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Review by: Jim Richmond
Published: August 17, 2004
While not critically acclaimed, Zoo Tycoon struck a chord with a broad cross-section of gamers. Despite its publicized shortcomings, Zoo Tycoon and its expansion packs have been right near Maxis’ legendary The Sims on the top-selling PC game charts since their debut. Now Enlight Software is putting its best four feet forward to give Zoo Tycoon a run for its money with Zoo Empire. Let’s dig in and see if it’s something over which to go ape.
In Zoo Empire, you undertake the challenge of going from an unknown zookeeper to being the most popular animal wrangler around. You do this by wending through the main campaign pathways, stopping at various troubled zoos and fixing their problems before moving on. Your performance at each stop eventually spells the difference between prominence and obscurity in the zoo keeping world.
The 21-mission single-player campaign starts you off small, acting as a tutorial on the basic game mechanics before turning you loose on bigger and more troubled institutions. In fact, your first assignment is simply to take pictures of one zoo’s animals. The complexity grows from there, but all of the necessary tools are introduced at an easy pace. After you learn the ropes, the campaign path splits into two distinct routes; one course focuses on caring for the animals and the other trains your sights on hitting financial goals. Choosing an avenue doesn’t limit you to one focus or another; you can exclusively follow a single path or switch from one to the other with wild abandon.
The Free Game mode removes the requisite goals of the single-player campaign and places you in charge of a chunk of land that you must mold into a thriving bestiary. The only real goal is to not bankrupt yourself and get closed down. After that, it’s up to you and your creativity to design the perfect zoo. Free Game allows for some initial customization like your beginning cash level, wall color, entrance type and other tweaks, but otherwise provides only small, medium, large and extra-large squares of flat soil waiting for a brilliant administrator to take the reigns.
As amazing as you’ll become, you can’t do all the work yourself. One of the many aspects of Zoo Empire is the hiring and firing of employees. Your employees range from workaday zookeepers, groundskeepers and maintenance guys to veterinarians, facilities managers and education coordinators. When bringing someone new on board, you’re presented with a list of available candidates ranked in order of their skill. Higher skilled employees command a steeper wage, so you have to balance your desire for the best people with your spending concerns. To help even the ultra-cheap workers better themselves, you also hire managers to oversee day-to-day operations of your frontline crew. Managers coordinate with their groups to make sure everything gets done and they provide training so zoo employees’ skills and diligence ratings improve. Some managers also add value to your endeavor by doing research. Research can be conducted on everything from the prevention of diseases to posters and stuffed animals for the gift shop.
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