When I sat down to create my amusement park, I knew what I wanted to make: a tropical themed wonderland, chock full of thrilling rides, a bayou-like landscape dense with mysterious, tree-lined paths, and a quirky sense of style. Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, hours and hours later, I was still glued to my chair, adjusting the colors of the spotlights reflecting on the inside of tunnels, placing the trash bins in the most optimal location and of course, tweaking my perfect "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride knockoff for maximum impact. If you're into details, Planet Coaster is a dream come true.
Frontier's Planet Coaster is the spiritual successor to its popular Rollercoaster Tycoon games, bringing the genre into the 21st century with a contemporary aesthetic, a focus on community creativity, and of course, taking advantage of more recent graphics processors and powerful CPUs. Planet Coaster is the most fully realized and impressive product in the series. It includes a massive amount of content out of the box and taps into an already burgeoning fan community that has embraced the game with real passion, assuring a steady stream of player-created content that shows no sign of slowing.
Planet Coaster is an amusement park creation sim, allowing would-be Walt Disneys to craft their ultimate park, tweaking nearly every detail about every element, large and small. It includes some pre-rolled thematic scenery, buildings, and rides -- western, pirate, fairy tale, etc -- but of course the tools are there to build just about every kind of thrill ride, kiddie coaster, soda stand and scenic element the player can imagine. The basic landscapes (desert, tropical, forested, mountainous, etc) can be reshaped with a fun-to-use tool and landscaped with water and a large array of trees and plants. A bare plot of land becomes a thriving park, absolutely pulsing with light, crowds of well-animated visitors, and the sights and sounds of rides and coasters.
While dedicated roller coaster design software like No Limits will be the go-to for professionals, the coaster design tools in Planet Coaster have improved in flexibility and power since the early days of Rollercoaster Tycoon. It's incredibly easy to build an impressive-looking coaster, but of course incredibly difficult to build one that balances speed, the nausea factor, excitement, and turns a profit for the park. Laying down the track is only the first step. Laser lights, animatronics, smoke effects, music, and a multitude of props and decorations really make the coaster come alive.
While I spent most of my time in the Sandbox mode, where money is no object and there are no limits but those of my OCD, Planet Coaster also includes a Challenge Mode and a Career Mode. The Career Mode is a set of missions that introduce, but not at an overwhelming pace, the systems and literal building blocks of the game. The Challenge Mode asks the player to meet a series of shifting goals around engineering, finance, and customer satisfaction. All three Modes are entertaining. Given the depths of its systems, Planet Coaster's learning curve is not negligible, but a consistent interface and thorough tool tips help. Planet Coaster includes Steam Workshop integration and there are already hundreds of coasters, buildings, and parks designed by dedicated and creative fans.
With a lovely and effective day and night cycle and a wealth of detail in every frame, Planet Coaster looks incredible. Unsurprisingly, a jam-packed park with dozens of rides and hundreds of visitors can wreck even a powerhouse rig's frame rate. Sound design and music are top-notch as well, with an insidiously catchy menu screen theme and a ton of options in the game for adding music to areas and amusements.
Other than the Cities franchise, the building-sim genre has been a little under represented as of late, and the amusement park-sim world hasn't seen anything this exciting since the early, glory days of Rollercoaster Tycoon. Planet Coaster represents a return to form and sets the bar very high for sim designers in general. Fun, flexible, deep, endlessly entertaining -- and at a bargain price -- Planet Coaster might not be for every gamer, but for fans of the genre it can't be beat.