When I learnt that Frontier were heading back into the theme park genre with Planet Coaster, I was thrilled, Rollercoaster Tycoon was always one of my favourite games, but with the third release, it became a classic, but does a dozen years leave enough room for changes?
Right off the bat, you will be able to jump into a range of modes that will either ask you to take control of an existing park and work towards a series of goals, or you can start your own park with unlimited resources. The scenarios will see you taking control of a park that is already open, with some attractions and facilities running, with the goal for you to gain three stars on each. Achieving a star can be a simple has adding two additional rides and getting 500 people into the park, but the harder stars might require more rides and a monthly income of at least $15,000, with the variety of targets to aim for, ensuring that the challenge stays fresh.
Knowing what a target is and meeting it are of course two completely different things, first up, you need to ensure you have enough cash to do what you want, so while drawing in guests will increase your incoming cash flow, you will need to spend that money on the rides, staff to run them, cleaners, maintenance workers, costume characters and more. While you can make do with the rides and shops you have at the start of the scenario, you will also need to research new attractions and shops, as that will draw in more people, bringing in more money, but as research can cost anywhere from $100 and up a month, you need to balance it out, do you research something now and hope you have enough cash on hand, or do you build up the reserves and let the park sit still for a time.
The problem with research is that you can’t define what type of attraction you want to research, you say ride and it will give you a ride, while rollercoasters are separated from flat rides, like a carousel, you can’t choose what type of ride you want, which means if you want a people eater, something that can draw in the crowds, you are likely to end up with a kiddy ride, while not the great ender to plans, it can be a little bit of a pain. Of course, once you have your ride placed, you can go ahead and decorate it, be it with trees and thematic elements, or if you are adventurous, you can enclose the queue and space within a building, allow you to make the ultimate themed attraction. Enclosing a ride, queue or anything else requires a lot of patience, while the system is pretty easy to use, it can fall to the side of extremely fiddly, and most people may decide it’s not worth the effort.
Buildings are one such element you can build, the things that most people will build are going to be paths, with them, you can direct people to where you want them to go, the problem the path tool can sometimes decide random directions are good. Placing a piece of path down is simple, however you are not able to draw a line, where you want the path to go, meaning you need to place each piece down with a click each time. As the direction of the path will follow the location of the mouse pointer, I have had instances where the path will make a sharp turn, simply because the mouse pointer is slightly off centre. Path options are big and plentiful, with designs, angles to snap too and width all playing a part. Once you start to place trees, bins, benches and more around, the park will start to come alive.
Of course, the rides are just as important, if not more so than anything else, you can go without trees if you wanted too, but without rides, you ain’t gonna get people in the park. The rides cover off the staples of showgrounds and theme parks from around the world, with some covering off the basic family style rides, to the more extreme rollercoasters and everything in between, you can really let loose and build a great park. For the flat rides, or basically anything without a track, you are limited to the designs that are offered by the game, but for any track rides, rollercoaster or log rides, you can create your own, becoming a theme park genius or a mad inventor as you go. Creating your perfect coaster is straight forward, place the station down and off you go. It will take some time for you to adjust to the creation tools, but they are straight forward, select the track type you need, click to place, use the buttons to change the angle, length and such, once you have started the track, you can auto complete if you feel a little overwhelmed.
Given the nature of ride creation, it is entirely possible for you do download tracks created by other players, letting you place great looking rides down, with minimal effort. The biggest addition to the game is the fact that you can view other people’s parks, their full complete parks, letting you see what the community has created. While you can get some pretty barebones parks, you can also download content that is spotlighted by the team, this level of social interaction brings the game into the modern age, but you can completely ignore it if you want. It is a nice add-on, bringing almost unlimited potential to your theme park empire.
Visually the game strikes a balance between caricature and realism that is really well done, the characters have more style to them, then say the Sims, but they are not cartoonish in their behaviours. The trees, rocks and ground all have a nice style to them and the themes are large enough that you can create some truly nice sections, without it looking like there are heaps of the same times round. The rides themselves are themed pretty well, the presets are all done up a treat, mixing the looks that people will know, with a new theme, even the shops get in on the action, with custom signs and looks for each option. Given the number of themes as well, mixing pirate and fantasy is not as big of a deal as you might think. Going on the rides will also give you another point of view to look upon it all, though here you will notice some clipping as the camera will pass through items from time to time.
Given the amount of noise an amusement park can create, you might be concerned about the audio here, does the volume of the crowd drown out the noise of a ride, nor does the music played throughout the park overshadow the entertainment, thankfully not. The game scales the volume of objects, depending on the cameras location to them, be out all the way and you get little noise, zoom right on in, close to a ride and hear that attractions audio, it really is a nice way to understand where you are. Vocally, the people that visit your park, don’t really speak, more just constant murmurs and screams, which can be the most common noise in a theme park.
At its core, Planet Coaster is a more powerful Rollercoaster Tycoon game, but its social integration is what brings it to the modern era of gaming. While the track building tools can be a little daunting, once you learn it though, the power of creation is pretty much unlimited.