A Blast from the Past
It’s been several years now since Zoo Tycoon 2 first came out for PC, however, Microsoft has kept the game on the radar with a series of strategically released expansion packs offering players new content and features. We’ve seen add-ons focusing on endangered species, aquatic wildlife, and African adventure, each with their own set of new animals, items, building, campaigns, and other elements for fans to enjoy. The newest expansion pack, Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals, brings a huge number of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures to the table. It’s easily the most exotic, and the largest, expansion of the series yet.
Overall, the core gameplay from one expansion to another has remained largely the same, aside from a few minor tweaks here and there. Zoo Tycoon 2 puts players in control of their own zoo with the freedom to manage every aspect of the establishment from the ground up. Like the bulk of other economic simulation titles, the game experience is largely what you put into it. You can focus on simply building the exhibits for different animals and taking care of their needs, or you can get down to the nitty-gritty details like adjusting the price of admission, installing money making vendors for keeping visitors happy, and seeking grant funds to expand your facilities. There’s a ton to do and it can take hours just to put together a solid foundation for your zoo. The game looks slightly dated in the visual department since the graphics are basically the same as the original Zoo Tycoon 2 released in 2004. The animations are nice and on the whole the addictive gameplay holds up where the visuals may falter.
Zoo Tycoon 2 is already pretty deep in terms of what players can do right from the start, yet Extinct Animals incorporates some fun new twists avid tycoons will surely get a kick out of. If you’re immediately thinking Extinct Animals is something along the lines of Jurassic Park then you’ve got the right idea, only it’s a lot less creepy and certainly more all-ages friendly. The expansion adds over 30 new creatures, all of which are no longer in existence, to the already large list of the common zoo animals found in the original game. The great thing is you can mix and match any of the creatures from the expansion or the original game together in your zoo at the same time. This allows you to raise cuddly polar bears and kangaroos alongside velociraptors, tyrannosaurus rex, and other previously extinct carnivorous beasties. You won’t want to forget to keep track of which creatures end up as pen-mates or one of your more docile animals may find themselves turned into a quick snack.
Having dinosaurs in your zoo also requires a few unique design needs to be taken into consideration. Nice wooden fences won’t always cut it. Some newly un-extinct creatures, especially the larger, vicious dinosaurs, tend to get ticked off from time to time if their needs aren’t met or if their habitat is not to their liking. When this happens they’ll easily trash their pen, tear through any weak fencing, and send zoo visitors running in terror. It’s fun to watch the mayhem unfold, but rampaging beasts are not good for business. You’ll have several means of quelling the uprising at your disposal. A well-placed dino capture team will eventually get things under control. For a more hands-on approach, you can always go after the culprit in the first-person mode where dispatching it with a tranquilizer gun is as simple as taking aim and charging-up your shot.
Along with some added danger and excitement, Extinct Animals provides players with access to a wide range of extinction-themed items to decorate your park, some new buildings, and additional staff positions. Among the several significant facility additions, the new Fossil Education Center lets you place a hilarious costumed staff member – dressed in one of several silly outfits – on the grounds to entertain and education visitors.
Once an Extinct Research Lab is constructed you’ll be able to enter into a first-person mode to scour the zoo grounds for digging sites using a radar gun device. When you stumble across a potential fossil location you can mark and excavate the site in hopes of discovering much-needed artifacts to assemble new dinosaur skeletons. Finding all of the different fossils of a particular species lets you enter into a puzzle mini-game to assemble the skeleton. With a completed skeleton you can then scan the DNA – via another simple mini-game – to clone the dinosaur and add it to your zoo.
Those who are too busy to look for fossils themselves scan hire paleontologists to do the dirty work for them. One other interesting addition is the ability help sick animals by taking samples of their food, surrounding vegetation, and the creatures themselves to come up with a diagnosis and cure for their fictional illnesses. The mini-games and other activities are meshed seamlessly with the flow of the rest of the game so they don’t seem out of place.
In the end throwing dinosaurs into the mix is all fine and good, but if all Extinct Animals had to offer was a handful of new animals then the benefit would fall way short in comparison to the game’s $30 price tag. Fortunately, there’s a good deal more to keep busy with. Expansion packs are a great way to extend the life of a game, especially while you’re waiting for the next full installment. It’s probably inevitable we’ll see a Zoo Tycoon 3 in the future, but in the meantime fans would do well to pick up this Jurassic gem.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Slightly outdated graphics don’t hurt the overall play experience. 4.0 Control
Excellent user interface. Wide range of commands available through simple mouse controls. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Upbeat music and lots of animal sound effects. 3.7 Play Value
New elements are interested and further build on a solid foundation. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.