It's a zoo in here!

Marine Park Empire
Gameplay
graphics
audio
value
fun
Genre
Reviewed On
PC
Available For
PC
Difficulty
Intermediate
Publisher(s)
Developer(s)
ESRB
ESRB
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Don’t you hate it when your rhinoceros breaks loose and begins chasing your patrons out the gate of your park? At least the orcas don’t do that. And, your staff stands around glassy eyed (even with their supposedly high diligence ratings) until you remind them that we have a facility to run and we need patrons to stay in business. It is so difficult to keep an empire running smoothly. At least this one.

Marine Park Empire is a fantastically complex world, but the interface often gives vague information and makes being proactive with handling visitors very difficult. The game has a wonderful engine, but the interface left me feeling like I was throwing darts in the dark and then flipping on a light switch to check my score. If Game Industry News had a ranking for Game Engine, I would give it a 5, but would also have to give it a 1 for Player Interface. The interaction of the animals, staff and visitors with the environment is well done and wonderfully intricate, but the information screens leave you guessing what needs to be done, especially in regards to visitors.

Marine Park Empire provides a wealth of information and insight about the intricacies of balancing efforts to preserve endangered species while trying to make a profit. The game has very detailed information on habitat requirements that each animal needs to survive in a park habitat and the status of each animal in the wild. I enjoy being able to share and discuss the various animals and marine creatures with my children. They are able to see where each animal lives in the world and are able to make suggestions on how to make each habitat more enjoyable for our animals. The complexity of the interface and factors that affect the animals make the game impossible for younger children to play. It can be very useful to demonstrate how systems work and interact with each other for teens and young adults.

The game engine takes into account a multitude of factors that can affect health and happiness for the creatures, visitors and even the staff. The staff and creatures can even learn and train over time. Your personal zoo/marine keeper character also improves over time with experience and awards from each scenario. The game allows the player to store favorite animals to bring with you onto your next project. It doesn’t allow you to do the same with some of the better employees or park enhancements. You have to start with brand new staff and facility options every scenario and retrain and improve them all over again.

The tools for creating exhibits are very powerful and allow everything in the environment to be customized for each animal’s needs. Several screens need to be referenced to complete a good exhibit, but the animal attributes tear away screen lets you constantly keep track of whether you are providing enough of what each animal prefers. As the game progresses the park staff can also research new items to help manage the park and improve its attractiveness and profitability for the animals and visitors.

Privacy and exhibit size needs are poorly described and left up to the player to guess what is meant. How big is a medium enclosure? How deep is a very deep tank? How far away do the visitor trails need to be for total privacy? The tutorials are helpful, but they don’t go far enough. In one scenario I attempted to create a large enclosure for a herd of rhinos, but the zookeepers would not recognize it as an exhibit and crated the animals until I made the enclosure much smaller.

As for your visitors, the game has plenty of general advice about what your visitors need, but very little quantifiable or specific advice is given on how to give it to them. How many trash cans does your park need? How close do they have to be to each other? How many groundskeepers are needed per visitor? The player is left to figure this out by gut instinct until the complaints start rolling in and you are left reacting to the problem. It became tedious having to experiment with distributing various facilities and personnel with no idea what was sufficient. The only way to find out if it is working is to check complaint messages and thought balloons regularly to see what the visitors thought, which requires moving between several tool screens. As your park grows and becomes more popular, you will need to upgrade your facilities and make new guesses on how much fun stuff to include and where to put it all.

The AI is very creatively built with the personalities of the animals and visitors interacting in many amusing ways and showing more variety than their limited physical variation would suggest. The interactions amongst the various individuals can be entertaining to watch, even when your visitors wave their arms and taunt your animals.

There does seem to be some problems with the staff and animal programming. The staff often stands around doing nothing even with supposedly high diligence scores unless you constantly give orders about what to do next. It became tedious having to tell staff to feed the animals repeatedly as animals became hungry. Several times an animal in my zoo died of thirst during games while standing next to a pool of fresh water and with a water container in front of the animal. Sometimes it would be the same animal that was having the problem in an exhibit. I found it easier eventually to just sell or release animals that behaved this way rather than having to keep coming back to the same animal repeatedly and try to get them to eat or drink. My wife learned to not even ask me about reindeer four or camel three anymore.

Variable speed within the game is helpful, but the fastest speed is still rather slow once everything is established and all that is left is waiting for the scenario goals to be achieved. The beginning of the scenarios are fun as the park is shaped and everything is getting placed for opening day. Even the first few months are exciting as adjustments are made for the visitors’ needs. Once the right balance is in place there isn’t a lot to do except passively watch things move along. Many of the scenarios take a long time to complete. I finished most of the scenarios in less than half the time allowed and the scenarios still seemed too long.

I must warn everybody that the fastest speed can be tricky if a problem does occur. I had an animal escape by breaking the fence in one of my larger zoos and couldn’t see it from my current viewing angle. By the time I paused and checked messages, an entire family of camels had been crated by my zookeepers and I had a mailbox full of visitor complaints accusing the zoo of being cruel and demanding I release the suffering camels.

There were two other features of the game my children enjoyed. It is possible to zoom onto people or animals in your park and have the point of view follow them as time goes by. This can be a very amusing way to watch the visitors and animals interact. The other feature is a camera mode that allows you to take videos or photos of action in your park and save them to a scrapbook. I now have a scrapbook filled with pictures taken by my children of every baby animal born in my zoos. It is amazing how quickly ostriches can multiply.

Marine Park Empire is a creative, informative and beautiful game, but the inconsistencies and shortfalls with the interface are significant problems for what would otherwise be a fantastic game.

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