Shooters, RPGs, and action games have not only managed to survive through the years, but in many cases they have become more interesting. For one reason or another the same can’t be said for some genres, such as the case of theme park simulations which have virtually fallen off the face of the Earth.
Planet Coaster is looking to change that. It’s a game built with the same core philosophy as the great RollerCoaster Tycoon, a title that had an unmistakable impact on those who played it at the turn of the century. It's even made by a studio with many years of experience in the genre, including the likes of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 and Zoo Tycoon. This perfect storm has resulted in a game that has defied all odds by effectively resurrecting what many believed to be a dead genre.
Planet Coaster immediately comes across as warm and inviting, with a colorful main menu where your first step is to make a character. This character is used to represent you in the multiplayer ecosystem, which includes sharing of content you create hosted through the Steam Workshop. As with the visitors of the parks you build, this character has exaggerated features that emphasize the game’s friendliness to players of all ages.
The inviting atmosphere carries over to the in-game presentation, where landscapes are detailed beyond what the genre has ever seen before. On High or Ultra settings, the game appears absolutely beautiful with high resolution textures and realistic water effects. As long as you don’t zoom in too close to the less-than-attractive park attendees, Planet Coaster is photogenic from just about any angle. This is especially the case during certain times of the day/night cycle. You’ll find that neon signs and glowing windows make for quite the spectacle, so keep your screenshot finger ready.
There are multiple ways to enjoy the beautiful presentation of Planet Coaster, the most popular of which is in Career mode. This is broken down into 12 missions spanning four themes, each with several objectives to tackle. Early on the objectives are simple, and serve as an introduction to the game’s most basic systems; concepts such as hiring staff and erecting basic, pre-built rides are taught. Many objectives tend to be broad, allowing for a sense of freedom that caters well to the item-rich, sandbox nature of the game.
The objectives do become much more challenging during later missions, though. Gated by your level, which increases as you participate in the game through various means, these more advanced objectives will test your ability to create an attractive, highly entertaining park. Though this might sound intimidating, the difficulty curve is well-tuned and you won’t find yourself encountering anything that feels impossible.
You also have access to a Sandbox mode, where you start with a clean slate. For those who enjoy the experience of creating something from nothing, this is where a large portion of the play value will come from. You can do what you want, where you want, and with no rules. This is where you can push the limits of the game, going as far as to make multi billion dollar metropolis parks or death parks. Alternatively, Challenge mode functions very similarly, but introduces unique objectives at a steady pace to provide something to always work toward outside of simply making the best park possible.
Do a Barrel Roll
You’re provided a tremendous amount of freedom when realizing the vision of your park. This comes in several forms, one of which is how you place structures. Using various key combinations you can rotate and elevate buildings and ride entrances with incredible precision. This also applies to pathways and ride pathing, which similarly provide what you need to make what you desire, whether it be traditional or bizarre.
There’s also a full landscape sculpting tool integrated into the user interface. Although disabled on some Career missions, you can use this to create interesting geography very simply. While RollerCoaster Tycoon had this back in the late 90’s, what’s here has far more options for tailoring the environment to your exact specifications. What you create can go as far as you can imagine. Well, as long as that creation is moderate in size given Planet Coaster's modest park size limits.
Due to the sheer level of input that you can have on where rides are placed and how they are laid out, the learning process can be a struggle at times. This is especially the case with more advanced roller coasters, such as those the can helix, loop, and more. Instead of a tutorial system, the default inputs for various actions are displayed in a small window on the screen. You can always watch one of a few tutorial videos that are linked within the game. But these two things aren’t really enough to help you ease into the role of a creator. It take a few hours of practice and experimentation to learn the ropes, which may deter some players.
Understanding the intricacies of object orientation and place is fundamentally important in this game given the large number of items and structures. What’s here initially doesn’t come across as overwhelming, but after some research and development and your discovery of custom creations such as personalized buildings, you may feel the burden of complexity. There are even water rides and travel stations for good measure. When the game becomes overwhelming, it’s important to remember that the Steam Workshop is host to thousands of user-made creations that can provide solutions for even the most specific requests. You can also use auto-complete to finish a ride when you get sick of designing it.
Once you're familiar with its inner workings, playing Planet Coaster becomes a dream. There is so much you can do in regards to building things, which plays well into its highly sharable nature. The game most comes to life once you settle down with a vision for what you want to create and get to work. Between all the provided toolkits you can produce something that is as lifelike or fantastic as you want, and utilize various customizable parameters to alter the presentation of the park and its rides.
In the end, you'll get as much out of the experience as your creativity permits. Those who like to shortcut their way to success have everything available that they need to make the process fast and painless, although that will severely limit the sense of reward. Investing the time needed to tune rides to perfection and decorate their surroundings with attractive designs pays off with not only the happy faces of virtual visitors, but being able to share what you crafted with the world at the click of a button.
Planet Coaster isn’t just a wonderful game, it’s an important one. It’s effectively resurrected a dead genre, providing an act to follow that is as inspiring as it is fun to play. At a reasonable price point, it’s a great pick-up for anyone who enjoys the process of creation and management.