One of the genres of games that I’ve spent the most time overall with is definitely theme park sims. That may sound odd to a lot of people, but I’ve lost total track of time in building elaborate theme parks across multiple games. Planet Coaster’s developer, Frontier Developments, brought the world both RollerCoaster Tycoon 2’s expansions, and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3. After a long break from the genre, they’ve returned with sights set on taking the crown as the best theme park management game to date.
Be an engineer
Designing rollercoasters is the major draw of the game. It’s done piece by piece, and you have full control over every aspect. You choose how big the drops are, how sharp the turns are, and how many loops, among other options. Changing the angle of a descent or the banking on a turn are done by simply clicking and dragging. You need to move the camera around much more than back in the days of isometric camera angles, but the possibilities here are so much greater without that restriction.
You can get as crazy as you want, but remember the rides need to be viable. Your world record breaking coaster probably isn’t going to earn its investment back if it’s guaranteed to make riders sick. Balancing g-forces, speed, nausea, fear, excitement, and aesthetics is the most challenging thing you can do here. You don’t want a train going over the top of a hill at 100 mph, for example, unless you’re trying to make your guests sick. You’ll spend a lot of time tweaking peaks, valleys, and corners of your wild creations, trying to nail the timings down to perfection.
Just playing around in sandbox mode is most enjoyable to me. Without the constraints of budget managing I am free to build a park however I want. There are a handful of themes available, from Tropical to Alpine, which serve as your blank canvas awaiting your designs.
Lakes, caves, rolling mountains, anything you can think of, you can probably make it with Planet Coaster’s terrain tools. Rides and buildings are easily shareable through Steam Workshop, giving those of us not quite as skilled at making our thoughts come to life some extra help. There are thousands of files available already, including this Hyrule Castle interpretation.
Custom signage is available so you can call your food shop whatever you want. You can raise and lower individual pieces of scenery, or rotate at will. Combine all these tools together and you never have to worry about seeing the same shops strewn about the map. With boundless freedom, learning how it all works can be a bit intimidating. However, the Steam Workshop can come into play here too, with creators offering up customized buildings that house multiple facilities, like a large pirate ship that is home to food, drink, first aid, and restrooms.
In the most complimentary way possible, Planet Coaster is a danger to my personal well-being. Without the buzzing notifications of a cell phone I could easily get lost in this game just like I have in the past. It’s a testament to how this is both engaging and relaxing at the same time. There’s no tension in running up against a timer or losing that last life. At the same time, the ability to create as I please keeps me hooked without my mind wandering to “what else could I be doing right now?” Sometimes I credit games with evoking the “one more round” feeling, but Planet Coaster does that one better, with the “I should have been in bed hours ago” thoughts. I bring this up as both the highest of praise and a reminder to make sure you keep frequent checks on the clock.
Career & Challenge
If you’re looking for more directed gameplay, Career mode might be for you. You’ll be thrust into different scenarios and given a few goals to achieve at each location. Early on, this serves to teach you how to hire employees and place pre-built rides. A neat small touch is the ability to transfer a Career save into Sandbox, which is nice if you want a jumpstart on creating a park and really like one of the Career locations.
Challenge mode is basically Sandbox but with money management. Higher difficulty levels increase how much money you’ll have to spend to build your park. Rides will break down more quickly, research will be costlier and take longer, and guests won’t be as impressed with your offerings. I prefer the carefree stylings of Sandbox, but if you’re into micromanaging all the way down to the ledger, you’ll be right at home with Challenge mode.
The scope of what Planet Coaster achieves is impressive, but all that underlying simulation processing comes at the cost of relatively high system requirements. Recommended equipment is the following:
- Processor: Intel i7-4770/AMD FX-8350
- Memory: 12 GB RAM
- Graphics: nVidia GTX 980 (4GB)/AMD R9 380 (4GB)
The minimum specs call only for an Intel i5-2300, but regardless, this is not a game that will run satisfactorily on a lower end machine. I had to run the graphics settings lower than I’d like to, but it never hampered my enjoyment. If Planet Coaster eventually receives VR support, I believe it will be a showpiece title you’d want to have all your friends try out.
The new leader in the theme park simulator genre, Planet Coaster brings the classic RollerCoaster Tycoon formula screaming into the modern day. A campaign mode makes learning the techniques easy for new players. The terrain tools allow near limitless creativity, but you can also just as easily browse the Steam Workshop for access to thousands of user created additions to your parks. It’s pretty much everything I could want out of one of my all-time favorite genres. Just be sure to set an alarm so 3 a.m. doesn’t sneak up on you.