Review by Jim S.
Ever since I played Theme Park on the Sega Geneses I have been hooked on amusement park simulation games. Back then I had no idea what I was doing, I just really liked building my own park and would always run out of money. Later in life when Roller Coaster Tycoon came out I was old enough to understand what to do and I played the heck out of them all... and managed to avoid bankruptcy in the process. Now Frontier, the development team behind two of the RollerCoaster tycoon 2 expansion packs, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and Thrillville, is back with its finest work to date.
Related reading: For people lookin to build cities rather than theme parks, Tropico is actually a good option. Matt's full review of Tropico 5 on PlayStation.
Planet Coaster has three modes of play: career, sandbox, and challenge. It's probably best to start in sandbox, as in that mode all the rides are unlocked from the start, and you have unlimited money to build and experiment, and that's the best way to learn the ropes to a game that doesn't bother providing much by way of tutorial. That being said, career mode is where you'll spens most of your time. In this mode, you are given three parks, each with one theme, and you have to complete certain goals with those parks. These goals range from getting a high enough park rating to making a specific amount of money on ride tickets and so on. The hardest goals for me were the ones that had you build 'coasters. Rollarcoasters are easy enough to make but make them too fast or scary and no one will ride them, and it's surprisingly tricky to get the right balance. Luckily the game comes with a few pre-built 'coasters and the game supports Steam Workshop, so you're able to download the best efforts from the community if you're feeling like a cheater.
The last mode is challenge mode where you pick the kind of land you want and then build your park from scratch. Like career mode you have cretin amount of money and the game will make challenges for you to complete as you play. In both career and challenge mode, you will have to watch your money and take out loans if needed in order to finance big projects. You will also have to research new rides, shops, and scenery, and manage staff from the shopkeepers to the janitors. You can train your staff and they will become more efficient, but of course they will also want a raise as their competency increases. If a staff member gets too upset he or she will quit the job and all the money you spent training them will have gone to waste, so its best to keep them happy. There are executives in real-world businesses that could learn a thing or two from this game...
You will also have to maintain rides. As they get older the wear and tear on them build up and will require more frequent inspections. To avoid this you can refurbish a ride for a price. The older the ride the more it costs and the ride will be closed for some time while the mechanic fixes things up. You can hire entertainers to keep guest's happy and there are a few themes to pick from like a lady pirate and princess to more wacky ones like a cow that bounces around.
Making sure your guest are happy is also another thing you must keep an eye on. Making more scenery around ride queue will make your guest wait longer in line and pay more to get on the ride. You will have to make sure there is enough food and drink stalls around, and you will be needing a bathroom for them to use. Unless you want garbage all over the place its best to have lots of garbage bins placed around the park and the janitors will have to clean them out when they get full. I truly love the little details in this game like that. Now with fast rides, guests can get sick and puke all over your pathways but to avoid this a first aid stand can be put up. The park can get overcrowded fast so making the best use of space is pretty important too.
Now building in this game is pretty cool. You can make up your own shops with any scenery you have unlocked or use a pre-built one. Like I said earlier the game has Steam Workshop support so you can find thousands of cool shops, scenery, coasters, and other cool things by looking through there. Building coasters is very easy but has enough tools to really let you run wild. You can pick what kind of track you want, banking, loops, and all at the click of the mouse. You can also landscape with ease by clicking and pulling up and down with the landscaping tool and you can add mountains, hills, water and such. You can change little details like the color of rides and such and that's what makes playing this game so great you can really make your park feel like your own.
The game looks absolutely gorgeous and I wasn't even playing on the highest quality. Riding the rides in first person made me wish they would make a VR version of the game, as it would be amazing, and perfect for this kind of game. The game also comes packed with music that you can select for rides to play while they are moving. You can even add you own music into the game!
Related reading: Over on the Apple iPad, a really good simulation game to consider is Transport Tycoon. Matt's full review.
Of course, none of this will be particularly new to people who have played theme park management sims in the past. Because the developer was effectively responsible for so much of the development of the game in the first place, it is perhaps unsurprising that Planet Coaster choose to build on top of the existing foundations, rather than re-invent the wheel. What makes the game so special is the fact that the refinements are so perfect, and the core gameplay loops so competently pulled together, that it feels like the ultimate version of everything that the developer has been working on over all these years.
Planet Coaster is everything I could want in a simulation game of this type. Good management tools, good building tools, and most of all, it is extremely fun to play. It's the best amusement park simulation we've seen yet, and any complaints that you might have with the variety of rides that it offers are mitigated brilliantly by the use of Steam Workshop to allow the community to broaden the experience. In this way Planet Coaster feels both nostalgic and yet eminently modern.