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Planet Coaster

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Simulation
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'Planet Coaster'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 13, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Planet Coaster will be the new destination for everyone who cares about creative gaming, coaster parks and involving management sims.

Buy Planet Coaster

It has been quite some time since amusement park simulators were en vogue. At one time, games like Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon were huge, and the idea of managing more specialized facilities was really taking off. After many successes, the genre had gone quiet, and fans made do with older games. Like most seemingly dead genres do nowadays, the amusement park simulator has made a comeback with not one but three different games. Thus far, Parkitect is making waves in Steam Early Access while Rollercoaster Tycoon World hasn't been able to get rid of the negative stigma it received in Early Access. That leaves Planet Coaster to restart the spark for running amusement parks, and to everyone's relief, it works.

Planet Coaster has three modes, but no matter which one you choose, you'll start off in one of five themes. A Western theme lets you re-create a fun Wild West park. You can delve into a more medieval setting with the Fantasy theme, complete with loads of gray stone structures. The Pirate theme is full of pirate ships, royal navy, and cannons going off every now and then. The Sci-Fi theme draws more from classic instead of modern science fiction, with UFOs and robots surrounded by a clean steel atmosphere. Finally, there's the generic theme park, which feels like what we got from the older titles.

Of the three modes, those new to the genre would most likely gravitate toward Career mode, since it acts like an interactive tutorial. You'll have to fulfill some simple goals, like reaching an attendance milestone, placing a number of rides in the park, or hitting a monetary threshold, but you'll do that in mostly pre-made parks. The goals use a medal ranking system, with gold being the highest rank, but you'll easily reach it since the game gives you many opportunities.

Challenge mode is where genre veterans will want to spend their time because it adds more obstacles to the goals. The standard roadblocks are there, like having limited funds, things breaking down more often, and general worker or attendee unhappiness. While those problems and solutions remain unchanged, other oddities are added for good measure, such as a monster haunting the grounds or an obelisk that changes people's moods.  They provide some unexpected challenges that are enjoyable to overcome.

To help tackle these issues, you can manipulate prices for rides and change the employee wages. You can even add fees to things that don't have them, like bathrooms and ATMs. Ride placement and orientation is up to you, and the same goes for decor and eateries. The game also comes with plenty of default rides and buildings, so you already have an extensive set to work with. You can also raise and lower the land as you see fit, so your park doesn't sit on a completely flat space. Again, they're all familiar tasks, but the execution is done well enough that you won't mind the lack of innovation.

Sandbox mode is basically Challenge mode but in a more unshackled state. Funds are limitless, goals are nonexistent, and land is expansive. It's the perfect mode for those who want to mess around with the game without having to worry about other factors. As a bonus, the saved games for both Sandbox and Challenge modes are compatible, so you can build the park you want in Sandbox and take it to Challenge to see how it fares with obstacles in play, or vice versa, where you can take a failing Challenge park and fix it up in Sandbox.

To help you create these theme park masterpieces, the developers have provided some pretty powerful tools. Creating roller coasters is a perfect example of this, as you can create the exact route you want as well as the scenery that goes along with it. After test runs, the tools will give you a detailed reading of excitement and nausea levels for each section, and you'll even get heatmaps of the best and worst parts of the coaster. You can also ride the coaster yourself in first-person view to see what it would be like, though there's no word yet about whether this'll get upgraded to use VR.

One thing you'll discover rather quickly is that the tools have a real learning curve to them. Taking them on in a trial-by-fire way works to an extent, but there's a lot of trial and error involved with a system that isn't immediately intuitive. Playing through Career mode helps, but there are some nuances at the end. If you want a video tutorial, you won't get it in-game as much as you'll get the Steam overlay with a small web browser window linked to their YouTube page. That makes it easier for them to add or correct videos as needed, but it doesn't feel very polished.

Once you come to grips with how the building tools work, you'll realize that you have nearly limitless capabilities to manipulate and create. Every aspect of every building, ride, and piece of decor can be modified to the point where you can create something completely unrecognizable from the original article. Things as simple as a merry-go-round can look different since you can change the signs above it or add exploding streamer cannons throughout, so it feels like you're in a constant parade even though the main mechanic of the merry-go-round is still intact. Even with five themes to work with, you get the feeling that there are so many more things you could create if given the time to do so.

If you're not the creative type, you can use what the community has created and, it doesn't take long before you end up in the rabbit hole of content. All of the content from the alpha period onward has been kept online, and the number of items available to use is already in the high thousands. The community has done a great job of creating original and familiar structures. We've already seen things like Hogwarts and the Millennium Falcon re-created in the game, so you are set if you want to reimagine Universal Studios or Disney World or any number of the Six Flags parks. The same goes for some homages, like the amazing Firewatch-inspired coaster and any number of original creations. Browsing for them is very easy, as is implementing them in your park, so you'll no doubt see numerous videos online that show off the final results.

All of this leads to the most important part of Planet Coaster: the fun factor. Even with the various obstacles meant to be challenging, the game never loses sight of the fact that it wants to remain a fun and bubbly experience, similar to the feeling of visiting an actual theme park. The sense of fun is further amplified by a soundtrack that is joyous but not cheesy. It sounds like modern upbeat folk music that you'd hear on the radio every now and then. The graphics also convey this by letting you go down to street level and seeing the emotive faces of the people in the park. It does more to identify the mood than the charts do, and it makes the game more personable in the process.

Your opinion of Planet Coaster will be completely dependent on what you're seeking. As a management simulator, it hits the basics but doesn't introduce anything revolutionary. As a creation game, it shines because the design tools are powerful and the amount of structures that can be used is almost limitless thanks to a vibrant and active community. Ultimately, the game is fun once you get a grasp of the tools, and it's an excellent title to jumpstart a revival in theme park simulators.

Score: 8.5/10

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