Frontier Developments has produced a fine theme park simulator with Planet Coaster, a polished title which keeps things fun, fast, and consistently entertaining.
With the arrival of Planet Coaster this November, the clash of the titans has finally arrived: both Planet Coaster and its obvious rival Rollercoaster Tycoon World launched this month, leaving many theme park simulation fans wondering which game represents the best value for their buck. As it turns out, Frontier Developments' Planet Coaster stacks up very well against the more established competition, providing a polished and highly customizable experience that mixes things up much in the same way Cities: Skyline did.
As players enter the land of Planet Coaster, they'll be met with Frontier Developments' mascot crazily running around. It's oddly befitting of the game, which goes out of its way to show how hectic things can get in theme parks. Players will be able to build almost anything they can imagine, and by doing so soon the paths of the park will become full of hundreds of patrons, each with their own plans, thoughts, preferences, and expectations. The world is the player's oyster - they can create hell incarnate, or recreate Hogwarts from the ground up. This is the sequel to Rollercoaster Tycoon that players wanted.
As fans had expected, customization is the bread and butter of the entire Planet Coaster experience, and that's clear right from the get go: Frontier Developments has made just about every aspect within each park customizable, from the actual shapes and textures of scenery and rides, to triggered laser effects, or even how many spin cycles an attraction goes around for. Players can adjust how much cheese goes on each deluxe burger sold, or hobble together a prop Marcus Fenix using the custom shapes in their creative arsenal. Since the game is linked in with the Steam Workshop, players can also share their impressive creations, and that means that the game already had thousands of impressive building designs right at launch - and that catalog is only growing bigger.
Designing coasters has never been easier, either, thanks to a new system that allows gamers to adjust each piece of track to any length, angle, and rotation. Categories of prefabricated pieces are also included so gamers can quickly get that perfect corkscrew, and a handy 'auto complete' button will help drive the track back to the station if players are satisfied with the bulk of the main design and want to quickly complete the track. Thanks to the plentiful amount of scenery objects and movement-triggered effects, designing coasters has simply never been this satisfying in any previous theme park title.
Despite this, the user interface of Planet Coaster isn't the most intuitive system, and new players may find themselves simply overwhelmed by the options presented to them. Thankfully, Planet Coaster eases players into things, and gamers won't feel rushed as they slowly learn how to navigate the rather large park spaces available to them - which, unlike Zoo Tycoon, they can actually fill up to the brim. The cartoonish 3D environment looks finely polished, and Planet Coaster does a great job in populating each theme park with believable patrons: kids run around willy-nilly as family groups chat, patrons have lunch, teens look for the scariest ride, and janitors sweep along the paths attempting to clean up the mess left in everyone's wake, possibly grumbling about low paychecks while they do it. It's chaos, but that's what an amusement park is supposed to be.
The game admittedly stumbles when it comes to providing some of the challenge that the later levels of Rollercoaster Tycoon were known for, as little of the game's campaign mode will ever truly test a player's skill. Once players harbor a general knowledge of how to price rides, hire staff, and fulfill the basic necessities of the park, they'll be able to handle any of the campaign parks with ease. Challenge Mode, as the title suggests, will dole out the most difficult of the game's tasks, but even it won't provide a strong barrier for talented simulation fans.
Behind the scenes, the spreadsheet-filled park management system offers a glimpse into numerical data analysis many simulation fans will love, but there's little to do with that knowledge: advertising campaigns seem to consistently bring in growing amounts of people, so any player hurting for money seems to have a trump card up their sleeve. Still, it's neat to see how many cowboy hats are inexplicably selling in one's pirate-themed park. While seeing the template parks in the campaign is fun, each mission's limited research menus means that sandbox mode will always be the main attraction, and with due cause: the replayability potential here is off the charts.
Planet Coaster knows its strengths. It's an absolute blast to build attractions and customize each park's look from the ground up, and the game consistently keeps things fun and light. It's hard to shake a feeling of utter satisfaction when one grabs a first-person seat and rides through a freshly built coaster, or watches as a series of triggers make a giant leviathan pop out of a lake every time guests walk near it. The game gives players the ability to create just about anything, giving everyone a significantly deep and highly replayable sandbox experience. Planet Coaster is the theme park simulator fans of the genre have been waiting for, and while it may not offer any big surprises in regards to the gameplay formula itself, it can still entertain for countless hours - this is one ride simulation fans won't want to get off of.
Planet Coaster is available now on PC. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.