Many people of a similar age to myself, may fondly recall hours spent playing Frontier Developments’ Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 all those moons ago. Well not to let only the aging gamers among us have such joyous memories, Frontier have taken the old ideas behind Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, applied modern graphics, technological capabilities and a bit of spit and polish to come up with their new take on the theme park creation and management genre in Planet Coaster.
Planet Coaster, developed and published by Frontier for Windows Studios has recently released on Steam is the spiritual successor to Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, and follows on with the same themes, but with an intensely pretty graphical engine powering it.
Upon booting up the game you’re given the initial task of creating your in game avatar, before being thrown into the wonderful world of Planet Coaster. At the main menu you have the options for Career, Sandbox and Challenge. Career Mode kicks the you off with a partially made park and a set of tasks to achieve Bronze, Silver, and Gold ratings. These can start you off with simpler tasks such as adding a few rides, to hiring staff or finishing incomplete roller coasters. Sandbox Mode and Challenge Mode are quite similar, starting off with a completely blank piece of land and starting from nothing, the difference being that Challenge Mode gives you limited funds to start with – giving it a feel very like that of the classic games. Whereas Sandbox mode gives you the freedom to push the limits of your imagination!
And imagination is really what this game is all about, we’ve all been to theme parks, be it Thorpe Park here in the UK, Universal Studios over in Orlando or whatever other parks you’ve been to. And I’m sure many of us loved the idea of designing your own park, or seeing things you think you could’ve done better, or generally just been wowed by the awesomeness of the parks – now you can really, and I mean REALLY, design to your hearts content.
One of the first things you see about this game is how pretty it all is, the art style suits the genre perfectly, the lighting effects are mind blowing, and the animations are all extremely smooth (I honestly spent a good 5-6 minutes just watching the shadows from the sun moving across the sky at 4x speed). But once you “get over” how gorgeous this game is, the design possibilities are probably its defining feature.
With the old Roller Coaster Tycoon games, we were limited by the technology of the time, you could come up with some cool stuff, but often found that your ideas couldn’t be fully realised. But now, with the game engine Planet Coaster employs, combined with over 10 years’ worth of PC improvements, this game is largely bound only by your imagination, and possibly your free time. But now, if you can imagine it, you can most probably make it within Planet Coaster.
From the most insane roller coasters you can come up with (which often must be toned right down because they’ll just make everyone ill, if not kill them outright… I definitely didn’t make a roller coaster that put out 60+G’s on the riders…. Promise….), to the prettiest scenic walk ways and everything in between.
The game starts you off with a selection of pre-made coasters, buildings, and scenery pieces to choose from when building your park. However, you may find that when building a sci-fi themed park that there isn’t a pre-made sci-fi themed toilet building or ATM. But fear not! If you can imagine it, it can be in the game – so you can even edit the buildings, to change the walls, décor, signs and lighting (among other things) to create your own building – which you can then save a blueprint for future use.
And of course being a Steam game, it takes full advantage of Steam Workshop. So you can easily share your creations with other fans, but perhaps more importantly, you can also look up items other people have made. So if you’re having difficulty making the building you want, you can probably find something very similar that someone else has already made and uploaded their blueprint of.
I do feel that where the older games felt more like it was all about what Planet Coaster’s “Challenge Mode” is, Planet Coaster, in my opinion, is much more about Sandbox Mode, while the park management aspect is definitely still there and is very in depth, I feel this game is far more about the creation aspect, rather than money management etc.
While this game is very much about creation from your imagination, it’s not always the most intuitive. Whenever you do anything there is a “Tooltip”/Help box (unless you disable it in the options) with the main controls and commands there, however I found I had to go to Google to find out how to delete paths. I also expected (possibly from so many games doing it automatically these days) there to be the “standard” tutorial aspects to Career Mode. Start the first level and go through the often-annoying jump through hoops and learn to play the game stages. But instead, like we all wish the many FPS games would do, Planet Coaster just throws you into it with an, albeit relatively simple, mission placing rides and building revenue.
Instead there is a Tutorial button on the main menu, which when clicked takes you to the Planet Coaster YouTube page with three five-minute-long pretty in depth tutorial videos. This seemed an odd way of handling it to me, I’m not sure why said videos couldn’t have been within the game files.
So while your imagination is the limiting factor, many of the more in depth aspects to creating your dream park will take quite a bit of learning from the tutorials and quite an investment of time spent playing the game to get to the level of skill where you can make what you want. In that regard it is quite like me trying to learn 3DS Max to get into the art side of the games industry!
Don’t take the previous paragraph as a scathing downside to Planet Coaster though. While it might’ve taken a couple of trips to Google to learn some of the more in depth, or obscure, ways of doing things, I easily lost myself for a few hours building just the entrance and shopping area of my park. It might not have been quite to the same scale of brilliance as some of the parks that the team at Frontier showed off during the games development, but for a few hours work I was pleased with what I’d achieved – and I hadn’t even gotten around to building my own coaster for the park yet. (Not after my previous blunder where I made my 60+ G-Force death machine coaster – need to learn to tone it down a bit and learn from the example coasters first I feel…). And just getting the entrance to my park to a point I was happy with it really inspired me to get back onto Planet Coaster as soon as possible to continue my park.
Planet Coaster is highly addictive, if you’re even slightly creative my nature you can really spend an afternoon or evening playing the game only to look up and wonder where the last 4 or 5 hours went. And while other games might have high score challenges to promote bettering yourself at the game, with Planet Coaster just in the time you might spend creating a single park you’ll notice improvement in how well you can let your creativity flow. I daresay in a few weeks’ time once I’ve gotten closer to finishing my park, I’ll be able to look back to my entrance and see the growth and progress that I have made. The question, then, will be – do I go back and improve the early bits I made, or do I start a new park from scratch and continue the learning process? Either way I make sure I spend a lot of time enjoying the rides in the first person camera view – who needs real life theme parks when you have Planet Coaster?