Planet Coaster

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Fron­tier De­vel­op­ments For­mat PC Re­lease Out now

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PC

Given Planet Coaster’s friendly ex­te­rior, it’s a lit­tle dis­heart­en­ing to be­gin yet an­other sprawl­ing sim­u­la­tion from Fron­tier De­vel­op­ments and be fobbed off with a few short YouTube videos in­stead of a proper tu­to­rial. The game is rid­dled with con­trol tooltips, at least, but such is the depth and com­plex­ity of Planet Coaster’s toolset that it can all feel dis­tinctly over­whelm­ing at first.

With per­se­ver­ance, and some time spent im­pa­tiently watch­ing videos, things be­gin to fall into place. There are three main ways to play the game: Ca­reer, Sand­box and Chal­lenge. The first of these col­lects a series of dis­parate sce­nar­ios and asks you to achieve cer­tain goals to earn the max­i­mum three-star rat­ing. You might need to reach a cer­tain guest thresh­old, for ex­am­ple, or achieve a given monthly profit. Each theme – in­clud­ing western, pi­rate, fairy­tale and sci-fi – fea­tures three mis­sions, and in ev­ery setup you’ll as­sume con­trol of a half-fin­ished theme park and at­tempt to make it as at­trac­tive to guests as pos­si­ble. In one sce­nario you must fend off im­pend­ing bank­ruptcy in a park with no open rides and an un­fin­ished roller­coaster; in an­other you need to con­struct a park with firm green cre­den­tials and hold back from de­for­est­ing the area for profit.

The con­struc­tions that serve as your start­ing point in the ca­reer mis­sions pro­vide Fron­tier’s level de­sign­ers with an op­por­tu­nity to show­case their well-honed build­ing skills and give the rest of us a daunt­ingly high bar to aim for. Pi­rate havens line the shore of a lake oc­cu­pied by a grand galleon as path­ways snake in and out of skull-shaped moun­tains. A track ride dips un­der­ground and snakes its way through a beau­ti­fully lit, sculpted cave net­work in­hab­ited by the flail­ing ten­ta­cles of some un­der­ground mon­stros­ity. And in an­other starter a dis­tinctly Co­bra-es­que space­craft lies at the end of an im­pact trench that’s strewn with burn­ing wreck­age, while two nearby whirling neon rides spin their pas­sen­gers high above the crash site.

Sand­box mode gives you con­trol of Planet Coaster’s as­sets, an un­lim­ited bud­get and no pres­sures other than your own artis­tic in­tegrity. But the splen­did cre­ations in Ca­reer mode make it all the more crush­ing when, on start­ing the mode for the first time and crip­pled by the flat, bare ex­panse be­fore us, we only man­age a wob­bly path­way that leads to a toi­let block. It’s a start, at least, and our con­ve­nience im­me­di­ately proves pop­u­lar with a fam­ily op­ti­mistic enough to have paid our $40 park en­trance fee. While it’s a good place to ex­per­i­ment with tech­niques and ideas – and is pro­vid­ing the foun­da­tion for some in­cred­i­ble player-made builds – the lack of struc­ture, goals or re­stric­tions make it a less ap­peal­ing place for play­ers hop­ing to run their own theme park.

Chal­lenge mode caters for that de­mo­graphic. Here you must build a park from scratch while work­ing within a tight bud­get and man­ag­ing the minu­tiae of your park’s day-to-day run­ning. You’ll have to con­sider ev­ery­thing from food and ride pric­ing to how happy your guests are while queu­ing. The level of gran­u­lar­ity is re­mark­able: it’s not just the length of the line that fac­tors into a ride’s ap­peal, but whether the queue is long and straight or snaking, how much scenery there is around it, the amount of lit­ter on the floor, and even the po­si­tion of the ride rel­a­tive to the rest of the park. There are graphs and num­bers to pore over, but the eas­i­est way to judge is sim­ply to watch guests’ be­hav­iour. Ev­ery cus­tomer is lov­ingly an­i­mated and overly ex­pres­sive, mak­ing it easy to read their mood even when zoomed out (a view you’ll use ex­ten­sively given the ca­coph­ony the in­di­vid­u­ally soundtracked rides cre­ate when close up – bet­ter to hover up high and en­joy Jim Guthrie’s won­der­fully melan­cholic com­po­si­tions). If a ride’s queue is busy, you can up the en­trance cost. Sim­i­larly, if peo­ple are grav­i­tat­ing to one side of the park, then you know it’s worth build­ing a mono­rail or path­way to make get­ting around eas­ier.

The path-lay­ing sys­tem is flex­i­ble and in­tu­itive (even if the fid­dly cam­era oc­ca­sion­ally works against it), but is tuned more for sweep­ing curves than it is grids. You’ll need to add queue and exit path­ways for ev­ery ride, too, which can be an awk­ward busi­ness, es­pe­cially if you’ve ini­tially mis­judged a ride’s po­si­tion­ing.

There are dozens of pre­fab­ri­cated rides to place, in­clud­ing a se­lec­tion of roller­coast­ers, but you’re also at lib­erty to cre­ate your own vomit-in­duc­ing death traps. You can sculpt ad-hoc or pick from a se­lec­tion of more com­plex Fron­tier-cre­ated pieces that loop, corkscrew and switch back. Once com­plete, new rides need to be tested us­ing crash dum­mies, and this run then pro­vides all man­ner of stats and heat maps on how ex­cit­ing, scary or nau­se­at­ing your cre­ation is. Low nausea, medium fear and high ex­cite­ment is the ideal, but our first at­tempt was shunned out­right by thou­sands of at­ten­dees. Tweak­ing your ride ac­cord­ing to the test re­sults and retest­ing as you close in on a world-class ride is, how­ever, a sim­ple and en­joy­able process.

Planet Coaster’s cus­tomi­sa­tion and land­scap­ing tools of­fer un­prece­dented con­trol over the look and de­sign of your parks, but the man­age­ment com­po­nents be­hind the scenes feel oddly muted. Loans and mar­ket­ing cam­paign op­tions are overly sim­pli­fied, and fid­dling with the staff ros­ter can of­ten bor­der on be­ing te­dious. The game is also rather easy, and full-on bank­ruptcy doesn’t seem to be a real threat. The sim­pli­fied be­hindthe-scenes au­toma­tion serves as a kind of au­topi­lot that lets you flirt with which­ever as­pects you want while not hav­ing to worry about any­thing you don’t, but this fo­cus on cre­ativ­ity over flow­charts per­fectly suits the most charis­matic, ex­pres­sive con­struc­tion and man­age­ment sim yet.

There are dozens of pre­fab­ri­cated rides, but you’re also at lib­erty to cre­ate your own vomit-in­duc­ing death traps

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