For a time, I really struggled with one of Screamride’s Engineering assignments. The problem that caused me to keep retooling my coaster was that it was simply too “extreme.” The high level of lateral G-forces created as the ride vehicles is pulled into a super tight U-turn after coming off an intense corkscrew caused my riders to be ejected from the cabin. Not that their jettison wasn’t funny - I very much enjoyed the gleeful screams of the twentysomethings who willingly signed up to participate in the research and development of thrill rides. But I wanted to pass the level and I assumed keeping riders in the car was a prerequisite for success. After numerous attempts and very few special track pieces available, I took a long, hard look at the completion criteria and discovered that neither the primary or secondary criteria required passenger safety. In my final attempt, I made sure to include the required loops and drops while tossing in vomiting inducing twists, turns, and near misses, and other abominations of ride design. The result was a coaster that achieved a perfect 10 on the Nausea scale and left only two of its riders in their seats, their inner ears wobbling for balance like a vaudevillian tightrope walker. Welcome to the Screamworks, where rider safety is a secondary concern.
ScreamRide is this generation’s Rollercoaster Tycoon (which, interestingly enough, was made for the original Xbox by this very developer). The only real difference is the Xbox One game doesn’t put the player in a position to micromanage park financials and attendance. Instead, ScreamRide is all about designing the most ridiculous roller coasters and physics be damned. In the not-so-distant future, a corporation of masked engineers has shipped in a collection of young male and female twentysomethings with an insatiable need for high speed fun. Their existence lends the game an unnecessary “hey, bro” vibe, an annoyance that quickly dissipates after the realization sets in that your job is to put these people through the vomit-inducing ringer. Depending on the speed, angles, turns, and loops, riders can be ejected from their cabins - no safety restraints here! - and in another fun variant, thrown about in giant cannonballs to create scenes of spectacular structural mayhem.
ScreamRide is composed of two parts, a campaign and an alluring sandbox element. The campaign stretches across five different “series” of amusements comprised of three unique tracks: Screamrider, Demolition Expert, and Engineer. Screamrider puts the player in the driver’s seat for increasingly elaborate roller coasters that test timing and speed control, Demolition Expert borrows from Angry Birds to hurl a manned spheres against too fragile buildings, and Engineer is a type of “complete the track” program that encourages a balance between cool design and efficient engineering. Of the three game types, Demolition Expert is the clear winner in terms of fun. Not that the other two are boring, there’s just something instinctively enjoyable about wrecking virtual property. The focus of each track is different, the goal of each is the same: to rack up the points. Each track has a score threshold that must be met to unlock the next stage in the series as well as a few required objectives (reach a designated speed, don’t lose riders, etc). A more challenging set of secondary objectives introduces higher measures of skill and track design, yielding significant bonuses, in-game trophies, game achievements, and significant score boosts. High scores are a great thing and are quick and easy to lord victory over your Xbox Live friends or be humbled by those better than you on the global leaderboards. More important than bragging rights, scores unlock track pieces and contraptions that can be used to create your own devilishly fun rides in ScreamRide’s sandbox mode.
If nothing else, ScreamRide’s “game” is mostly a tutorial for the sandbox portion. By riding different coasters, completing missing track and destroying structures, you’re given the fundamentals needed to build your own wild rides. As a bonus, not only are you given a great deal of freedom in designing the track, you are also given the tools to design buildings and other structures to add some flair to the experience or as a means to create new ride concepts. At first, laying down track and applying special gizmos takes a moment to grasp but after you spending significant time angling straightaways and adding in corkscrews, loops, and other exciting pre-fab elements, the process gets comfortably intuitive. The game lets you switch between edit and test mode on the fly, making it easy to fix portions of the track where riders get ejected or aren't ejected fast enough. The freedom ScreamRide offers is one that offers the really talented people out there the tools they need to create some pretty spectacular creations for others to play over Xbox Live. As someone who rarely ventures beyond the included instructions for LEGO sets, I find the near limitless possibilities quite arresting. Regardless of skill, ScreamRide makes engineering a ride easy and fun.
ScreamRide is a pleasant surprise. What’s more, it was developed by Elite: Dangerous studio Frontier Developments. As it turns out, they're adept at both space simulation and theme park design. The theme park creator is a great way to kill a few hours completing the game’s tracks to earn higher points, trophies, and additional track pieces. Player-made amusements add some life to the game and, like Minecraft before it, it’s also fascinating to see what ingenious things people come up with. Like real rollercoasters, those sensitive to motion sickness will want to tread lightly, especially with the first-person view mode. It’s one thing to design a ridiculous vomit comet that betrays the laws of gravity and physics, it’s another thing entirely to witness your horrible creation from the view of those digital avatars forced to endure it.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.