Few games were as anticipated, or as mildly disappointing, last year than RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, the latest in the gargantuan mainstream hit series based on the simple idea that building theme parks can be an addictively fun and family-friendly affair. The first RollerCoaster Tycoon practically kick-started the entire Tycoon game genre by selling millions of copies, and so there were many fans eagerly awaiting the third game in the series and the big leap to 3D that it represented. And while RCT3 did deliver on the graphics, it stumbled a bit in terms of gameplay. It also felt like it was rushed out early, suffering from a myriad of bugs and other weird gameplay issues. Well, the good news is that, almost nine months later, Frontier has turned out RollerCoaster Tycoon 3: Soaked!, the first expansion pack for the game. Not only does Soaked! include all the latest updates to clean up the gameplay, but it also tosses in a ton of new content that's beautiful to behold.
As you can probably guess from the name, Soaked! is all about getting wet, but in a good way. Water is very much the theme of this expansion, from fantastic, imaginative waterslides to giant wave pools, killer whale shows, and more, all packed into eight brand-new scenarios. In addition to all the water, there is a sandbox mode that lets you create your own park from scratch. Like before, the single-player "campaign" (and we use that term loosely) starts you off with three scenarios unlocked. Each scenario has three different levels of difficulty, and all you have to do is accomplish the most basic goals to unlock another scenario. However, you can keep on playing a scenario to unlock the more-advanced goals, which provides hours of gameplay for each scenario as you carefully accumulate the money and research to create an even more-spectacular park.
These new scenarios offer a nice bit of variety, from the Loch Ness-like Monster Lake map that features beautiful green hills and a tranquil lakeside setting to the desert-based Fountain of Youth, which rises out of a hole in the desert to encompass the surrounding landscape. But what's most impressive about these settings is the amount of imagination that each possesses, and it's almost daunting to think that, with practice, you too can build something as wondrous and daring. It'll take quite a bit of practice, though, as the user interface remains about the same as that from RollerCoaster Tycoon 3. And if there's one complaint we have regarding the interface, it's that it feels unnecessarily complex. Frontier has its own conventions for basic interface issues--such as main menu screens--to confuse you, and trying to manipulate all the little buttons in order to design and fine-tune a ride or coaster can be halfway maddening at times, especially when you accidentally erase a tile or object, which happens far too often. Of course, practice does make perfect, and if you get to Soaked!, odds are that you're a RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 veteran by now, anyway. But if you're new to the series, or picking up Soaked! after a long interlude away from the main game, then be prepared for a learning curve.
Soaked! does feature plenty of improvement to the core gameplay, as well. Gone is the bewildering peep behavior from the main game. For example, in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, rides went from being red hot to ice cold inexplicably within a matter of moments, and trying to decipher your peeps' behavior was baffling at times. Now there's much more of a logical cause-and-effect relationship between you and your peeps, as you can adjust the many different prices and variables to your heart's content and see how they react to them. And once again, Soaked! proves that RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 is a micromanager's dream, as you can control everything from the amount of pickles and condiments that customers can put on their burgers to choreographing the laser light shows, fireworks, and dolphin acts. It's so easy to get lost in all the little minutia of the game, and before you know it, you realize that you've been charmed by it all. It's simply fun to watch your peeps have fun, whether it's jumping into a pool or dragging their friends onto a wild ride. Or if they shake their heads at a souvenir counter, you want to know why so you can address the issue. (Thankfully, all it takes is to select a peep to see his or her thoughts.)
Considering that it requires about the same amount of computational power as RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, it's impressive the way Soaked! improves on the graphics of that game, mainly through the excellent water effects. Water simply looks realistic, and it's so cool because there are many ways that you can interact with it. For example, you can stir a pool up with your cursor and watch the peeps react to the waves, or you can move the camera too close and see water splash onto the screen. It's also fun to see all the new interactions your peeps have with the environment, like how they paddle along on their inflated swim toys, or watch the gorgeous and elaborate Las Vegas-style mock sea battles. There are a few blemishes, though. The collision between peeps and their environments seems a bit off in places, and you'll see peeps meld into their deck chairs and other pieces of furniture like they're being swallowed alive. Meanwhile, the light bloom effects are lavished in disgusting amounts, making it all but useless to sort out any graphical details. It's best to simply turn it off to begin with. The expansion is rather hit or miss in terms of audio, as the effects remain good (and they sound downright great on a surround-sound system), but the music is still a bit too New Age for our tastes. It can be very mellow at times, which doesn't feel like the right tone for a theme park game.
Soaked! represents a nice improvement over the original game, and overall it's a great expansion that adds plenty of new content while also addressing some of the glaring gameplay issues of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.