Coaster with the Most-er

Theme parks are a load of old arse. You pay an exorbitant price for a day consisting of 80% queuing, 10% making a conscious attempt to not vomit, 5% vomiting anyway, 3% pondering how coconut stalls can not only exist but remain profitable and 2% having fun, or a vague facsimile thereof. The very best theme park simulators understand this and treat the customers as mere pawns – unfortunates caught in the maelstrom of some higher power’s whims. A higher power that works through annoyingly positioned water jets and lots of very spinny roller coasters.

Such is the case with the alpha of Planet Coaster, the highly anticipated theme park management simulator currently slated for a November 17th release. It comes from Frontier Developments, the Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 people and has the same eye for outlandish construction with an even greater focus on giving the player free creative rein over their constructions.Planet Coaster TeacupThere’s not a whole lot of set-up to what Planet Coaster currently offers. You have a patch of land in the middle of nowhere, an endless and inexplicable supply of punters willing to travel there, and infinite funds to buy whatever death traps you wish to fill your landmass with. There are also challenge modes that limit the amount you can spend and a yet-to-be-released career mode.

Boiled down to its essentials, Planet Coaster involves placing rides or building roller coasters and creating a network of paths allowing access to all of them. Where the game truly excels, however, is in the finer details and the countless ways you can sculpt not only the land but also individual buildings. It has a handle on minutiae like no other game in the genre – a mightily impressive feat for an alpha.

This huge scope for creativity is evidenced by the great work that’s already been done by the Planet Coaster community. As you boot in and create an avatar, you’re plonked onto a globe with the very best community creators—all of whom are wearing very prominent crowns. You don’t have a crown; you are the only one without a crown. This is a system of monarchy in which countless disparate royals reign over one lowly peasant. They deserve their status, though; they’re all very talented people.20161005160415_1When buying buildings, rides or facilities, you can choose from a selection of ‘blueprints’: pre-made assets with an eye for thematic consistency and prettiness. These include the Steam Workshop additions of the crowned folk, along with defaults the game provides.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, then there’s also the option for custom pieces. These are the smaller details which can be altered in all sorts of ways and stuck together to create something unique. It’s a brilliant option for the more artsy among us, but for those like me who can’t really tell their chiaroscuro from their chorizo, it’s probably best to stay with the blueprints. They make the act of producing something that looks reasonable easy, even for those of us with little to no experience in producing reasonable-looking things.

It helps that everything in Planet Coaster is so clean and intuitive, too. In terms of mechanics, everything is handled with such elegance and simplicity that building what is in essence a living, breathing ecosystem—albeit an ecosystem predicated on spinning teacups and nausea—is an effortless joy.

The mouse controls pretty much everything, with keyboard shortcuts available as an alternative in many cases. It’s a control system that feels tactile and intuitive because of that fact. Roller coaster tracks, in particular, yield a sense of creating something real and tangible. It’s all of the satisfaction of architecture with none of the graph paper or safety concerns.20161005160604_1Let’s talk a bit about safety because, clearly, a considerable portion of the playing time will be devoted to putting your customers through such duress as would rend an actual human in twain. Thankfully—and do stop me when this lurches into outright sadism—these creatures are able to take all sorts of punishment in good stead. From the high-octane terror of tracks which flout health and safety regulations with a wild abandon, to the passive-aggressive dickishness of meandering subterranean pathways that lead nowhere, there are countless ways to first establish and subsequently admire the suffering you have wrought. And I would kindly ask any Mail on Sunday journalists looking for evidence of the malignant influence of video games to ignore this paragraph.

There’s a fair bit of number-crunching for statistics fans, too. Not only does each individual guest have a run-down of their thoughts and needs, thereby allowing micro-management on a very small scale indeed, but each ride comes with a spreadsheet which breaks down its profitability, the public’s perception and even numerical indicators for how intense the ride is at any given point. There is an absolute wealth of information offered by Planet Coaster, and the choice to pay any mind to it rests entirely on the player.

There’s a surprising amount of aesthetic detail, too—there can be thousands of customers in your park at any one time, and honing in on any one of them shows a character designed and animated in a way that looks individual. (There will, of course, be a finite number of templates they’re working from, but that is at no point noticeable as a drawback.) Add in the amount of detail given to each characters thoughts, needs and backgrounds, and there forms an element of story within the park’s boundaries. This is a game which invites a number of play-styles, an admittedly creepy being to watch specific character’s actions and attempting to divine their motives.Planet Coaster CustomerTake my park’s grand opening as an example. We declared ourselves as fit for public consumption when we had a burger stand, a little spinny ride that I’ve forgotten the name of, and upwards of twelve toilets. In spite of this, due to what I can only assume were godly feats of exaggeration from the PR department, we managed to get some punters through the gates. This included one man who entered the park, went to the toilet, and left the park. Tickets to the park are about sixty dollars. These are the stories of Planet Coaster.

So, this is a properly in-depth park management simulator which is fun, gorgeous and accessible. It encourages a variety of play-styles—from number-crunching micro-managing technocrat to lackadaisical people-watcher—and it never forces one particular play-style on you. There is a hell of a lot to be excited about with regards to Planet Coaster—not least of which being that this is only the bloody alpha!