“If you are even a minor fan of the Ghostbusters franchise, you will feel like you have been slapped in the face with value for money.”
Back in the good ol’ days of my relative youth, I thoroughly enjoyed a good theme park sim. From Bullfrog’s Theme Park itself, through three installments of Roller Coaster Tycoon and a brief flirt with Thrillville, I have been around the proverbial houses more than a couple of times. As such, I also know what I like when it comes to these kind of games, which has sometimes caused me to shy away from the new, big and shiny beast that is Frontier’s Planet Coaster. The game itself has long looked exciting to me, but fear has held me back. Alas, now that I have had the chance to jump in, I realise that sometimes the leap itself is the hardest part of the problem…
Planet Coaster offers player much more creative freedom and physics-based realism that I have had the chance to experience in other theme park simulators. There are two main sides to the game; park management and roller coaster design. For the former, players can choose to enjoy an open sandbox gamemode, or dive into one of a series of campaigns; one of which being the newly released Ghostbusters-themed DLC. Before we talk about the introduction of ghosts and ghoulies into the Planet Coaster lore, though, lets go over some basics of how it feel to play the game.
When you go to get started, you reach what I found to be the game’s greatest flaw. Rather than offering a fully-fledged, feature-filled tutorial to teach you how to play, the game opts instead for a series of videos to show you the ropes. I found this to be highly disappointing. The production of the videos themselves was fine, but learning by doing in a game such as this has always felt to me to be the best method. I watched the first video, but my desire to get going and play led me to try and learn by myself. This posed its own set of challenges.
Diving into the first campaign of the game, the objectives are simple and go some way to helping you find your way around slowly. They do not instruct you as to where to find different features or how to complete each task, but the little direction they did offer made it far easier to know what I should be looking for; as opposed to searching around blindly. Some elements of the game felt familiar thanks to my experience with other genre titles. Placing rides and shops is quick, easy and simple, as is adjusting elements such as pricing and laying down suitable queues. The biggest challenge of placement comes with the option of free movement. Trying to keep everything neat and tidy to satisfy an OCD mind becomes impossible the first time you try to manually rotate a burger stand, but ticking a box will allow you to lock these angles into place. It was the other menus and the introduction of coasters which first posed a real challenge.
Staffing your park, setting up your research and marketing campaigns and monitoring your finances are all commonplace within the theme park sim genre, but Planet Coaster attempts to go deeper into these aspects. In doing so, the meus of the game can look daunting at first and become somewhat hard to navigate. For the first hour or two, I found it hard to monitor the cash flow effectively or to identify exactly what I was researching. These elements became clearer with time, but some players may be put off by these aspects if they too skipped a few of the tutorial video notes. Placing a coaster for the first time is a daunting prospect too. Gargantuan beasts that like nothing to be even vaguely in their way, Planet Coaster’s coasters are a pain to find space in a park for. Often you have to adjust the height of the coaster in order to avoid any obstacles in its path, but this introduces a new set of challenges such as elevated queues which can be equally difficult to nail down correctly. Things can get messy fast. In a game named Planet Coaster, I feel like the placement of the title ride should not be such a stressful experience.
Crafting your own coasters, on the other hand, is challenging yet delightful. Planet Coaster semi does away with the concept of prefab parts, allowing you to design your dream ride almost to a tee. Naturally, you can only open a ride in your park if you can successfully test it first. That being said, the first time you successfully create a coaster so ridiculous it doesn’t look like it should exist is fantastic fun. As with many other games, creating something of your own as the centrepiece is a thoroughly satisfying experience. The only downside in Planet Coaster’s method is it requires you to have the time, patience and persistence to craft your dreams or nightmares within the realms of working physics, within a system that offers you the total freedom to break it.
The base game of Planet Coaster is very enjoyable. It feels like Theme Park for grown-ups, allowing you to create and micromanage the things that past games could only leave you longing for. It has its flaws, and can feel overly complex and pedantic at times, for sure, but it is still the best modern theme park sim on the market. That brings us onto the Ghostbusters DLC package, then. Newly introduced to the game with a wealth of models, rides and thematic niceties for your park, the Ghostbusters DLC can similarly be played in sandbox play or in an all-new campaign. Naturally, I jumped into the latter to get the full experience.
First off, it is only fair to say that based on other recent Ghostbusters-related properties, my expectations surrounding this DLC were somewhat limited. However, it is equally fair to say that the new campaign and features far exceeded these expectations. Whilst the campaign story is the cheese-filled extravaganza you may expect, I found myself fully sucked into a thematic world which made Planet Coaster feel entirely fresh and exciting having played a couple of the normal campaigns. The premise, in short, is that the Ghostbusters themselves are in a disagreement with the semi-pre-built park’s upper management. The Ghostbusters want to use the ghosts in the park to their advantage, but management don’t believe that these spooky ghouls even exist. It’s the Ghostbusters story you know and love, but in theme park form. Couple this nonsensical story arc with the overwhelming quantity and quality of Ghostbusters-themed assets which have been added to the game, and you have yourself a surprising deep and immersive experience.
The way the game plays is largely similar to the main game, with the addition of catching ghosts in the park here and there when they cause chaos. The campaign objectives and themed assets are what largely carries the overall experience; something they do exceptionally well. If you are even a minor fan of the Ghostbusters franchise, you will feel like you have been slapped in the face with value for money. Every new coaster, ride, shop and object is carefully and expertly crafted to create an entirely new Planet Coaster experience; even including a giant Stay Puft marshmallow man. Outstanding move! Should it take your fancy, you can even enjoy a ride on a movie-inspired shooting game; taking you through all of your favourite scenes. Even the voice actors who lead you through the loose but somehow enticing story are high-quality and believably the real thing. I found myself repeatedly reaffirming that this should work, but it really, absolutely does. Indeed, the Ghostbusters DLC has been my favourite experience with Planet Coaster thus far.
If you have the dedication, commitment and inclination to learn to play Planet Coaster, the game will offer you a thoroughly good time in return. It is a steep hurdle to get over to begin with, but the freedom to create and enjoy which the game provides is worth the effort for those willing to stick with it. If you have the finances to do so, however, I highly recommend coupling the main game with the new Ghostbuster DLC. Somehow, the pairing is a match made in heaven and is certain to bring you all of the joy and nostalgia you desire. The DLC itself represents great value for money and is perhaps the best campaign the game has to offer. Perhaps less so for the casual sim player but ideal for the dedicated fan, Planet Coaster is a worthy addition to your library which offers more enjoyment the longer you play it.