Zoo Tycoon was, by some degree, the most delightful thing I played at the Xbox One showcase earlier in the week, even if I'm a little dismayed I won'[t be able to stick an afro on my zoo keeper. A fan of previous Tycoon games, the Zoo sub-franchise was one that I never got around to playing. But here, revitalised on Xbox One, Frontier Developments have crafted something a little special.
At it's heart, Zoo Tycoon 2013 is the same as it's always been: you build a zoo, adopt and look after the animals within, completing challenges along the way, attract new customers, and balancing the roles of architect and managing director. But now Frontier have a chance to make that experience more personable thanks to the improved Kinect sensor and their history with games such as Kinectimals and Disneyland Adventures.
What that means in practical terms is that there's more direct engagement to be had with the zoo that you build and the animals that you bring into your enclosures. Now when you rock up to a feeding station, you're going through the motions of picking up veggies and feeding your giraffes, or using the movements of your hands to hose down elephants and give them a shower. There's one little Kinect interaction area that has a chimp mirror your actions that's ridiculously adorable. I'd spent most of my day hacking zombies and barbarians to death in Dead Rising 3 and Ryse, but came away from my time with Zoo Tycoon absolutely beaming.
The interactivity is clearly geared towards a younger audience, but that's no bad thing, especially when combined with a variety of game modes that run the gamut from accessible, open, sandbox fun to hard as nails. Obviously we'll need more time with the game to determine how deep the simulation and management aspects of the game go, but it's good to see a game such as this, and a launch title to boot, looking like it'll successfully cater towards a wide audience. There's an educational aspect to the game as well, and Microsoft Studios' Jorge Neumann spoke about the importance of having positive attitudes towards conservation embedded within the game's systems. That doesn't mean the game gets preachy, but it does mean that you can't drop an antelope into the lion enclosure. Believe me, I tried.
But I don't have to tell you about it. I can show you. Here's the presentation from Neumann in full, along with off-screen capture of the whole thing.