Has it really been over a decade since Roller-Coaster Tycoon 3 was released? Wait, is it really, really twenty years since Bullfrog's Theme Park came out? Apparently so and it would appear that Frontier have noticed this too as, with their latest release they bring us the successor to both of these fantastic titles.
To anyone who has played the above games, the setting will feel familiar (perhaps too familiar -but we'll get to that). You're tasked with creating the most beautiful, thrill-packed, profit-making crowd-pleasing amusement park in the world. Sounds easy enough, especially since Frontier have kindly provided you with scores of rides, dozens of coasters and plenty of shops and objects to decorate your vacation spot. Stopping you from reaching your goals are challenges such as rough terrain which needs to be worked around, breaking rides, crippling loan repayments and surly staff members who demand better wages and training to keep them satisfied. Rides are limited to begin with but unlock through research and development allowing you to build bigger and better attractions over time.
The game itself settles into three main modes of play; Career- which involves starting with nothing but an entrance gate, a handful of money and a few goals spread across different landscapes. Next up is Challenge which gives you a unique scenario such as an ailing park full of ancient rides which have a tendency to break, and a limited amount of money to reach your objectives. Finally there's a Sandbox mode which simply gives you all the objects and rides, unlimited cash and a huge open space to create the perfect playground.
So, how does it play? This is a difficult one to answer because it really does depend on what you want to get out of the game. From a creative point of view the game is almost faultless. The objects are plentiful and with patience and just a little skill you can create just about anything you can dream up to decorate your rides, shops and areas of interest. The addition of a Steam Workshop means that if you're not that creative, you have almost an endless supply of beautiful objects created by the community which you can plop straight into your own park in just a few seconds.
The level of detail in the objects (particularly the coasters and rides) is wonderful. From the way the floors drop away on the 'hanging' roller-coasters to the intricate animations of the staff, you'll find yourself occasionally just stopping to admire your creations as you go. Sound design is equally accomplished. The sounds of the coasters match every curve and brake section on your custom built tracks and the guests have an entire language of their own called PlanCo which, although gibberish, is completely understandable. The soundtrack is also blended perfectly into the game and soothes you during building sessions but is too good to be counted as 'background noise'.
I have to admit to playing the game for more than 200 hours at the time of writing this and took the opportunity of trialing it during Alpha and Beta stages. I've seen it develop over that time into exactly the game that I wanted but that doesn't mean it's perfect. Limitations in the game do surface in the career and challenge scenarios however. The management side of things feels a little light and although these modes of play offer a little bit of extended lifespan to the game, they are too slight to ever feel like a full game. Sadly, the challenges presented in those aforementioned coaster games were just as good but after a decade or so since those titles came to market, today's audiences tend to expect a little more. Perhaps this oversight will be improved upon with further updates from the developers.
Overall this is an accomplished title and a worthy successor to those previously mentioned games. I'm still hooked after many months of play and just love the ability to create with almost limitless possibilities. If you want to settle back and play with the ultimate Lego set then come aboard but if you're looking for a deep management simulation, perhaps you should check back in a few months and see how things shape up.