|As the sun sets on the amusement park, the rides start to light up|
- Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
- Developer: Frontier Developments
- Publisher: Frontier Developments
- Release Date: 18 Nov 2016
- Time played: 32 hours
What is it
Frontier Developments is a large British development studio founded by the legendary co-creator of 1984's Elite, David Braben OBE. It was founded 10 years after Elite's release in 1994 and is a publicly listed company with over 500 employees. The company has developed games from many genres and for many platforms since the mid-1990s including 2004's Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, 2010's Kinectimals, 2013's Zoo Tycoon and (one of my favourites) 2014's Elite: Dangerous.
Frontier Developments has quite a bit of experience developing theme park games so it's probably no surprise that they eventually released Planet Coaster in 2016. In Planet Coaster you're the manager of a theme park and you're responsible for designing the rides and the park, as well as ensuring a profit is made from the selling of tickets, food and merchandise. Sounds simple doesn't it? But as it is with most business simulations, the devil is in the details.
Planet Coaster has a Metascore of 84 and a Very Positive rating on Steam based on 90% of the 36,375 user reviews being positive. The game was nominated for an award at the 13th British Academy Games Awards as well as the Develop Industry Excellence Awards in 2017.
Reviews of Planet Coaster praised the high degree of customisation available, the ability to experience the park in first person, its beautiful soundtrack and its integration with the Steam Workshop; some reviewers even claim Planet Coaster is the best in the genre and is on par with classic amusement park simulation games like Theme Park and Rollercoaster Tycoon. There were some criticisms of the game however, including performance issues as the park expanded, a steep learning curve, a lack of useful tutorials and the fact the game is great for builders but not as appealing for players wanting a challenge.
How I got it
I was a big fan of the game Theme Park when it was released way back in 1994. Managing an amusement park in terms of designing roller coasters, determining the optimal placement of rides and shops, and even resolving worker pay disputes, made for a surprisingly addictive game. I didn't really touch another amusement park management game since the 1990s despite there being several Rollercoaster Tycoon games in the interim, including ones developed by Frontier Developments, as mentioned earlier. When I saw Planet Coaster I wishlisted it for two reasons: (1) my nostalgia for amusement park management games like Theme Park and (2) because Frontier Developments were behind another game I had grown to love: Elite: Dangerous. I am fortunate to have very generous friends and once again my Steam mate Mix-Master purchased Planet Coaster as a Christmas pressie back in 2019, so we all have him to thank for this review. Thanks mate!
|Sharing content on the Steam Workshop is really easy to do|
What I like:
Amusement parks that feel alive
As your park grows larger, more and more people will come visit. The crowds of people really make the park feel alive especially when you consider that each person has different wants and needs, and consequently different preferences on what rides to go on, and which food and merchandise to purchase. You can even go into first person mode to experience the park from their perspective!
Also, if you decide to turn on day and night cycles, you can see the pretty lights of your bustling park at night, which makes for some great screenshots, especially if you have a fireworks show going on at the same time!
Planet Coaster has a great, feel-good, folksy soundtrack thanks to the efforts of Jim Guthrie (who composed the soundtrack to another game I've reviewed, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP) and J.J. Ipsen. In fact, the soundtrack is so good that its main theme called "The Light In Us All" actually somehow managed to make my top track of 2020 on Spotify. Another great one to listen to is "With Friendship & Peace". The nostalgic, summer holiday music evokes fun memories with the family; it's basically the perfect soundtrack for this sort of game.
Similarities to Theme Park
This is a pretty important yardstick for me as I was a fan of Theme Park. Thankfully, the game is as good as Theme Park if not better in some areas. All the basic elements are here, from designing your own rides and shops, managing the park finances as well as employee welfare.
Not happy with how a particular building looks? Don't worry you can customise them and believe me, despite the building blocks looking rather basic at first glance, you can let your imagination run wild in this game. Just check out some of the videos on YouTube to see how creative you can get.
Me on the other hand? I just didn't like the fact that some shops built into the side of hills were floating in mid-air. So I made sure to place some bricks underneath the corners that looked like they were floating and hey presto, the shop looked like it was embedded in the hill instead of floating on top of it. Simple, yet effective.
Easy to share things on Steam Workshop
I found the process seamless when it came to creating content for the game and then sharing it with others on the Steam Workshop. At one point, I was disappointed that there weren't shops for every brand of food in the game, so I rectified that by using some existing ones as templates, changing the vendor and then placing different signs and billboards on them. I could've just stopped there but the game makes it very easy to share your content with others on the Internet and some Steam users have even subscribed so they can use my shop designs in their own games. It feels good being able to create something that's not only useful for your game but to others in the Planet Coaster community.
Steam Achievements and Trading Cards
The game has 32 Steam Achievements you can earn and has 6 Steam Trading Cards to collect.
|Once your park starts to get really big, the framerate starts to drop|
What I dislike:
Noticeable framerate drops when park gets larger
One of my amusement parks covers about half the land allocated and despite there still being a lot of space left to expand the park my computer is already struggling with the sheer number of things it needs to process. This manifests itself as a steady decline in the framerate which is unfortunate since it almost gets to the point where you don't want to build a big park for this very reason. Perhaps being able to scale park size to the performance of your computer would've been a solution to this issue.
Coasters are time consuming and expensive to get right
Most rides are just a matter of plonking them down and raking in the cash. Designing roller coasters however is a more time consuming experience and they can cost you a lot of money for little reward. While designing the perfect roller coaster can be sometimes fun there are times where I've spent maybe an hour trying to design one only to realise I could've saved a lot of time and effort if I just placed a pre-built ride.
It also doesn't help that track placement seems to be quite finicky in this game which results in you again wasting even more time and money. I found track placement to be much simpler in older games such as Theme Park or even Chris Sawyer's Locomotion. I guess in Planet Coaster's defence though, the rollercoasters do end up looking more realistic.
Not as appealing for management sim fans
This game is great for the creative types, for those that enjoy letting their imagination run wild and creating the park of their dreams. However, I found the game isn't as appealing for those wanting an in-depth business or management sim: those that get enjoyment in starting small and growing your amusement park to a popular and profitable place for punters to play (I couldn't resist the alliteration. I'm not sorry). Sure, you can adjust prices and staff wages, etc. but that's about the extent of financial management in this game.
Lack of tutorials
In my personal experience, Frontier Developments aren't too fussed when it comes to tutorials and they tend to rely on videos to teach players how to play the game. This was the case with Elite: Dangerous and it's also the case with Planet Coaster. What is annoying about the videos is that you'll often have to rewatch one in its entirety to find a critical piece of information and sometimes the tutorial video doesn't even cover what you're looking for at all! It would've been so much better if they had a simple manual or a tutorial scenario to teach you how to make a basic and profitable park. Sandbox mode doesn't cut it.
The game has the occasional bug when it comes to starting up some of the rides. Usually restarting the ride will do the trick but not always.
Score – 8/10 (Recommended)
Planet Coaster is a worthy successor to the amusement park simulation games of yesteryear with amusement parks that really feel like they're alive, a beautiful soundtrack by Jim Guthrie and J.J. Ipsen, and the ability to share your vision of what an amusement park should be to the rest of the world. The game does suffer from performance issues when the parks become too large, there is a bit of a learning curve and the game might appeal more to content creators than management sim buffs, but if you love creating amusement parks and don't have billions of dollars sitting in your bank account, this is the next best thing.
Is the game worth $64.95 AUD?: Yes. While it might be a bit pricey for some, I've only scraped the surface of this game and have already clocked more than 30 hours. For the creative types though, this game has unlimited potential so the price is a bargain if you take that into account.
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[ LINK: Planet Coaster Official Website ]