Theme park games have been some of my all time favorite games since the late 90s. The design, the management, and the general tomfoolery one can get up to while running a virtual park have kept me entertained for years. Planet Coaster, currently being developed by Frontier, is a great mix of theme park building, design, and management with a social aspect that is there for those who want it, but not required.
Upon loading, the player is asked to create an avatar in the Avatar HQ which allows players to see each other's shared parks and blueprints. The player can choose from 3 different skin tones, can choose between being a teen or adult, and making their avatar “regular” or “large”. There is also a variety of different faces and hair styles along with an assortment of of clothing and accessories to customize the avatar and make it unique. The avatar gives you a point on the map and allows other players to see what you have shared and vice versa.
Even though I prefer to play in challenge mode in these types of games, I opted to check out the sandbox mode to get a handle on the controls and game options. There are three different types of sandbox terrains to choose from including a tropical landscape and a desert.
The loading and the rendering of the game is extremely smooth although it did take some time to learn how to use the camera controls. While the game is overall very intuitive, there were some things that I ended up having to Google, such as how to rotate buildings, and how to connect a queue to the main path. A quick help section would be a nice addition.
The first rides that I built in my park were the teacups and Venetian carousel. It took quite awhile for visitors to start showing up to my park to the point where I wasn’t sure if I had to open the park or not. Eventually they did show up shortly before 9pm and excitedly began to queue for rides.
The one aspect of the game that kept blowing me away is the fantastic attention to detail that has been put into the game. The aforementioned Venetian carousel has a mix of horses and seats on two levels as well as paintings if you zoom in close enough, while the music is reminiscent of actual carousel music and not a repeating in-game tune. If one zooms in on the tea cups, each one is painted a different color and there are even gold arrows on the center of the tea cups where the guests put their hands to spin. The coaster seats and cars are also quite detailed and look almost identical to real life coaster seats.The impressive amount of detail also carries over to the park guests who not only enjoy the rides but are very comical and animated in their reactions.They also react very well to changes in the park as they occur.
The alpha comes with a good variety of pre-built coaster and the option to build your own. I stuck mainly with the pre-built coasters although I did try my hand at building my own roller-coaster. The coaster builder is easy to start, however there seems to be a learning curve in order to build a custom coaster. I struggled quite a bit and ended up making what I affectionately (and slightly embarrassingly) referred to as a ‘crumple coaster’ as it looked like the track had been crumpled up and placed on the map. Thankfully, there is an auto-complete option and I found it easier to tweak the coaster from there.
One of the most frustrating parts of the game was the building of paths and connecting queues to the main pathways. In order to connect a queue to a path, the player needs to build the main path, build part of the queue, then place the queue entrance, then finish the rest of the queue. If there is a lot of animated scenery the park guests will stop on the path and look or react to it. This leaves the player with two options: build wide paths by default which takes up more space or tone down the scenery. Neither option is great but both are easier than trying to widen the paths after they are built. A useful option would have click and drag paths that could easily be widened after they are constructed.
Overall this is an extremely solid alpha for Planet Coaster. Even in alpha stage it's a very fun game that provides hours of entertainment. While there are some aspects of the game that will need to be revised before a final release, all in all I was incredibly amazed by the attention to detail that has been put into it. I am looking forward to seeing what is released with the next update.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.