Frontier Developments has a pedigree when it comes to creating theme park simulators. Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Thrillville and Zoo Tycoon on the Xbox One demonstrate that they have a knack for crafting virtual representations of theme parks and rides. However, it was Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 and 3 that started them toward this path, with both games still being hailed as beloved classics after all these years. After a stint with Elite: Dangerous, Planet Coaster sees them return to what made them popular, and based on what we've seen so far, they are definitely on the right track.
In the alpha state, Planet Coaster only has two modes. Challenge has you attempting to turn a profit on a park that has nothing but a theme. Sandbox mode is essentially the same thing, minus the monetary goals and budget. In both cases, you're using the buildings and rides that come with the theme, but the layout of the park is all up to you.
The basic tenets of park building are all here. Rides of almost all types are here, from the steel behemoth coasters to the simple teacup ones (no wooden coasters so far). You have decorative scenery to accompany all of this, and you can terraform the land to your liking. Other facilities, like shops and bathrooms and food stands, are available, and while you can place them anywhere you want, you'll still need to have pathways to connect them all. Of course, you can modify just about anything, including the prices for the rides and food in the park.
All of this is done with an interface that's clean and very easy to read. It resembles Windows in a way, so the interface will be very familiar with anyone who's used a PC before. It also means that actions like item placement and terraforming are simple enough to perform, since it only takes a few steps to get it done. Some finger gymnastics are still needed for certain keyboard and mouse commands, but it's nothing the genre hasn't seen before.
That same ease of use is applied to the creation of just about any building you want. You can create almost anything, but most will go after the coasters. It only takes a few minutes to create a decent coaster, and it isn't difficult to modify the pieces as you're putting things together. As expected, you can ride any coasters you've created, so you can see how well it runs before opening it up to the public.
Though it doesn't really demonstrate anything new for the park builder genre, Planet Coaster supports creation sharing via Steam Workshop. When you boot up the game, you'll be shown some of the top creators at the moment, and you'll be able to peruse some of their creations. Dig into the Steam Workshop via the Steam client, and you'll see that the list of creations is very sizeable for a title that isn't widely available yet. Everything from re-creation of famous attractions to original creations are all there, and with the knowledge that this sort of thing will only grow once the game is released, it gives park builders a variety of options if they aren't proficient at building creations themselves.
As far as presentation goes, Planet Coaster is a mix of simple and beautiful. The characters look very cartoony with beads for eyes, but their expressions are very clear to read. The environments are fine, with some nice touches like water reflections, but it is the lighting system that impresses. It isn't anything that hasn't been seen before, but the transitions from day to night, along with the shadow changes, look rather nice in a genre that hasn't seen that sort of thing at a modern level.
So far, Planet Coaster is looking to be in good shape. It may not introduce anything new to the genre, but it does a fine job of nailing all of the basics that players expect. The ease of the various menu systems and their clean layout will be a welcome sight for those not familiar with the genre. Most of all, the gameplay remains fun and addictive, something that the recent Rollercoaster Tycoon World couldn't seem to pull off. Definitely keep an eye out for this one as the November release approaches.
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