Let’s be honest here – it’s not exactly surprising to see a tonne of bold claims being batted around over the latest video game releases, is it? Far too often do we see new titles branded as “innovative”, “revolutionary”, and “original” – and more often than not these kinds of statements are fired off amidst a buzz of excitement and marketing mumbo-jumbo. Every year without fail we hear the same, tired phrases that have now become so predictable that playing a game of “E3 Bingo” these days has become almost too easy. Whether it’s in the form of PR straight from the developer/publisher themselves, a lengthy preview from your favourite gaming website, or the chatter from an incredibly excited fan caught aboard the hype train – how often do these claims ever ring true when you experience the full-game for yourself?
“Let your imagination run wild with the future of coaster park simulation games”.
This – the tagline for Frontier Developments’ latest video game, Planet Coaster – actually bares plenty of truth. Put simply: in my opinion, Planet Coaster most definitely is the future, and its well-crafted suite of creation tools fully allows the player to create in ways that other games of its style could only ever dream of. Very rarely do any games fully embrace the same joy of creation, yet within my time spent with the game, Planet Coaster consistently entertains with its ridiculous possibilities of creation. Allowing players to take pride in what they build by fully supporting the ability to implement smaller, subtle details within their parks, literally hours of your time can be spent creating just one small aspect of the bigger picture. This isn’t a problem, however, as creation is what Planet Coaster does best, and it’s incredibly satisfying seeing your concepts come to life and be enjoyed by hundreds of virtual guests.
Brought to life thanks to a superb cartoon presentation style, the game oozes such a distinct, charming visual quality that it’s hard to produce anything that isn’t easily packed with personality. Catering for five unique park themes: Pirate, Fairytale, Planet Coaster, Western & Sci-Fi, there’s a tonne of variety packed into the game as each theme brings its own flavours and splash of character. Though it’s not an immediate walk in the park to create such fantastic scenes – the game unfortunately lacks any real tutorial – after a few hours of playing around and discovering things for yourself, the comfort eventually sets in and it’s easy to get hooked and create something truly impressive.
Thrown into a scenario and given a large space of land to work with, it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed by the options available to you. In many instances, you’ll be working with what is essentially a blank canvas, and with a variety of differently styled locations to choose from, your creations could take you anywhere. Presented with a tonne of creation tools as well as a generously sized selection of rides, attractions, and coasters – it’s no surprise that the first few hours of Planet Coaster can be a little rocky at times as you learn to navigate the UI, as well understand how the game itself works. With so much at your disposal, it can be hard knowing where to start, but once you’ve found your feet, creating becomes second-nature, and the developers have done well to design a set of tools that are (largely) frustration-free.
Terrain editing, for example, is incredibly easy to pick up and create quality results with in little to no time. With a wide array of functions that can be used to totally transform the land at your disposal, ambitious and interesting landscapes can be promptly created. Want to create a series of mountains? Thinking of including a giant lake? A lovely beach setting, perhaps? It’s all made possible with what is basic tools, and thanks to a clearly presented and intuitive UI (a quality that is mirrored throughout the entire game), it really couldn’t be any easier.
The ‘building’ suite is another highlight that, once again, is smoothly integrated into the game and allows for rapid results. Accommodating the ability to create custom sets, buildings, or whatever else you have in mind, parks can be populated with a variety of creations to really make them appear as something special. With plenty of modular pieces to choose and work with, the openness of these custom assets can ultimately lead to creations with unique qualities and a tonne of personality. General scenery creation is also incredibly easy, and thanks to the high level of control and placement that the game allows, objects can easily be manipulated to present your parks in just the way you want them.
Now then, a game called ‘Planet Coaster’ wouldn’t be so impressive if it didn’t support quality tools to create your very own rollercoasters, would it? Well, Frontier have very easily avoided that embarrassment and developed a toolkit that brings a lot of choice to the table. Featuring a large catalogue of rides in general, the game especially boasts a number of coaster variants that you can build entirely from scratch. Of course, there are pre-made rides available, but where’s the fun in that? Similarly to the rest of the games creation tools, it’s a lot of fun diving in and committing your time to creation, and it’s incredibly satisfying when you build the coaster of your dreams and see the crowds coming in thick and fast. Coaster building is undoubtedly challenging though, and is probably the hardest element of creation on offer as you have to find a nice balance between something that brings excitement, while keeping fear and sickness to a minimum. With many track pieces to add as you so please, unique coasters are very easily built, and it’s easy to get carried away and go a little too crazy, but because of the customisation options open to you as well as a speedy building process, it’s constantly a joy.
While as a whole the game supports a strong set of tools, I did add that they were only “largely” free of annoyances, and aside from occasional camera frustrations that make creating from some perspectives a little difficult at times, the path tool is the main offender that lets the squad down. In essence, it can be extremely fiddly and frustrating to use at times when wanting to create something complex rather than a standard stretch of pathing. When wanting to create the latter, the tool is very easy and pain-free, but when you’re attempting to build the former it can not only become an irritating experience, but it can also become a drawn-out affair. With elements of creation only being bound to fixed, grid-positioning when it is allowed and wanted, the rulebook is very much thrown out of the window for the most part, and as a result of this, this feature feels less user-friendly than it should be and I can’t help but wish for better control in these cases.
Despite how detailed players can go with their creations, however, the game is accessible enough as to not totally force this aspect on everybody. In other words, you don’t have to slave over a tonne of deep customisation if you don’t want to. Though the aforementioned tools to edit terrain and build custom buildings are ever present, those who want to build a quality park but don’t want to get too dirty with the details can avoid a lot of these features all together and still get their hands on quality creations. While I personally loved every second of creating lush environments to fit around my rides, the developers realise that not everybody has this same passion, let alone the time to fully commit to this, and with a fantastic implementation of the Steam Workshop, the game is elevated to new heights as players can freely save their custom creations as ‘blueprints’ and then upload them for others to download and use for themselves.
Opening up a whole load of custom content that is readily available to every user of the game, the workshop integration is a real game changer that only serves to improve the entire experience. As of the time of this review, there are over 26,000 blueprints already uploaded to the system – all of which are a mixture of buildings, scenery objects, rollercoasters, and even entire theme parks – and as the community becomes further invested within the game and expands to new heights, this type of content can only get better and multiply. Simply subscribe to something you like, and then from there you can use it yourself and save plenty of time. Some might call this lazy, but I’d say that it only goes to boost the amount of opportunities open to each player, and in a game such as this, that’s a pretty huge deal.
While building, creating, and realising your wildest concepts is an accomplishment that Planet Coaster achieves with ease, let’s not forget this is also a game that mixes in elements of park management too. This is a tycoon-style game after all, but thankfully this game has that aspect covered too, and while it may not be as deep as the game’s customisation options, it’s a well-realised layer that works well with the gameplay and adds more than enough without getting too much in the way of the game’s main appeal of creation.
It’s all well and good kitting out the environment with plenty of rides and shops that keep guests happy, but if you can’t afford to keep any of them open, your park will simply fail. Thankfully, the park management tab has you covered, and serves a big help when wanting to make your park a success. Allowing park assets and stats to be viewed through easy-to-digest graphs, tables, and menu screens, the park management tools display important info that can be monitored with ease – an aspect especially convenient when assessing park finances. Money is the be all and end all in any management video game, but if money is a little too low and you could do with a helping hand, Planet Coaster offers the ability to borrow out loans, but this of course carries risk as you are forced to juggle between paying it off as well as affording ongoing staff wages and operation costs.
Research is another feature that can be actioned through these tools also, meaning that new rides, shops and facilities can be unlocked if you have the money to fund it, and marketing campaigns can be created too as a means to draw in more guests. Adding further control to park operations, the management tab also allows for the hiring and control of staff members, an absolutely essential aspect for theme park success. Cleaners, mechanics, and even entertainers can be brought in to keep guests happy and maintain the park in good working order, and as well as having the option to ‘upgrade’ staff members through training, their work patterns can also be controlled too and specific areas can be assigned if necessary. Though it may sound rather complex on paper, in practice all of these tools are really simple to use and interpret, keeping the management aspect away from too many complexities, but not dulling it down entirely so that it lacks much depth.
Offering multiple ways of experiencing Planet Coaster, the game includes three distinct game modes that each bring their own unique ways of playing. As is typical of such games, Planet Coaster includes a ‘Career’ mode that pushes players to combine both their management brain with their creative muscle in order to succeed. With different theme sets to play through, each offering multiple park scenarios each and a gradual increase in difficulty, these career parks are a legitimate challenge that test you in how efficient, clever, and creative you can become. Often limiting the tools at your disposal and forcing you to work around the existing state of the park and its terrain, completing these scenarios can become a real headache, but it’s always incredibly satisfying when you make substantial progress and turn the park around. Based around fulfilling set requirements and earning a rank based on your success, the types of challenges you are tasked with aren’t entirely unique between all scenarios, but they do manage to feel refreshing given how vastly different each park is. Though this mode lacks the high levels of replayability found throughout the rest of the games’ other offerings, it’s certainly a large time sink and a welcome addition for those players really looking at testing their skills.
What would probably be referred to as the most ‘standard’ mode of the bunch, ‘Sandbox’ is exactly as the name implies – it offers you the freedom to do whatever you wish with zero limitations. With unlimited cash and all rides, objects, and buildings open to you from the start, you’re free to create to your hearts content and worry about nothing else – a mode for the creation purists, indeed. Also included is the game’s ‘Challenge’ mode, an offering best described as a half-way point between sandbox and career that focusses heavily on park management while guiding player progress through generating a number of challenges on the fly, completion of which grants additional, much-needed financial support. Warning that players must be mindful of their finances throughout, unsurprisingly the game makes it clear that this mode is for those looking for a challenge, and while certainly difficult to get to grips with initially, your parks soon flourish if you work hard enough and become wise about how you build and expand. With a handful of different difficulty levels to play at that effect how tough the path ahead becomes, this mode delivers on plenty of replayability, but above all else, is very enjoyable if you have the patience to power through and effectively manage your cash flow. All these modes combined with the aforementioned solid mechanics fortunately gel together seamlessly to make any time spent with this game, regardless of the mode, one hell of a fun experience.
There’s simply no other way to put it, Planet Coaster is a resounding success. Created by the studio behind the critically acclaimed RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, it is to no surprise that this game is so fantastic. Building on top of solid foundations and taking creation to (much) higher levels, this really is the next step in coaster building/management titles. Never before have I felt so compelled and excited by the act of creation, yet here I am slaving away adding plenty of details to make one, tiny section of my latest park into something truly special. Whether you’re looking for some kind of nostalgia that harkens back to the coaster games of old, or are craving a game that truly lets you create with few boundaries, Planet Coaster is a game that you need right away, and in all honestly – I really cannot get enough of it!