Available On: PC
Release Date: November 17, 2016
One of the most beloved series to emerge from the popular Tycoon/Sim genre was RollerCoaster Tycoon. Pitting you in charge of your own budding amusement park, the series enjoyed several expansion packs and a passionate fan base. Later the games transitioned into 3D with RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and even later onto consoles with the spiritual successor Thrillville.
Now the same developer is looking to continue their successful formula with their latest park management simulation, Planet Coaster.
“Planet Coaster is a game we’ve wanted to make for a long time,” says Jonny Watts, Chief Creative Officer for Frontier Developments. “But it’s only now as a self-publishing studio we’re able to make the game we had envisioned.”
For fans of RollerCoaster Tycoon, you’re in luck. After trying the Alpha version, Planet Coaster plays much like a natural evolution of those great theme park classics. You’re given a large, empty plot of land. From there you can construct pathways, shops, buildings, scenery, rides, and of course elaborate roller coaster designs.
Sim Theme Park
“We’ve always said we don’t want to remake RollerCoaster Tycoon 3,” says Watts. “That game already exists and you can even play it on iOS right now.” Indeed, I reviewed it last year! “Once it was enough to have a simple 3D model of a theme park ride which could be made in quite a short time, but today we model everything in incredible detail with things like hydraulics, physically-rendered materials, and beautiful animations.”
Watts points to other successful sim games such as Cities Skylines and Prison Architect as helping revive the sim genre. “We want to go even further with the deepest-ever simulation, authentic audio, accurately modeled rides, and the best-ever crowds in a sim game.”
The Alpha is currently limited to a money-less Sandbox mode and a pair of Challenge Modes. The Challenge Modes (one tropical, one desert) give you an empty park and some money to get started. The Sandbox is an easy way to see all of Planet Coaster’s features without worrying about silly trivialities like money or guest happiness.
The interface is a big winner. Everything is organized in neat little menus at the bottom. Filters and search menus let you quickly find whatever you need, whether it’s a Gentle Ride for the kids or an animated Pirate Band to entertain passers-by.
Constructing the all-important paths that your patrons will stick to is a delightful breeze. Paths snap to each other, twisting and turning as easily as you can move the mouse. You’re not at all limited to the strict grid-layout of previous games. A helpful angle snap feature lets you easily line-up objects and paths, and a simple right-click deletes them.
Paths funnel your patrons to rides, shops, and coasters. Anyone who’s played a theme park game (or been to an amusement park) will recognize many classic ride styles like the Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round, and…that thing that picks you up and spins you around (which is about half the rides, I think). Rides are separated by Gentle and Thrilling, and different guests will desire different kinds of rides and experiences.
The guests reflect a cartoony, Sims-like art style of exaggerated gestures and goofy smiles. Guests will have different needs and desires, and the most successful parks will cater to all of them. You’ll also need to build restrooms, drink and food stands, gift shops, and ATMs to help keep those needs balanced.
Building a Better Park
One of the neater features is the ability to create your own functional buildings using the many scenery options available. You can turn a gift shop into a miniature castle, or a giant hat stand emblazoned with logos. Each creation can be saved as a blueprint to be instantly pulled up later.
The Alpha came with several great ones to choose from if you’re lazy like me and just want to throw pre-built items into your park. A giant restroom made out of a ship’s hull fit my Pirate-themed park beautifully.
You can also stack various scenery objects together to create set designs, then save them as blueprints. Dozens of fun objects, from statues and fountains to animated figures, let you construct elaborate set pieces to help entertain your guests. My favorite was a massive set that combined the awesome animated kraken tearing apart a pirate ship – complete with writhing tentacles.
Like previous RCT games, scenery helps raise the enjoyment of nearby rides and the overall happiness for your guests. Everyone likes a good-looking park!
While the amount of scenery objects and animations were impressive, only two real themes were available in the Alpha – Pirates and Medieval Fantasy. Frontier revealed a Sci-Fi theme during EGX in September. “As for other themes,” Watts teases, “Stay tuned!”
Roller coaster design has always been a big part of the genre, and Planet Coaster is obviously no exception.
Coaster building is easy and intuitive, using a similar approach to pathways. After choosing one of over a dozen styles of coasters you construct them one track at a time. Several buttons appear that let you change elevation, length, angle, and direction piece-by-piece.
Even if physics is something you barely passed back in school, you can turn on the rides’ test feature to make sure you have enough speed to make that loop, even while you’re in the middle of building it.
Like scenery objects, each coaster you build can be saved as a blueprint in case you want to drop it into other parks. Or share it with the world.
World Wide Coasters
Online sharing is going to be a major feature in Planet Coaster, and probably the most exciting for longtime fans of the genre.
“We think sharing is great,” said Watts. “You’ll never need to leave the game to do it, either.” Planet Coaster uses the built-in Steam Workshop to instantly upload and download scenery blueprints, custom coasters, and entire parks. It uses your Steam Friends list to populate the literal planet on the main menu screen.
Sharing is seamlessly integrated, but still entirely optional for those that prefer a solo experience. “We wanted a system that’s fast, simple, familiar, and optional,” says Watts. “Great managers can fill their parks with amazing community creations, and great builders can see their creativity shared around the world.”
I downloaded a highlighted feature park right from the main menu that expertly recreated Hogwarts and the nearby town of Hogsmeade. It showcases the depths of creativity that can spring from the intuitive terrain tools and scenery objects.
The final game will come with additional challenge modes, tutorials, themes, and a full campaign. “For the campaign, we want to challenge players to step outside their comfort zone,” says Watts. “We’ll ask players to build thrilling parks that appeal to teens, but with a low height limit on the rides to encourage them to get creative with their coaster construction. Or hand them a run-down park and ask them to turn a profit to challenge their management skills.” The campaign will help teach you fundamental park-building skills, which you can then use to create your own dream park.
Planet Coaster looks like a dream come true for theme park fans. I can see myself devoting dozens of hours to crafting beautiful parks and intricate coasters. Only to then be put to shame as I delightfully download others’ parks, rides, and custom buildings. With a healthy community and supportive developer, online sharing could be the most exciting feature to a modern theme park sim.
The final release of Planet Coaster is scheduled for November 17. Pre-ordering the Thrillseeker Edition nets you Beta access on November 9th.