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The second expansion pack for Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, Wild, makes one wonder if Atari and Frontier are running out of creative ideas for expansion packs. Roller Coaster Tycoon's Wild allows you to add animals to your theme parks. You have them in enclosures with an animal specialist looking after them who clean up their poop and feed them. You have to deal with animals possibly escaping and have options to release an animal into the wild or sell it.
Now you may be confused at this point because if you've ever played the Zoo Tycoon series, the description above is a dead on description for that game. And that's the inherent problem with Wild - been there, done that. Instead of looking like a visionary in the field of Tycoon Games, for the first time the Roller Coaster Tycoon team has come off looking like a copycat.
The saving grace for Wild is that it also includes new rides (18 new flat rides, 8 new coasters, 4 new transport rides), and features (12 new scenarios, 2 new shows, billboards, ability to tunnel vertically, and custom shops).
The basis of the expansion, of course, is to add animals to your theme parks. After all, we know that Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Knotts Berry Farm, DisneyWorld, and all the other major theme parks all have animals, right? Oh... hmmmmm... Perhaps if Atari wanted to stay in the land of realism, they could have created Roller Coaster Tycoon: Resort. In Roller Coaster Tycoon: Resort you would add new realistic theme park elements like parking, hotels, package plans, and linking of theme parks; an entire resort experience like many theme parks now offer. I have several ideas where that came from that are original concepts worth developing over copycat concepts. And, Frontier/Atari - feel free to take that concept and run with it. You can just add me to the "special thanks" section. :-)
Ok, back to Zoo Tyco... er... Wild. In Wild you create enclosures (wood fence, chain fence, or electric fence) to hold your animals. Wild does a good job of telling you which is appropriate for each animal (important). After creating the enclosure, you add the right type of shelter and when your shelter appears... walla... an animal specialist appears too (from the tool shed, which looks like an outhouse, and probably is since the animal specialist never leaves the enclosure). You then add your animals, viewing galleries (which you can charge for) and start making money with your new attraction. Each time you add a new animal you can raise the price of the viewing galleries. Just be sure to have a maintenance worker that checks your viewing gallery, keeping the fences from rotting and animals from escaping (predators will kill other animals in the game, but won't kill guests). That's the basis for the zoo part of the expansion. Elements don't really play into your enclosures. For example, even if I don't add ice/snow to creatures needing it in real life, they'll still be happy in their environment of walking on hot sand in 100 degree temperatures with no water. And that's another problem... If you add water to your enclosure, water creatures like the Hippos will never go into it (unless you use a workaround "cheat"). These types of things take away from the experience.
One neat addition to the animal enclosures is three new transport rides that interact with the enclosures. One, Safari, allows jeeps to carry peeps through the enclosures on a "safari" type adventure. Cool. A second allows you to take a train through the enclosures. Finally, an elephant transport goes through enclosures too - yes even lion cages. All three of these are nice experiences. However, the Cam viewing for Safari shows too much of the jeep you're in and not enough of the environment you're being driven through.
Even though Frontier and Atari chose to take on Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon with this expansion, they did a decent job. To me, the animals are more realistic and fun to watch than they are in Zoo Tycoon 2. When one of your animals is confiscated for neglect, it doesn't just "disappear". A helicopter actually flies onto the screen and over the animal, which is crated then taken away. It's interesting to helplessly watch this happen. I've always wondered, though, why Frontier/Atari will put time into creating a cool element like this, but do nothing for you when you complete Career Mode.
Two new scenery "themes" come with the game - Prehistoric and Jungle. Both add lots of new scenery and animatronic items. The new "angled" animatronics are a nice addition. I was a little surprised, though, that dinosaurs weren't a part of the zoo animal options (that would make it more enjoyable). I mean, that's as realistic as having a Polar Bear exhibit built of sand right below a roaring coaster wooshing by at 75 miles an hour. In fact, if dinosaurs as zoo animals had been enabled just for one of the Jurassic Park scenarios, that would add a new excitement factor. Scenarios can get a little stale, but if you have elements exclusively for those scenarios, it could build up the "fun factor."
One new feature that was introduced into Wild is the ability to add billboards to your park. Interestingly enough, the billboards use real ads supplied by Atari to your billboards. To make it more of a feature that people will use, Atari states that "Income for your amusement park can be generated by adding these billboards". Tell me this - how many amusement parks have you been to that have billboards with advertisements on them? It is very unrealistic to the user experience, albeit great for Atari to line its wallets with more money. It reminds me of TIVO's decision to start putting static ads on screen when you fast forward through commercials. Most people bought a TIVO to skip commercials, not simply see variations of them! On the other hand, Atari allows you to turn the ad feature off, with the ability to add your own pictures to the billboards. So adding a billboard to your Egyptian themed park with a picture of Pyramids could enhance some of your attractions (particularly dark rides). And you can have a billboard show more than one image, which is a nice feature. So the billboards definitely have a nice use that can enhance your park as long as you don't use them for the apparent original intent - to allow SPAM into your parks.
Custom shops/stalls are also now available. A custom stall/shop is a stall that you can select what you want to sell. What makes it unique is the design. For example, many of the custom stalls you can select from come with billboards. Another one is just a counter - you then use scenery to finish it the way you want. Then you select what type of shop/stall it is. Unfortunately you can mix items so if it is a custom stall you want for food, you can only sell one type of food (i.e. pizza or just burgers). It's a nice addition, though.
I give Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: Wild a review score of 7.5 out of 10. The new flat rides and features are great additions, but the concept is a copycat one. I expect Atari/Frontier to be a leader, not a follower. Hopefully both companies will focus more on original concepts for future expansions. And if they need a list of original concepts and execution ideas, I'm only an email away.
All in all, though, the Roller Coaster Tycoon series remains the defacto ruler of all Tycoon games.
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