Planet Coaster Review (PC)
Once upon a time, during the olden times of 2004, there came a theme park management strategy/sim called Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. As a younger man I spent hours building coasters that either made everyone on board barf the burger and juice they stupidly bought before riding it or threw them into space to go visit the moon because they were going just a little too fast over that bump. All in all it was a wonderful game. You could spend a lot of time getting every nuance of a corner just so before realising that the next turn would send everyone spiralling off the track in an amazing fireball of death and dismemberment.
It was fun ok?
It was developed by a team at Frontier Developments (better known these days for space sim Elite: Dangerous) and published by Atari.
Fast forward to the now times and you find yourself a little confused by the release of Rollercoaster Tycoon World by Nvizzio Creations and Atari while Frontier have just released (the day after in fact) Planet Coaster. While I realise that anyone who looks into Planet Coaster will inevitably want to compare it to ‘RCT World’ I would like to point out that I have never played the latter. I have no insights into any of the mechanics or gameplay of RCT World and therefore won’t be commenting on it any further in this article, except to say that the dev team who built RCT 3 made Planet Coaster and the publisher who owned the rights to the RCT series published RCT World.
Still, that’s a hell of a pedigree to live up to…
Did they? Well let’s see shall we?
Let’s start off with the soundtrack. It’s the first thing you notice when the main menu appears and it’s wonderful. The opening track entitled “The Light in Us All” is the one in all the trailers. The song rises and falls like the coasters you’ll be building and has an almost cartoon-esque style that fits the visual style of Planet Coaster really well. I can honestly say that this is one of my favourite game soundtracks of the year. Seriously, it’s on Spotify… Go listen to it. Do it now. In fact listen to it while you read this. I promise it will lighten up your day… you’ll also be whistling The Light in Us All for the rest of the week so, I apologise for that in advance… Moving on.
So we mentioned the art style already so let’s try talking about that shall we? The best way I can think of to describe it is ‘Cartoony’. Is that the best word I can come up with? Well it’s gonna have to do because I’ve typed it now haven’t I? The individual guests and entertainers have the Disney style cuteness to them that anyone would expect in any theme park. The guests use the same editor as you do for your Avatar on the start menu so there’s just enough variety to keep things interesting too, although all things considered I didn’t really spend much of my time with the camera trained on the guests. I was usually a bajillion miles above them trying to line up a tiny bit of a wooden post just right… but I’m getting ahead of myself now so why don’t we jump straight into the meat and potatoes of Planet Coaster and have a look at the building mechanics?
Here comes the first thing I’d like to complain about. Given how many parts there are in the main building menu (which we’ll get to later… saving the best stuff till last because I’m mean like that) I wish there were more of them. I also wish that they fitted the themes a little better… Hmmm. I haven’t mentioned the building themes yet have I? Well that was rather disorganised of me. Better mention it now hadn’t I?
There are four main themes to the building parts and the mascots. Old West, Fairytale, Sci-fi and Pirate. While I had great fun building in the sandbox mode (unlimited money and all rides unlocked), if you want to try out challenge mode and actually manage the park (half the fun for me) then you have to be making money. That means placing flat rides that never seemed to quite fit the aesthetic. It’s a shame that Frontier gave us such wonderful tools with which to build almost anything our hearts desire but once you start plonking flat rides in your park they stick out like a sore thumb.
So on to the building menu then right?
Any editable rides (coasters or transport/track rides) will let you edit the stations with a myriad of building parts. Shops also come as little blocks that you are encouraged to build around. Anything you build can be saved as a blueprint and then uploaded to the Steam Workshop for your friends or even Random Joe to download and use in their park. The game also comes with a few blueprints for the shops as standard that fit well within the themes. I spent almost half an hour building a crashed spaceship in Sandbox mode that I then saved as a blueprint and bought in my Challenge mode park as a set piece prop. It looks cool at night doesn’t it?
There are static parts, effects such as explosions and fire or water mist/steam and a whole myriad of animatronics from aliens shooting at things, cannons blasting into the air and even something simple like a radar dish that spins. Any of these parts can be triggered by rides at user chosen points, adding to the fun of having explosions and flames going off as your coaster flies by.
All in all the building parts are varied enough and yet in keeping with the themes already built into Planet Coaster that the Steam workshop page is already full of wonders like a giant mecha T-rex that towers over the two stores, guarding them like the little golden eggs they are.
To be honest the building of things is where I have the most fun with this game. The terrain tools allow you to mould the landscape to fit almost anything you can think of and then just save it as a blueprint, upload it to the workshop and show off how awesome you really are. The controls and GUI are easy to understand and it even has an undo functionality for everything. You have no idea how useful that is until you try building something. I’m a little OCD when it comes to my buildings in Planet Coaster and getting that one little log in just the right place is important to me so if I mess up, the ability to just CTRL-Z my mistakes into oblivion is wonderful. I spent an hour building a bridge during the beta that quickly let me see how powerful two buttons are. The phrase ‘Duplicate and Advance Move’ became something my brain said a lot as I moved the same little block of bricks along the side. Copying it and sliding it in what I knew was a straight line. The other really powerful tool is the ‘Use World Axes’ button. It means that even if what you’re building is, by design, off at a wonk, then you can place it to within a nanometer of where you want.
It does lead me on to the one thing that I don’t like about the building system in this game. The water… I would have loved to have seen proper liquid water that actually flowed from one place to another. It would have made the terrain tools that much more powerful and allowed me to build things like massive waterfalls and such. For the moment however the water is physically static. By that I mean it’s a texture that seems to be only a few pixels thick. You still have to dig out the terrain to place it and from above it looks wonderful. There are workarounds out there with the water based effect items in Planet Coaster and there are quite a few waterfall blueprints already on the workshop. Given how much processing power it probably takes to simulate large numbers of independent guest groups over the whole park I can understand why fluid physics would have to fall to the side during development and I think they did a good job making it look good while making it less power hungry.
Still, I want better dammit!
The next thing we need to talk about is Career Mode. Not what you’d think actually. It’s a collection of scenarios that give you control of a basic park in one of the styles and then challenge you to complete certain objectives. Each one you complete gets you a star and there are 3 stars per level and 3 levels per theme. Simples right? If you are new to management games or want to understand how the guests move around in a park, how to make money and how to deal with breakdowns and such then this is a good place to start. The early levels were nice and easy (I managed to get all 3 stars on all the pirate levels) with the later ones dumping more problems on your plate (including a level where a strange monolith is causing all your rides to break down with alarming regularity).
Guests usually come in groups. You’ll have family groups with young children, teen groups and adult groups. Each one with their own wants, desires and rides to go with them. It is possible to build a park that only caters for one of the three groups but where’s the fun in that?
They will move along the paths you lay, and it’s worth noting that overcrowding is definitely a thing. You need to plan how you lay out your paths so that they don’t end up looking like this…
The management system and it’s accompanying UI are also very powerful and well designed. The menus are easy to navigate and are designed in such a way that it’s very easy to see when things are going right or wrong. You can set up rosters for your staff (very useful for making sure that your mechanics don’t end up having to walk five hundred miles to get to the coaster that just broke down or that your janitors are always on hand at the exit to make sure that sick gets cleaned up pronto) simply by creating a new roster and CTRL- clicking all the rides you want them to move between.
Spot the pop culture reference in that last one if you can…
All in all I think Frontier have done such a good job with this game. Aside from the flat rides and the water I don’t think there’s anything I would change…
Well, I’m greedy so let’s add more themes and parts to the list shall we?
I could go on for hours about every little nuance but to be honest you probably didn’t even read this far down the review did you? You naughty internet peoples probably looked at the bullet points at the start along with the score and gave up there right?
If you made it all the way down here then I salute you avid reader.
Now go play this game…
9 screaming guests out of 10