Back when RollerCoaster Tycoon
first came out, I didn't think much of the game. It was a pre-Sims
era where you either adored or despised the Sim City
series, and with that, you usually felt the same way about any simulation building game that came out at the time. RollerCoaster Tycoon
changed all that, and was an immediate smash hit with PC gamers, along with the subsequent sequels. Prior to that, there were very few games based around designing your own amusement zone, like Sega's 1994 game Theme Park
, which drove me insane for hours. Meanwhile, for more than a decade there haven't been any real challengers to the throne ... until now, as Frontier Developments takes a stab at simulator greatness with Planet Coaster
The game puts you in the role of park manager, who goes from park to park fixing the issues at hand and improving the quality of each park with a certain list of goals. It isn't a story per se, simply a guide to teach you the basics of park control as well as how to achieve certain criteria as you go. Each one is run by a different owner, ranging from a pirate captain to a fairytale princess to a futuristic robot. You'll bring each park up to code and move onto the next set of challenges, each one earning you a set of star rankings depending on how well you did. Playing through the Career Mode will take you through four different sets of parks with three scenarios a piece and multiple challenges in each. Even having mastered sim games as I have, there are some challenges that require a lot of thought.
Much like other sims, Planet Coaster
puts you in control of practically everything. You control ticket prices, ride structure and use, staff, food & drink, maintenance, design and look of buildings, groundskeeping, finances, advertisement, research
& development—the works. Very little in this park is out of your hands. You won't be able to control how many people show up, or why they bother to at all, but you can control their comfort and how much they spend to have some fun. Aside from the guidelines set forth that you only have a few specific themes to choose from, you can design the entire park however you wish to either accomplish your goals or have fun on your own terms with your own park. It is possible to design your own version of Disneyland with enough time, if you truly want to put in the effort.
Of course, it wouldn't be a complete game without the free play mode, where you can design your own course without any real restrictions beyond the money you have in your fictional account. This is where you get to design the theme park of your dreams in any form you wish. The roller coaster options allow you to do everything shy of defying physics, but the game won't actively allow you to put people in danger without testing the ride first. One of the cool bonus features is that you can go into first-person mode and experience the ride for yourself, and determine what else it may need to excite, terrify or make the riders puke when they get off. Or you could be the world's biggest asshole, and make the longest pathway imaginable that leads guests to a merry-go-round that costs $50 to ride. The fates of your patrons are in your hands.
Speaking of the patrons, they are both an awesome and annoying factor in Planet Coaster
. Every two minutes, someone has a new issue, whether it's the lack of bathrooms or nothing to drink, even if they're standing next to a restroom stall or a drink stand. There's almost too much realism in the idea that some people will complain just to complain. But the hazard you end up dealing with most often is unhappy employees. Janitors, engineers, performers and kiosk retailers all have personalities you need to monitor at all times. You can make them happy with raises and promotions, but that's a fleeting moment, as they'll quickly grow angry after the buzz of responsibility and extra spending cash has worn off. Eventually, they'll quit on you, and if they run a stand, it will close until you go in and reopen it with someone new. This may seem like a minor issue compared to all that could go wrong in the park, but take my word, it can render your park helpless.
Overall, it's a damn fine sim that gets down to the details. Even the guests are tailored to look like visiting families or rowdy teens. I once found a group that looked like Vacation
's Griswolds. Like any sim, however, the joy comes from the individual experience. You can be Eric Cartman or Walt Disney, whichever you view as the lesser of two evils. Or you can be the first you, which is a nice thought to end on, as the online component will allow you to share your created rides with friends and other high-quality ride builders. It's an awesome feature that shows you the creativity happening around the world, and could inspire you to be one of the best theme park creators of all time.