Switching the development duties for the new Zoo Tycoon game to Frontier seems to be an inspired move. Not only has it plenty of experience with simulation games, having had enormous success with Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 and subsequent expansion packs in the past, but it is also one of the foremost development studios when it comes to rendered animals. The two Xbox 360 Kinectimals games helped put Frontier on the console map.
So when Microsoft wanted to shift one of its most sustaining franchises to the Xbox One, Frontier had all the nous to make it happen.
As one of the launch titles for the next-generation console, Zoo Tycoon utilises just about all of the new aspects of the machine that Microsoft is promoting: the new, more sensitive Kinect sensor, the cloud, and the greater level of graphical detail available. It is intended to be a showcase title for parents to grasp the concept, and from what we saw at Gamescom, we can safely say that it will capture imaginations. And not just with kids.
At its heart, this iteration of Zoo Tycoon has as much of the simulation as previous versions, but adds so much more on top. There are more than 100 animals to place in the zoo and you could spend all your time just micro-managing as before, deciding on the best layouts and what concessions to add to make your business more viable.
However, this Zoo Tycoon borrows elements from other big Frontier games of the past, namely Kinectimals and Kinect: Disneyland Adventures.
The latter comes in the form of a park keeper that you can opt to control in 3D mode. You can run around the zoo yourself, interacting with animals and elements of the zoo in order to get a more hands-on feel of the game. You will still have to place areas and buildings as before, but rather than do it all from a top-down screen, you can manipulate the surroundings from a more personal perspective.
Plus there are multiple mini-games dotted all around. You can actually interact with the animals à la Kinectimals and help their progression by feeding or washing them for example. In our Gamescom demo, we watched while a Frontier developer squirted water at an elephant in its enclosure. It came across and was happy to receive a good soaking in order to get clean. This satisfied one of the requirements for that animal, and therefore made the whole family of elephants happier.
Another we were told about is "Monkey See Monkey Do", a game that uses the Kinect sensor to track body movements and even facial expressions, these are then repeated by a monkey in the zoo. A child will freak over this feature, we're sure.
Another massive new feature introduced with this title is the option for co-op play. You can build and maintain your zoo with the help of a friend on another Xbox One, and in real-time. You can also choose to take on tasks together.
There will also be competitive gameplay, and the team will be instilling a sense of community by introducing fresh challenges to the wider Zoo Tycoon player network later down the line. These might even be based on true-to-life ecological events, Pocket-lint was told, where players will be told of the threat to snow leopards, say, so they must try to get snow leopards into their own zoos. If a certain target is met, Microsoft will then donate a set amount of money to the real-life preservation of snow leopards.
We only use that as an example, but are assured that there is plenty of this kind of interactive element planned.
It might not be the most talked-about launch title for Xbox One, but from this outing it could well be the most individual. It has certainly piqued our interest.