible. Don’t forget to add amenities for your guests to keep them happy and spending as well.
Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection – Not All Rainbows
There’s also the slight issue that a lot of the levels feel relatively same-y. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as the gameplay loop is relatively solid and can keep you going for hours. However, there’s just nothing that makes each area feel all that distinct beyond the background texture. In other similar titles, like Rollercoaster Tycoon, each map had a very distinct feel that Zoo Tycoon doesn’t quite manage to replicate.
Luckily, there’s plenty of content included in the Complete Collection of Zoo Tycoon to make it worth your time anyway. Not only do you have the option of a regular zoo, but you also get access to dinosaurs, marine life, and mythical creatures, each with their own needs and wants for you to contend with. Honestly, even if this game was just the ‘free’ mode, it would still be worth playing. It’s very engrossing. You can lose hours of your life before you even realise it, although it’s also not a particularly hard game.
The graphics and sound probably aren’t anything to write home about. However, if you grew up in this era of PC gaming, you should get a warm, fuzzy feeling about them. Everything is rendered from 3D models that have been turned into sprites. That’s a style that you just don’t see anymore. On top of that, 90% of the sound effects seem to come from an old sound library. Either that, or they were just recorded by people in the office who happened to be available that day. It all goes towards adding a sense of kitsch that does wonders for the game’s longevity.
It’s also impossible to talk about Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection without talking about the money cheat. There are various cheat options in the game, usually involving naming guests something specific to unlock stuff. However, by far the best cheat in the game is the money cheat. It’s really simple, just hold down Shift and the $ key (the 4 key) and your money counter starts to go up rapidly. However, doing so starts to decay your fences. Not only is this a great cheat for starting out with some extra capital, but it’s perfect when combined with the dinosaur expansion. The decayed fences lead to running, screaming guests in a very cathartic sort of way. It’s all made even better if you use benches to block off the entrances so your guests are stuck… I’m not a serial killer. I promise.
Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection – In Conclusion
Zoo Tycoon: Complete Collection holds up surprisingly well for a game that is over two decades old at this point. While it certainly isn’t as smooth as most modern takes on the genre, it offers a few little features that still make it enjoyable, especially if you grew up with the games of the day. Even if you didn’t, there’s a solid chance of finding something worthwhile in this decently-sized package. With the game being so easy to install on modern systems, is there any decent reason not to try it out?