Planet Coaster: The New Standard in Theme Park Simulation

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I have grown up playing theme park simulation games. The first I can remember playing were Theme Park and Theme Park World way back in the 1990s but over the years I have played many more, from franchise specific offerings like Sea World Tycoon and Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, to classics of the simulation genre such as RollerCoaster Tycoon, and even mobile games like Disney’s Magic Kingdoms. You could say that I’m something of a fangirl when it comes to theme park games.

Planet Coaster is the latest offering for fans of theme park simulators, and it takes the standard to a whole new level by offering a mind-blowing level of customization to every aspect of park development. Not only does the game offer ultimate flexibility in terms of laying out your park, doing away with the dreaded grid system present in so many of its predecessors, but nearly everything is open to your creativity. Players can create custom rides and buildings to an unparalleled level of detail, even inputting your own music collection – perfect for those of us with vast collections of theme park music on our computers.

 

Screenshots of Theme Park (1994) and Planet Coaster (2016), Image: Bullfrog, Frontier
Screenshots of Theme Park (1994) and Planet Coaster (2016), Image: Bullfrog, Frontier

The game comes with a large number of rides and other buildings pre-made, allowing you to dive straight in and begin playing. These are also perfect for kids who may not have the patience for building custom designs – an incredibly time-consuming process even for those with plenty of experience. The pre-made pieces fit into a number of standard park themes – pirates, fairytale, futuristic/space, so it’s possible to build a park with distinct lands without needing to break into the customization area. Tutorials and challenges also allow for more controlled play for beginners and those who prefer specific in-game goals.

Of course, the real draw of Planet Coaster is its sandbox mode and the unlimited potential for creativity it offers. There is already a blossoming community of fans sharing designs, videos, and pictures of their creations online. Many of these display a level of artistry (and patience) that I could never hope to achieve myself. I was particularly drawn to the YouTube channel of Silvarret whose videos showcase not only not only the level of detail Planet Coaster allows you to deliver but also the quality of the graphics, video, and lighting (the game progresses through day and night and allows you to create parks which are as stunning in the dark as they are in the sun). As with all good park simulators, Planet Coaster allows players to ride their creations, and with photorealistic graphics these virtual ride experiences can be as believable as many on-ride videos from real theme parks. Another YouTuber whose videos provided me with a ton of inspiration was Ctop who has been working on science fiction and Middle Earth themed parks, the only downside being that I now *really* want someone to build a Middle Earth theme park I can visit.

Sandbox park after my first few hours, Image: Sophie Brown
Sandbox park after my first few hours, Image: Sophie Brown

I spent several nights playing both in the sandbox and challenge modes of the game when I first received it. I found there to be quite a steep learning curve in those first few hours, as I tried to figure out the basics such as creating pathways, and understanding the ride information panels, however, once I had figured out the basics, the rest of the game fell into place easily and I was soon customising my own rides and playing with theming. This is not a quick game. In order to create something truly spectacular, you need to be prepared to sink hours into play, but the results are absolutely worth it. There is also the option to download custom creations from other players and to show off your own creations to the gaming community.

One important thing to note is that Planet Coaster’s technical requirements are brutal, but I strongly advise you to take heed of them. My PC, far from a dedicated gaming machine but so far able to handle anything I’ve thrown at it, really struggled to run the game, prompting me to finally invest in that extra RAM I’ve been toying with. The system requirements suggest a minimum 8GB RAM with an nVidia GTX 560 (2GB) or AMD Radeon 7850 (2GB) graphics card but recommend going a step further with 12GB and an nVidia GTX 980 (4GB) or AMD R9 380 (4GB). Take them at their word. This is such a visually stunning game that you really want to be able to fully appreciate it. Running with a lower-specced system will only have you frustrated.

Planet Coaster is currently retailing on Steam for $44.99/£29.99 – a great price point for a game that’s set to revitalize its genre and one that can be played by the whole family. Casual gamers will find a game that allows them to nip in and out of play, using presets to build a theme park they love quickly and easily and giving them plenty of challenges and achievements to unlock. Dedicated simulation gamers, on the other hand, will find a game that gives them limitless potential to craft their dream parks, right down to the smallest detail.

Planet Coaster Screenshots, Images: Frontier
Planet Coaster Screenshots, Images: Frontier

Oh, and to answer that all-important question you thought I forgot, yes you can build incomplete coasters and send them hurtling into unsuspecting crowds. What good park sim doesn’t allow that?!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

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