Roller Coaster 3 was somewhat divisive at the time of its release, but I feel like after seeing what Atari has done to the franchise it’s a lot easier to look back on it in a positive light. Now the studio behind RCT3 is back with a spiritual successor, Planet Coaster. I spent some time with the game’s alpha last month and came away with a fair amount of confidence tempered with some concerns regarding some core mechanics that didn’t feel nearly polished enough. Now the final build of the game is here and I have mostly good news to report.
For me the bread and butter in Planet Coaster is the campaign mode which sees you taking over partially constructed or failing parks in order to bring them back into the black. I’m not particularly talented when it comes to park design so I get a lot more enjoyment out of piggy backing off the skills of others. The campaign spans four different themes, each with three specific parks for you to accomplish your goals in. Each park is well designed, offering its own unique feel and usually a super detailed signature ride or aesthetic centerpiece for you to build around. Goals vary from park to park but for the most part you’re always trying to just steer finances towards the black while increasing guests’ ratings.
From a simulation perspective it’s pretty much business as usual, you build the park, control pricing and products, and manage a staff to take care of it. If you remember the old Roller Coaster Tycoon games you’re going to feel right at home here, all the way down to the experience of building an amazing roller coaster only to discover that all of your guests are too intimidated to ride it. Simultaneously if you didn’t enjoy the gameplay present in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series then it’s awful likely that Planet Coaster won’t be able to excite you.
From a difficulty perspective the game is fairly easy to charge through. There’s a couple scenarios in the campaign that required a little extra thought on my part but for the most part you can breeze through the game without much trouble. This is even more noticeable when looking at the game’s achievements, many of which can be unlocked with just a few short minutes in the unlimited cash free play mode.
Difficulty aside my only other big complaint about the campaign revolves around the research system. Researching new rides and shops feels like it takes way too long, even when you use the game’s fast forward feature. This issue can be compounded if it’s not top of mind when you start a scenario. It’s not a lot of fun building the few rides available to you and then getting stuck waiting for research to finish before you can expand your park any further.
One added feature that’s nice is the “challenge” system which will load an empty park and give you a random goal to complete. What’s really great about this system is that challenges can also be applied to your existing parks and game saves (even campaign levels) meaning that you can continue to set new goals for yourself even after you’ve completed all the default mission objectives. It’s a nice dose of replayability for a game that can sometimes feel aimless as you progress.
The game does offer support for Steam Workshops and the market is already brimming with some really impressive player made buildings and rides. I downloaded a few from the top contributors and was really pleased not only with the quality of the builds but also with how easily they integrated into my parks.
When I originally wrote about the game I noted specific concerns regarding the pathing elements, that is specifically to say that I found the game’s system for building footpaths and queues to be imprecise and sometimes unwieldy to control. It seemed like an odd thing to be broken in such a late build of the game but I’m happy to say that most of my concerns from the alpha have disappeared completely. The pathing system is fairly intuitive and though I still have some issues with symmetry it absolutely turns out more natural and realistic looking parks than the grid based systems from the old Roller Coaster Tycoon games.
While the final build of the game seems to have tied a neat bow on most of my complaints from the alpha one thing that didn’t really improve is performance. Now I almost feel bad complaining about performance because there is obviously a lot happening in this game and I think I’d prefer hitches in frames over losing all the great detail Planet Coaster has to offer. Having said that this game definitely struggles to keep up the more elaborate your park becomes. I’ve been working on a new gaming rig for a little while now, but I’ve seen people with pretty top tier machines still fall victim to frame loss in this game. It might just be something that there’s really no work around for. Things are probably at their worst in the coaster creator, which despite being fairly intuitive also seems to just ask too much of your computer upon opening it.
I encountered a couple other random bugs and even had a blue screen trip during one play session. I checked my dump file and it didn’t list any problematic drivers, so honestly not sure if the game was to blame there or if it was something else. Despite some noticeable dips the performance was never so bad that it discouraged me from continuing play.
Ultimately Planet Coaster is a refreshing rinse for the wound that Atari keeps mashing salt into. The game isn’t quite perfect from a technical perspective, and I don’t really feel like it brings any interesting new concepts to the theme park simulation table. Think of this more as an updated version of a game you loved twelve years ago. And if you loved Roller Coaster Tycoon I can almost guarantee this is the closest you’ll get to having that feeling again.
This game was reviewed using retail code provided to us by the publisher.