Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Planet Coaster has just about everything theme park fans are looking for in their simulation experience. Tons of rides, a bevy of customization options, shareable content and so much more. If you are a fan of theme park management games, keep an eye out for when Planet Coaster releases, because it has the potential to be the best in the business.
If like me and my wife, you spent plenty of time with the RollerCoaster Tycoon games of old, then you are likely familiar with the designers of this game, Frontier Developments. This is one of those niche gaming genres where loyal fans spend tons of time designing the perfect coaster, laying out and giving their park a theme and micromanaging everything and anything you can think of. If you are harboring an inner accountant (not a barb on the profession as my dad was one), then unleash your hidden bean counter because you can modify just about anything.
Because Planet Coaster is still in an alpha state, not everything is available right now. You can partake in challenges that see you trying to make a park profitable and there is a sandbox mode that lets you do whatever you want without the budget constraints found within the Challenge mode. There are some other modes as well, but they are not fully available for kicking the tires on just yet. One of the features that is in place is that those who want to upload their works to the Steam Workshop can do so. I downloaded a couple of small, mostly unfinished parks from others who have been previewing the game, and the overall process of finding, downloading and rating the works of others is pretty easy. Really, the basic menu and UI options are all straightforward and simple to use, and this shareable content is just an extension of this. The ability to find and share content will no doubt keep Planet Coaster alive and kicking longer than a lot of games out there after it releases.
While you can manage everything from food prices to salary, I suspect the items most gamers are going to be curious about are the themes of the different parks and the ability to build quality coasters. The early returns on the coaster building are mostly positive. You can easily manipulate the tracks in a customized fashion that does not necessarily adhere to any pre-built standards. Like everything else, there is a great deal of flexibility here though some designs obviously work better than others, but the trial and error is half of the fun here. I like the checklist that pops up even when you drop in a premade coaster, telling you to add an entrance, an exit, a queue and so on.
The various theme options are also quite numerous. I took a look at some of the readily available themes provided by the developers, from a big Sarlacc Pit looking thing from Star Wars to more traditional fantasy castle settings. Everything from buildings to landscaping and lighting can help you to create just the right effect for your park. Admittedly, it is still a lot of trial and error as the game lacks a proper full-on tutorial to teach you the basics at this time, but all in all the various pieces interconnect with one another well. For example, your guests want to see nice scenery, not just a barren wasteland with some rides on it. Relation between scenery and ride is very important for helping win over your guests to chose to ride a particular attraction. I have to say that the night effects are particularly attractive, with great use of lighting and lasers.
Visually the game is pretty solid, with great use of varied and vivid colors. The character models are very cartoonish, with big eyes and quirky movement, but they work well within the overall context of the graphics. Coasters are big, bold, colorful things and they are well represented here. The audio is another high point, with a great introductory song and plenty of very cool, authentic park sound effects and ambient noise. Hopping on a coaster and hearing people scream on the ride around me is a quality experience.