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Unfortunately, Zoo Tycoon 2 fails to reach a level of "fun factor" greatness that surpasses the first Zoo Tycoon. Sure, the eye candy is a lot better and there are more options, but the gameplay hasn't really improved. In fact, the user interface, particularly when first loading the game, has become more confusing and less user friendly. In addition, there is no music during your gameplay; only sub-par sound effects that can sometimes get annoying.
What was Microsoft thinking?
There are aspects to Zoo Tycoon 2 that are absolutely brilliant. I love that I can assume the role of a worker or zookeeper and do chores that I would usually hire staff to do. That is awesome. I like that animals aren't so picky about their environment as they were in Zoo Tycoon. In fact, Zoo Tycoon 2 revolutionizes the ability to create the right environment through its environment paintbrush called Biome. It quickly and easily paints the new environment right into the area you select.
Another nice feature is that you can work in pause mode. I like being able to have full control of the options when the game is paused.
But perhaps the biggest innovation in the game is for you to literally assume the role of a worker or guest and walk around your park seeing everything from the eyes of those visiting your park. While some other games do this, Zoo Tycoon 2 takes it one step further by allow you to "work" while in this mode. You can empty trash cans, replenish an animal's food or water, open gates, groom animals, and even scoop up... uh... poop.
Zoo Tycoon 2 is definitely on the right track, but somewhere in the race it stumbled. For example, why are the user interface and camera controls for Sea World Tycoon 2 much easier to use than those of Zoo Tycoon 2? Zoo Tycoon 2 is a much bigger game with many more options. Why does Sea World Tycoon 2 have music during gameplay, but not Zoo Tycoon 2? Have you ever watched a movie without music? It's not as engaging. Zoo Tycoon 2 should not be comparable to Sea World Tycoon 2 because it has much more programmers, options, and depth, not too mention a much bigger budget. Yet I find myself enjoying the gameplay of Sea World Tycoon more, while yearning for the options nad features of Zoo Tycoon 2.
Some of the campaigns of Zoo Tycoon 2 also have fundamental problems. For example, in the Wolverton Animal Rehabilitation Center campaign you are tasked to heal the ill animals and make them happy. No problem. I got both of those goals checked off in 10 minutes of gameplay. Then it added a new goal - make your zoo into a three star zoo. So I spent 50 minutes improving my zoo. Guest love it, the animals are more happy than ever, and the staff are doing an amazing job. Suddenly, my American Beaver dies "from old age." Immediately a window pops up saying "Scenario Failed! An animal has died! Healthy animals are an essential part of a successful zoo. Due to this unfortunate circumstance, it is impossible for you to achieve your goals."
The animal died of old age, not neglect! That happens not only in zoos, but in the wild too (just in case Microsoft game developers didn't know). The scenario didn't adjust for that factor, thus any animal in your zoo dying from old age will automatically fail you in the scenario, despite you already having completed the objectives.
It's little (and big) things like this that are annoying during gameplay. The developers didn't make building a zoo easy this time around (except for the terrain editor). Even a simple task like rotating and placing an object becomes a chore because of the game's multiangular rotating system. And some buildings have an option to move them (without selling them), while others don't. All buildings and objects should have this option.
Somewhere along the line, the developers thought it would be a good idea to remove the gamer's ability to set prices. No longer can you set your own price for entrance into the park, food sales, item sales. Nope. Zoo Tycoon 2 gives you three buttons - Low, Moderate, High. Hardly intuitive.
Perhaps most sad about Zoo Tycoon 2 is that it doesn't incorporate some of the truly fun aspects of bigger zoos. For example, the San Diego Zoo has a sky ride, taking you high above their zoo. They have a miniature train you can ride. The San Diego Wild Animal Park has a tram that goes through its different lands. These are fun and intuitive and missing from Zoo Tycoon 2. Innovation of new guest interactive features in Zoo Tycoon 2 consists of stuff like a "donation box" that you place by your exhibit for guests to put money in. How many zoos do you see those at?
Zoo Tycoon still has a ways to go to hit the same fun factor as say... Roller Coaster Tycoon... or to have an outstanding user interface and camera controls as say... Sea World Tycoon 2. That's the bad news. The good news is that they can virtually only get better from here.
I give Zoo Tycoon 2 an 8 rating because it is highly interactive (with some amazing features like first person "worker" mode) and huge in scope despite leaving a lot to be desired as far as gameplay and the user interface go.
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