I still remember how I first found out about Frontier Development’s Planet Coaster. Huddled in front of my Surface Pro 4, I was looking for some news to post about Roller Coaster Tycoon World. Like most people, I’d spent a large portion of my childhood playing computer games. Eventually I moved on from PC gaming to console games, mostly because I liked the ease of just picking up a game and knowing you could run it. No game was worth having to maintain an expensive PC and update graphics cards every few years. Because simulation games on consoles were terrible, my passion for the genre faded. For a while, I thought that Sim City would ignite it again, but that game didn’t last much past 40 hours for me.

On the RCT Reddit there was a person asking for thoughts on Planet Coaster. My inbox being the PR email death trap that it is, I opened Outlook Mail and typed in the name. Sure enough, there was a message from the team at Frontier announcing its intent to self-publish a theme park simulation. These were the same people who worked on Roller Coaster Tycoon, with its soaked pools expansion and huge array of animals.

“Oh yes,” I said. It’s happening.

Planet Coaster Review – A Walk Among the Tombstones  

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 was a great game, leaving me with lofty expectations for Planet Coaster. After I spotted that press release in my inbox, I paid for early access to the game’s alpha release.

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When you first open the game, you’re greeted by the most cheerful, happy melody you will find outside of a Scientology “training center.”

Planet Coaster Review – For Both Work & Play 

For Both Work & Play

Planet Coaster gives you the tools to make whatever you want. You’re free to create the biggest and baddest theme park you want without worry about money, or show off your business management skills. Whichever your approach, there’s a mode for you.

Challenge Mode is for the simulation lovers. It’s not enough to build cool things, this mode tasks you with goals related to population, popularity and financing. You’re only given a limited amount of cash and a blank slate to get your theme park off the ground. The game’s economy accounts for real-life monthly expenses, like a staff to clean your park and stall workers to manage everything. It’s up to you to manage your park’s finances and stay in the black. That means not building as much scenery as you want – even when you know having more decoration around your ride would improve its ticket sales. That also means maximizing profit by ditching a cover charge entirely.

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Add salt to your fries stalls. Drop a place for folks to get something to drink beside it. Now you’re making a profit two-fold.

A pre-made set of scenarios put your management skills to the test away from your custom Challenge Mode Park.

Sandbox Mode gives you every tool that the game has at its disposal, but you don’t have to manage your money at all. The game funnels you an unlimited amount, meaning you can focus on the ultimate park from your wildest dreams. Of course, that also takes away the fun you can have trying to keep your park profitable.

Planet Coaster Review – Simulation That Didn’t Regress 

Simulation That Didn’t Regress

I’ll admit this only here; I’ve never been great at being creative in a game. I dabble with sculpting landscapes and building cool rides, but most of my ideas are blatantly inspired by my favorite theme park as a child: Paramount’s Kings Dominion. (I included “Paramount’s” in there because Cedar Fair has run it into the ground.)

It’s ok for me to not be very creative in Planet Coaster because there are other things to manage. I started my first challenge park with a small amount of financing. That money barely covered building an entrance worthy of a great theme park and two rides. I turned to the game’s bankers to borrow more money. I added a few rides, then tweaked entrance pricing and everything else that I could to make the park profitable before I ran out of cash.

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I managed to turn things around by changing a ride sequence so that it could generate more cash for me. And going through each part of the park to make sure every bit was generating a profit or no only causing a small monthly loss.

As you’re building out you park, Planet Coaster throws real-time statistics at you. You know which rides have failed and need repairing. You know which rides have lines that are way too long. As people walk around your park, the game gauges their reactions in real-time. All of this is handled by a guest intelligence that seems more alive than any previous game in the genre.

I shutter every time Frontier uses its “Simulation Evolved” tagline for the game though. There’s a lot going on here, but it doesn’t feel like it’s a more sophisticated simulation than RCT. It clearly is an evolution in the sense that the crowds in your park feel alive and something as foundational as a rides location can have a huge impact on its profitability.

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I’ve heard from people who don’t think it’s evolved enough though. They want a full Day/Night Cycle, central garbage collection and all sorts of things that are cool, but might be a bit too much for more casual gamers.

Training and managing staff in this game can get somewhat difficult. If workers are happy because of their pay or lack of work, they’ll quit on the spot, shuttering your shops. When rides become to unreliable, you can pay to have them refurbished, which is a very nice touch.

Planet Coaster Review – Scenery for Days 

Scenery for Days

If I have one serious beef with Planet Coaster, it’s that the game seems very, very light on actual rides themselves. The usual ones are there. You can move folks around your park on aboard a steam train or monorail. You have a Ferris wheel and a chair lift at your disposal too.

Mostly, it feels like the team focused very heavily on delivering different types of wooden, steel and hybrid coasters and not enough time on the less expensive things that make a theme park enjoyable for those that don’t love building coasters. There are no 3D theaters or corn maze. Your research team can’t unlock Go Karts or dozens of other rides you might remember from past games. There are no carnival games in the title, for some reason.

There are a lot of coasters in the game, but many of them don’t have a single pre-made track layout. Instead, Frontier is hoping that gamers will create their own or turn to the Steam Workshop for creations made by the community. Speaking on Steam Workshop, it’s the best thing about this game. Buildings, maps and scenarios are available as community downloads.

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One thing the game does deliver on is scenery. The Fantasy and Modern and Western Themes that are in the game now consist of hundreds of piece that players are free to stack, contort and place anywhere with a few mouse clicks and a button press or two. Without question, the act of covering an attraction or theme park with themeing is something that this game absolutely nails. Smartly, your ride’s scenery has a direct impact on what people will pay and what they won’t.

It’d be irresponsible of me to not point out how lofty this game’s technical requirements are. The recommended specs include an Intel Core i7-4470 processor, 12GB of RAM, an NVIDIA GTX 980 processor with 4GB of dedicated RAM and 8 GB of storage. The minimum system requires indicate an Intel Core i5 processor and NVIDIA GTX 560 will allow the game to function, but you absolutely want to get as close to those recommended settings as possible.

Planet Coaster Review – The Verdict 

The Verdict

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I haven’t completed all the scenarios, but I have spent around 30 hours in Planet Coaster. The creativity that it allows is unmatched in recent simulation games. The art and atmosphere are top-notch. Steam Workshop in a game like this is epic. There’s clearly some evolved simulation going on too.

What’s not great is the amount of rides that are in the game right now. Planet Coaster is a well-designed, well thought out amusement park simulator that needs a bit more amusements before I’m ready to declare it The Best That Ever Did It. It’s close though, really close.

Give us more attractions Frontier. Do so and you’ve got the best theme park game ever made, I think.