Planet Coaster, from Frontier Developments (creators of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3), is as you can probably guess from the name a theme park construction and management game. The game has excellent elements which could have you hooked for hours if you are a big fan of the genre or even a casual player along for the ride. That said, there are certainly frustrating elements which I am sure most players will experience which I will get into, but overall these are minor.
The game itself has three different modes. A career, a challenge and a sandbox mode. The career mode provides an interesting start to the game and is a must play for those who are new to the game. There are multiple pre-set scenarios for players to learn how to manage and build theme parks from scratch or save from closure. The scenarios are interesting and with varying difficulty levels provide good levels of challenge for players.
One of these challenges appears to be learning the game itself as with the first beginner career mission, you are literally thrown in without any instruction apart from the 3 objectives you have; how you achieve them is a challenge in itself. There are tutorial videos for the game, but who wants to sit and watch videos about how to play? In-game tutorials are a much better way to engage players and getting them to understand the base mechanics helps not to discourage them. I found myself building floating shops on one mode as it wasn’t entirely clear how to manage the terrain.
Once you get to grips with the basics however, the beginner missions become pretty simple. It is clear though that the learning curve is fairly steep up to hard, possibly for those of a younger age. A particularly frustrating element though in the career mode is the limitations of what you can build. This could be a good thing if the player is learning how to build the more complex rides, yet in one of the scenarios being unable to build toilets meant that there was no option but to be pelted for a couple of hours with notifications about how lots of the guests needed the toilet.
This though is of course not a problem in the Sandbox mode and this is where the game really comes to life. The detail of management is something that becomes abundantly clear with the sandbox mode. From management of your park’s finances through ticket costs, hiring staff, maintenance and even choice of advertisement campaigns, provide an extra layer of management into the fine details. Hiring staff is particularly key, notably security guards, because if the amount of theft notifications you receive is anything to go by, the population of Planet Coaster world clearly have no morals whatsoever.
In the same way in terms of detail, everything you build is very customisable and the vast number of building options means no theme park you build will look the same. Whether it’s a pirate, fairy tale or space theme. That said though many will find the interface and construction options somewhat frustrating. The interface is quite tough to get used to and you’ll have to learn the many shortcut keys to help you speed things up.
Visually the game is pretty good. Again, due to the customisable nature of Planet Coaster, you really can create something that looks great and the graphics will emphasise this. Lots of the visitors and more particularly the staff (who are identical according to job type) look incredibly similar which might provide a lack of variety but this is a minor gripe. The audio of the game also accompanies the gameplay really well, the sounds of rides going and the music really make the game more enjoyable.
Overall Planet Coaster has done a really good job in bringing back the theme park genre. It really reminded me a lot of the 1999 game Theme Park World so it made me feel very nostalgic, but of course it has expanded to another level and is a great game in its own right. In conclusion, theme parks and games mixed together, what’s not to love.