Gazing down on the first tutorial area of Planet Zoo I get the feeling that Frontier really wanted to display the work that they have put into its zoo simulation game from the get-go. Goodwin House is spectacular. The intricate visitor pathways, the neat row of gift shops, the delightful choo-choo train that circles the entire zoo—everything was precise and orderly. It's organisational perfection. Quaint, peaceful, and refined.
I was being shown the ropes by Nancy, a true veteran and zookeeper juggernaut, who was explaining how to make the hippos happy by balancing out the terrain type in their enclosure. After we were done, Nancy quickly moved on, because she is a beast and stops for no one, but I stayed with the hippos. It's quite amazing how Frontier has made all the animals look so realistic. I then had a thought—a teeny tiny thought. "Free him."
The lighting strike of chaotic impulse that we've all had with management sims hit me. What if I just deleted the pool ladder in the Sims 2? What if I made a rollercoaster so intense that it made everyone who rode it barf up their lunch? In Planet Zoo, what would happen if all the animals were just suddenly free?
I would finish my tutorial with Nancy, gain her trust, and when she had gone to get a cuppa, that's when I would strike. An inside job, the perfect crime. Nancy if you’re somehow reading this, I am so sorry I betrayed you, but it was too fun an opportunity to miss.
I completed the tutorial, and when Nancy went to get her well-earned brew, I swept back to the hippo's habitat. As quick as a flash, I highlighted a partial section of the habitat's barrier and deleted it, creating a gateway to freedom. Go free hippos! Run wild!
The hippos' reaction wasn't exactly what I planned—they continued chilling quite happily in the water. Relaxed, sleepy, and not the slightest bit bothered by my act of resistance. Feeling a little betrayed, I decided that I needed to think bigger. I paused the game and went round to every animal enclosure, highlighted the entire perimeter of every habitat and deleted it, one by one. This should get the party started, and it certainly did.
As chaos ensued, I watched on like an omnipresent David Attenborough. At first, there was a quietness, a calm before the storm and suddenly alarm bells started to ring. I knew exactly which animals would give me the chaos I craved—the lions. Being the curious bunch that they are, they soon left their enclosure and started running about the zoo, to the horror of the crowd. Animals don’t attack the visitors, but it was pretty funny seeing a busy crowd completely dissolve at the scare of being eaten by a lion.
After watching the lions freely roam around (and the zoo's veterinarians comedically attempt to recapture them), I wanted to check in on the snow leopard, who I had named Shelly, to see how she was doing. As I moved closer to her habitat, it soon dawned on me that her place of residence was right opposite the zebra and giraffe enclosure. You don’t need to have passed A-level biology to know how nature takes its course.
I rushed over there to find that not only had Shelly made her way into the zebra enclosure but that she seemed to be hanging out with them as they wandered the zoo’s highstreets. One of the zebras, Shirl, had taken a particular endearment to Shelly and the two stayed side by side. It was quite wholesome. Its possible for animals to attack each other in Planet Zoo, but because of Shelly and Shirl’s chemistry they became animal BFFs.
Out of all the animals, it was the two giant tortoises that had the right idea. They left their enclosure and were slowly making their way up the stairs and to the zoo’s main exit, with Speedy the tortoise leading the march. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them reach their goal, as Planet Zoo had enough of my shenanigans and crashed on me. Like that’s going to stop me.
Booting up again, I decided to explore Panda Park, the next part of the tutorial. After repeating the same process—again, so sorry Nancy—I deleted the barriers of every enclosure. The pandas, although being the main attraction of the park, could not give less of a toss and sat around eating bamboo as onlookers gawped at them.
On the opposite end of the scale, to my complete surprise, were the saltwater crocodiles. Quicker than the lions, Amisha, an eighteen-year-old fully grown croc, went from chilling calmly in her lake to dashing straight out of her habitat and bolting down the zoo’s main street. Who knew that crocodiles could move that quickly?
Streets barren, gift shops empty, alarm bells still ringing, I let the animals of Panda Park roam freely, although it didn’t last long. Some of the animals started to get hungry, uncomfortable and stressed. I’ve had my fun, and now it’s time to finally become a virtual zookeeper that Nancy can be proud of.