Well, if there is one genre that the PC will never lose to the console world, it is simulations. All you need is a smooth rolling mouse, a less than average spec'd PC and the right balance of patience and passion to get you through. Simulation titles like Sim City and Rollercoaster Tycoon never had much trouble keeping the patience of the player intact with their passion, in other words, we could take all the crap Sim City had to dish because building a city was (usually) fun enough to keep you going. But what happens when you take away that ultimate fun factor, and the simulation continues to assert itself as a patience driven game?
Like most simulations, Zoo Tycoon Complete Collection gives you the option of beginning with a tutorial, which goes through all of the basic functions in the game, however if you are a previous Zoo Tycoon gamer or are atleast familiar with the genre, you will probably already know these functions, or learn them quickly yourself ingame.
Each add-on included basically covers the different types of animals you can have in your zoo. The normal plain version has the common animals like Lions, Tigers, Elephants, mountain goats etc, while the Marine Mania add-on gives you the option of marine animals, like the Killer Whale. The most interesting inclusion in this Complete Collection is the Dinosaur Digs add-on pack, which gives you the option of creating a "Jurassic Park" style Zoo with rampaging Dinosaurs and all. All three have the same fundamental gameplay, but each have their own sort of charm.
There is generally two types of gameplay in Zoo Tycoon, scenario gameplay, where you are given objectives and time limits to achieve the certain goals, and freeform mode, which is the mode you would choose should you just want a hassle free game.
Scenario mode is actually quite a challenge. Managing a Zoo of even small scale is hard enough work, but when you have objectives to reach it becomes a much more demanding game to win. On top of this, as your Zoo gets bigger, your troubles become more and more frequent. While you can hire zoo keepers, all they really do is give recommendations when you ask for them, and feed the animals. Somehow Zoo Tycoon needs to relief the stresses a little, because it really does become less and less fun as your zoo grows. Freeform doesn't have as much tension as scenario mode, but it is not without its difficulties. Since I can't really say I had an urging desire to build a zoo in the first place, it is probably the better mode for gamers like me - you want a challenge, but one you can atleast remotely enjoy.
The success of your zoo comes down to two factors, how happy your animals are, and how happy your visitors are. Each of these factors have a branch of further influencing factors, ranging from toilet and seating locations for the visitors, to how much grass you have in an animal's location. Infact, out of the two, keeping your animals is far more important, as unhappy animals will create unhappy visitors, and if you neglect them, you can kiss that 'Zoo of the year' award goodbye.
Now that we've established keeping your animals happy is your number one priority, it must be a piece of cake, right? *Bzzzt*. While you are designing your animal's exclusive area, your are allowed to view its basic requirements, for example, a penguin will obviously require a snow environment. However it is not until the animal has been introduced to its environment will you be able to see what other more indepth factors influence its happiness. For example, making the snow environment for the penguin is not enough, it will need water, different levels of ground, a shelter area, enough space and countless more little features. It would have been nice if the game gave you a much more indepth summary of a certain animal's needs, but as it would seem, it is a trial and error process. A process which, quite quickly, becomes very tedious and repetitive, as you try to figure out the perfect combination of grass and dirt and sand and water, which never seems to make the animals completely happy, or makes one happy, and the other unhappy. Who would have thought Zebra's could be so god damn picky!
Simulations never tend to feature terrific visuals and the likes, but unfortunately for Zoo Tycoon, there certainly have been better looking simulations in existence. While the long zoom angles do justice for the game, zooming in close produces an almost randomized garbage dump of pixels. Ok, well it isn't THAT bad, but you can take my word for it, it isn't pretty.
On the other hand, the game remains visually fresh with lots of animations for each animal, though you hardly ever have enough free time to just sit back and look at them anyway. Despite the various warning messages and sound alerts, if an animal is not happy with its environment or any other aspect, you will see them act a little recklessly, which is a nice touch.
There is nothing really out of the ordinary here in Zoo Tycoon, the controls are basically what you would expect from a simulation. I guess the only thing that we can credit here to Zoo Tycoon is the fact that is didn't attempt to implement anything out of the ordinary, since it is probably one of the more involving simulations out there, just the expected basics of control do fine, there is really no need to complicate matters further.
In a purely technical sense, Zoo Tycoon Complete Edition is a solid game. All the usual strong simulation elements are present, and it certainly keeps you very busy, there is always something that can be done and always something that can be improved, but the thing is, unless you particularly love building Zoo's, the game becomes too tedious and too overly involving to bother about. Unlike most other simulations where the topic of choice eventually grows on you, like how Restaurant Empire makes you gradually appreciate the fine arts of restaurant management for example, Zoo Tycoon seems to make virtual Zoo management gradually less appealing. It is all in a personal perspective though, for me, it just didn't work as well as I would have thought. New comers may want to experience the demo first.
However if you do enjoy the series, then Zoo Tycoon Complete Collection is certainly the one to get, hours and hours of virtual Zoo management is guaranteed.