An Incredibly Creative Tycoon Game
At the end of the 90’s, Frontier released one of the best theme park titles of all time in Rollercoaster Tycoon, a game that felt like a natural successor to what Bullfrog had produced in 1994’s Theme Park. With many titles since Rollercoaster Tycoon failing to strike the right balance between creativity and theme park management, Frontier’s newest addition to the sim line-up is probably as close to a natural step forward for this genre of games as we’re likely to get. Planet Coaster is an accessible and creative title but also relatively basic when it comes to its management sim elements. Still, there’s an incredible amount of customization here that truly lets you go wild and create the theme park of your dreams.
Guided through Early Access thanks to an army of loyal fans and a responsive development team, Planet Coaster matches its creative tools with a gorgeous aesthetic and some really fun career levels. After completing a custom avatar and placing it on a large globe, the game opens up with its main menu, boasting a wealth of options including a Career Mode, Challenges, the ever-popular Sandbox mode and a slew of tutorial videos to help with the basics of playing.
The Main Menu is really nicely presented, broken up into large tiles
Boasting bright colours and an upbeat soundtrack, Planet Coaster nails its aesthetic perfectly and the bright, vibrant colours only reinforce that. The graphical quality is likely to differ depending on your PC settings though and it’s advised to check the specs of the game against your own PC before purchasing. There are sliders to change the draw distance, graphical fidelity and even guest limits though that do help if you have an older machine.
While most people are likely to jump into the Sandbox mode and start building the park of their dreams right away, the Career Mode actually does a better job of helping you get to grips with all the controls. This mode sees you collecting a series of stars obtained by completing specific challenges across different maps. From increasing your park rating and value to paying off loans and sustaining profit over a large period of time, Planet Coaster boasts a whole range of different scenarios that’ll test all but the most seasoned of players.
As you unlock more stars and complete objectives, bonus scenarios unlock which see you collecting 79 stars in total across 20+ levels. Much like Rollercoaster Tycoon, these serve the additional benefit of helping you get to grips with the various gameplay mechanics and learning the best way to succeed in theme park management. As you take the reigns of various parks at different stages of completion, these really help get the creative juices flowing for the other game modes on offer. From a park dwarfed by a giant tree you can build around to a dry, choked desert with gaping chasms to build in, the levels here offer a good balance between challenge and creativity to prevent the mode feeling too stagnant.
When you’re done with the Career Mode, there’s a whole range of Challenges on offer that see you building a park from the ground up to achieve specific goals. While the Career Mode is much more geared toward improving existing parks, the Challenge mode is likely to appeal to a far wider range of people looking to see the fruits of their labour pay off. This sticks to the same sort of goals seen in the Career Mode but allows for a much greater scope of creativity, which is where the game really thrives.
What sets Planet Coaster apart from other games in this genre though is that aforementioned amount of customization on offer. Building on the foundations set in Frontier’s last 3D game in this genre, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, Planet Coaster allows you to customize just about everything. From custom-built shops to the craziest, most daring rollercoaster ever constructed, there’s so much here to dissect and make you can (and probably will) lose hours just creating stuff.
I spent the better half of an hour making the perfect exterior to a burger bar. Another time I found myself so engrossed in making a runaway mine cart coaster I’d played into the early hours of the morning without realizing. As you start to get to grips with the mechanics there’s undoubtedly a seductive grip of “one more go” that holds over large parts of this title.
While other games have always boasted the ability to make the theme park of your dreams, Planet Coaster is probably as close as you can come to actually achieving that goal. Even simple things like lighting, placing benches and designing themed scenery to fit in your park comes with it a staggering amount of customization. With no constraints on placing paths and scenery, the game is unrestricted in the best possible way, allowing you to go into meticulous detail. Fancy making a pirate wreck dwarfed by the tendrils of a leviathan part way round your coaster track? Done. Want some animatronics to blast smoke and strobe lighting effects at guests every time they walk past? Easy. The wealth of options here are truly amazing but with so much creativity, it can also be incredibly overwhelming if you don’t have much of an idea of how you want your park to look.
When the game launched back in 2016, one of the more consistent criticisms came from a lack of management options but recent updates have gone some way to alleviate this. Security becomes a huge asset to the park now with multiple vandals and pick-pockets showing up in every level, while guests can and will grow bored of the same ride over time. Of course, it;’s easy enough to delete that ride and place the same one down again to renew the enthusiasm of guests but the implementation of this extra level of detail is a good one nonetheless.
Constructing rollercoasters can be a long and tedious process of trial and error
Constructing rollercoasters can be a long and tedious process though, much like it always has been in the past, as you try to juggle the excitement, intensity and nausea ratings while keeping the rest of the park ticking over at the same time. Finances are a constant problem outside the Sandbox mode and at times it’s difficult to see a detailed breakdown of exactly where you’re leaking money to make amends. While still offering a bit of a challenge, if you go into Planet Coaster expecting a deep management sim, you may well be left disappointed. Much like Cities: Skylines, Planet Coaster is a game designed for the creative-minded making it much more shallow than its predecessors that juggled both the management and creativity in equal doses.
For those who have always wanted to build the theme park of their dreams, Planet Coaster is the perfect game. The different game modes help to get you accustomed to the controls and despite being a little repetitive at times, do offer a good scope of challenge. The management options are admittedly still lacklustre compared to other titles of its kind and those not interested in the creative aspects and want something a little more challenging, should probably wait before picking this one up. For everyone else though, Planet Coaster is a wonderfully creative and aesthetically pleasing theme park game that raises a very high bar for the genre going forward.
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