Theme Park Roller Coaster Hands-On

EA is bringing the popular PC simulation SimTheme Park to the PS2 as Theme Park Roller Coaster. We got the chance to sit down with a US version of the game and found that the game is coming along nicely.

Sim Theme Park, a theme park simulator with a focus on the business end of running your own amusement park, is headed from the PC to the PS2. Renamed to Theme Park Roller Coaster, the PS2 game will let you design and manage variously themed amusement parks and control every aspect of your budding business, from the ticket price to the ride design. And, judging from the US build we got the chance to play, the game only needs a little tweaking here and there.

The build we've been playing had only one game mode, but we suspect that the final version may have more. The main game mode focuses on the acquisition of gold tickets. The game has several different theme parks that you can play in, and each one has a certain number of attainable tickets. You start the game with only one theme park and use the tickets you've won to purchase new theme parks. You get these tickets by completing the park's objectives - usually staying in business for a certain length of time, attracting a certain number of visitors, and making a certain profit. You can also gain extra tickets by designing your park in a smart way - by making sure there are enough trashcans near your food shops or by placing your restrooms in a close yet self-contained location. Once you've gained enough of these tickets, you can close down your park and open a brand-new one, complete with all-new rides, shops, and a different theme.

While the PC game relied on a keyboard for quick commands and a mouse for general point-and-click work, the PS2 version will rely only on the standard PS2 controller. The game accomplishes this by eliminating the mouse pointer altogether and using the left analog stick to move the general camera around. In the center of the camera is an invisible hot point that will highlight objects as you move over them. Additionally, the four face buttons of the PS2 are mapped in the upper right of the screen at all times. The function of these buttons will change depending on what is happening in the game at any point. This system lets you use the same four buttons for all sorts of different commands throughout the game. You'll also have a laptop that will help you manage all the aspects of your park. Through your laptop you'll be able to see your park's stats, change the admission price, hire and fire workers, and control your researcher's primary goals. Unfortunately, there is no option to change the overall speed of the game, so at times doing several things at once is impractical.

The meat of the game centers on building rides, attractions, shops, and features, as well as hiring and managing a staff to help you run your park. You'll start a theme park with only an entrance gate and a small path, and then you must build your park's necessities. At the outset of the game you'll have only a few different rides, shops, and attractions available to you, though you'll be able to research newer and more exciting rides, shops, and attractions once you hire researchers. Once you decide on a ride, you'll have to place its line queue and its exit point, and then you'll be able to tweak some of the ride's characteristics, such as the speed, capacity, and length of the ride. Additionally, when you build shops, you can control the quality of the product as well as the selling price. You're also in control of your side attractions, and you can tweak the odds of winning your carnival games and the value of the prizes you give to winners. All of these factors have an effect on the people in your park, and the general goal is to keep people happy so you can keep the admission price high.

There are several types of rides in Theme Park Roller Coaster. The general rides are small, self-contained rides that don't really allow you much freedom. The track rides let you build a small, 2D track for the ride to circle. You build the tour rides to circle the important parts of a bigger theme park, and people use them to move from one attraction to the next. And the roller coasters, perhaps the biggest draw of any park, give you complete control over the track. Once you build a roller coaster, you'll be able to place the track in any fashion you please, then control the elevation and tilt of each pylon to create a completely custom coaster. Once you've finished, the game will judge your coaster and give you stats on the ride's top speed, number of drops, number of negative and positive G's, and a general rating. It takes a good sense of planning to build a particularly good roller coaster, but the game rewards you considerably by drastically increasing your park's attendance.

The game also lets you hire and manage a staff to run your park. There are five types of staff members in the game: entertainers, security guards, janitors, mechanics, and researchers. The entertainers dress up in various costumes and suits and walk around your park making happy for all the kids. The security guards help control your park and keep hoodlums from leaving stink bombs in your bathrooms and spray paint on your rides. The janitors keep the park sparkling clean and patrol the bathrooms and trash areas for litter. The mechanics keep your rides from breaking down, upgrade your rides when appropriate, and repair any damage your rides incur. Lastly, the researchers come up with new and exciting things for your park. Once you hire staff members you can place them in the park and let them roam as they please, or you can set their patrol areas - a defined path for them to follow. When you have a larger park it's best to split areas up among different members of your staff, as rides tend to break down in tandem. Additionally, you'll be able to train your staff and control their wages. Keeping a small, well-trained staff with defined patrol areas is essential to running a successful theme park.

Theme Park Roller Coaster's graphics are very clean and sharp. The game has a cartoon-like look and feel to it, from balloon characters with huge heads and eyes to crazy rides you'd never see in an actual theme park. All of the buildings in the game are animated, and they show activity when they're in operation - the roller coasters run, the tilt-a-whirls spin, and even the burger shops bustle with activity. But while the overhead view is very nice, the most impressive aspect of the graphics is the ability to instantly move to a first-person perspective and roam your park yourself. From this view you can follow your attendants around, see rides from a first-person perspective, and even ride any ride in the park. Riding particularly well-built roller coasters is quite a treat. At this point the game's sound is a bit behind. While there are plenty of sound effects for the various rides, buttons, and attendance reactions, the game doesn't have any in-game music. I'm sure that EA is still busy putting the music into the game and that this will be fixed by the time the game ships.

From what we've seen, EA looks to have a definite winner on its hands. With sharp graphics, solid gameplay, and the fun of designing and running your own amusement park, Theme Park Roller Coaster will not only be the first business sim on the PS2, but it looks like it will be a very good one at that.

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