Available on PC November 17
Of all the games I had on my Gamescom schedule to check out, Planet Coaster wasn’t the one that I was frothing at the mouth to see. Sure, I enjoyed the RollerCoaster Tycoon games back in the early 2000s, but a decade on, the idea of a spiritual successor prompted more of a shrug than fist pumps and wild ka-kawing.
Thanks to the success of Cities: Skylines, it’s easy to see why such a genre exists. However, aside from prettier graphics, would Planet Coaster offer anything to convince me to return to a genre that I haven’t thought about since Nu-metal was a thing?
Well, me of the past, it turns out your indifference and cynicism now make you look like a bit of a wally – because after playing the game it’s clear that Planet Coaster is actually shaping up to be something pretty special.
Let’s get this out of the way first: basically, Planet Coaster is the real RollerCoaster Tycoon 4. With Frontier developing the first three games in the series, Atari – the publisher and owner of the intellectual property – opted to continue the series without the developer, using the license for a rushed 3DS port and a poor mobile game.
So seeing a pretty chunky gap in the market, Frontier decided to resurrect its beloved coaster creator with a new name – and so here we are. Rather than simply making a prettier version of the same theme-park management game many know and love, however, Frontier wisely chose to make an accurate theme-park simulation.
You're able to set the price for everything in the game, you can opt to train your staff to boost their morale, set up queue-jump lanes to appease angry customers, or even view the world through the eyes of one of your loyal adrenaline junkies – and that’s only just scratching the surface.
Click on any individual dude or dudette who's chosen to spend their day inside your magical emporium and you can immediately gain insight into their thoughts and how they’ve found their experience so far. Some may complain that queues are too long, others might think certain rides have lacklustre scenery. A few folk will barely be able to contain their leaking bladders, primarily because you completely forgot to install toilets.
Balancing all these elements and choosing what prices to set for rides, which staff to give raises too and how much effort to spend on making the park visually appealing means that there's plenty to think about. Luckily, making any tweaks is a painless and surprisingly expansive experience.
With the option to adorn rides with hundreds of objects from a selection of themes, it’s easy to get carried away creating your badass Pirate-themed rollercoaster, only to suddenly realise that you’ve built it in a place that’s starting to encroach on your surprisingly popular FairyTale castle adorned teacups.
What would previously have resulted in a lengthy edit and a cacophony of swear words can now be resolved with one simple fix: group your creation together and just place it somewhere else. This ability to combine numerous creations into a group isn't only a handy way to temporary relocate part of your park, however. It also provides a way to save your hard work as a template ride for future parks and to share the ride with friends via Steam Workshop.
Say your mate Dave downloads your Pirate coaster, but has no appreciation for the numerous parrots and exploding barrels. No problem – he can add and remove what he pleases, changing the colours and creating his own version of the template.
It’s this level of detail that makes Planet Coaster so addictive. While it doesn’t sound exciting, taking all the tedium out of a simulation and making it easy to share creations ensures you feel that you’re constantly progressing, making the game a joy to play.
Speaking of a joy, by far my favourite part of Planet Coaster are the texture options. Frontier has given you the freedom to manipulate the environment in whichever way you see fit with what is essentially a giant Photoshop brush.
Feel like your coaster is lacking the "wow" factor? Use the texture brush to pull the land around it into an all-consuming cave. Think the Kraken on your pirate ride looks a bit dry and lonely? Push down the land around it and fill with water, pulling on the edges of the land and switching to the sand painter to brush the surroundings a satisfying beach yellow. It’s this combination of freedom and ease of use that kept me grinning and shouting excitedly after every creation.
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In all honesty, even with little new Planet Coaster would have been a relatively enjoyable theme-park management game. However, instead of simply creating a more attractive version of a game that many knew and loved, Frontier has rolled over backwards, sideways and looped-the-loop, to ensure that Planet Coaster offers more than just a nostalgic trip – but something genuinely exciting.
Think this is all just hyperbole? Let me explain why it isn’t. After Gamescom, I thought I’d have a quick look around the alpha to refresh my memory to help me nail this article in record time. Getting my park on, I had a bit of a tinker to the point l was satisfied with the direction my badass theme park ReganLand was taking. Research done, I was ready to write my article. I looked up at the clock – where had the past five hours just gone?
Planet Coaster is all-consuming, and with the full release promising hundreds more options and brand-new modes and features, I can’t wait to loose even more of my days building the perfect park.