White knuckle fun with Planet Coaster
Rollercoaster Tycoon is back! Well, it is, but this is not it. This is Planet Coaster, from the same guys that did Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 and 3. And it's a cracker.
From Sim City to the latest Eastern-European transit game, I find it so easy to get lost in management simulators. Add the option for a bit of creative flair and I'm hooked.
Planet Coaster ticks all those boxes- part theme park management game, part rollercoaster design suite and part landscape architecture simulation. Frontier Developments have put all the expertise gained through over a decade of producing Rollercoaster Tycoon games to bring us the theme park game for the modern age.
Frontier have been paying their bills for years by creating theme park and tycoon-style games. Taking over Chris Sawyer's genre-defining Rollercoaster Tycoon series. Frontier's Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 has been my go to theme park game since it came out back in 2004. With it's Soaked! Water park and Wild! Zoo expansions, for over a decade, the game has not been topped.
While Rollercoaster Tycoon IP owner Atari looked elsewhere for development duties on the series' next game, Frontier were busy with something else, the space-trading game Elite: Dangerous. Now that Elite is out in the wild, the developer has been free to return to familiar territory.
With a bit more money in their pockets, Frontier's Planet Coaster sees the veteran developer returning to the theme park genre, this time with their own game and their own franchise.
Whilst Planet Coaster is a different game than Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, fans of the series will find the game very familiar.
The basic premise is that you are responsible for the success or familiar of a theme park. You have the choice for either forging a career in the theme park business, ensuring that you make a profit, or enter the sandbox mode and build the theme park of your dreams form the ground up.
The career mode give you financial control over your park. Rides cost money to build and operate, staff, like mechanics and janitors need wages.
You need to create a theme park that appeals to your visitors and also makes them part with cash for food drinks all that other junk you pick up when you go to Movieworld. This means making your park interesting. Clear paths, neat landscaping and exciting (but not nauseating) ride all effect your visitors' experiences.
Everything is up for grabs. You can design a rudimentary thrill ride, or an epic coaster experience. You can have it sitting there with is generic factory fabricated look or you can theme the bejesus out of it using walls, props, trees, signs, lights and rocks. Creating a ride takes anything from a couple of minute to hours, days, weeks, months, years, depending on your eye for detail.
In the sandbox mode you have all the toys, without the financial worries. You can fill your park however you see fit. Pack it with rides, shops, beautifully landscaped paths, lakes and forests. With our admittedly monstrous review rig we were able to jam load of rides into our theme park real estate without any sign of slowdown- often an issue when these sorts of sims get a little busy.
You could get lost in the sandbox mode for years- seriously. Carefully positioning your rides, placing paths and landscaping your park is totally engrossing.
The terrain tools are the best that I've ever used in this sort of game. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was able to sculpt the landscape in any direction, making caverns, rock bridges and tunnels for my park visitors to explore. And it was easy to do, as well.
The game caters for both novice park builders and those with a more creative bent. The powerful toolkit works on two levels, allowing easy positioning of rides and object as well as more advance techniques for precise creative control. It can be a little fiddly to construct paths, especially over tricky terrain, but it is a minor gripe with an editor that is a lot more powerful than it deserves to be
These powerful creation tools would be all for nought if the end result wasn't worth the effort. Of course, the game looks fantastic. The lighting is superb, dynamically changing the look of your park as the sun sets and the stars come out. The option to take a ride on your rollercoaster really shows off the visuals.
The game comes with a healthy amount of content. There's more than enough rides and coaster components to make some epic creations. The themed props are constrained to Wild West and sci-fi objects. I can see an endless supply of premium DLC packs adding to this basic inventory in the future.
Planet Coaster updates the genre for modern machines- providing beautiful visuals, detailed ride and visitor animations, as well as nice lighting effects. If it's your sort of thing, designing and running your own theme park is great fun and immensely rewarding.
Planet Coaster is available now via Valve's Steam service for Windows PC.