Planet Coaster (PC) Review
Title: Planet Coaster
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Developer: Frontier Developments
Genre: Management Simulator
Rating: E for Everyone
I previewed Planet Coaster about a month ago and had nothing but glowing things to say. It was unfinished at the time but enough of the nuts and bolts of the game were there to recommend it even then. Now that the full game is out, that recommendation stands, but there are a few caveats that I should mention.
The best compliment I can give to Planet Coaster is that it does for the theme park simulator what Cities Skylines did for the city building simulator. It drags a long dead genre back from the grave and thrusts it into the 21st century by giving it a brand new game engine, some incredibly polish, and the gameplay tools to be as creative as you can generally imagine. The added built-in mod support can extend the lifespan of the game through damn near infinity since you can grab other people’s rides, buildings, even other people’s parks. Considering there are, at present, over 1,500 versions of an ATM, it speaks volumes about the amount of stuff you can create, or get, from other people.
Planet Coaster has three modes for you to choose from, but only one of them is key. The modes are career, challenge and sandbox, with sandbox being the important one.
Career is where you might want to start, but it’s a tad strange. You are given cross-sections of a park, like just a pathway, for example, and given a few goals to fulfill medal requirements. The bronze star might just be “build a ride and hire a performer”, while the silver is “build two rides and hire two janitors”, and the gold is “build 5 rides and have a scenery rating of over 60”. These are just general examples you’ll run into, while later missions in the career having more obstacles to deal with, or gameplay quirks. One level has a height requirement for coasters, while another level requires only “traditional” rides and no futuristic stuff.
The career mode is…strange, and kind of not fun? It’s probably an impossible task to build a career mode in a simulator and have it be enjoyable, so I don’t knock it too much, but it’s just bizarre to me. Ideally, the career mode is where you should go into to actually learn the nuts and bolts of the game, the intricacies of how best to lay out a park, or to build a good coaster, or how the scenery rating works. It doesn’t really do that though. It has challenges for you to accomplish but doesn’t tell you how to really accomplish them. Instead, there are three short Youtube videos the game links to as the tutorial and that’s it. This isn’t the most elegant way of getting information across, especially in a game that can be as complex as Planet Coaster. Ideally, I’d want either a guided experience, or some real direction during the campaign about why I’m doing an activity, or how best to deal with issues that come up.
Challenge mode is basically “normal” mode, for a simulator game. You’re given a sum of money and basically you have to build a profitable park. You do have challenges that come up, like coasters might need to make a certain amount of cash per month, or to build a set number of rides, but none of these are really important. What is important in this mode are the finances of the park, you really have to watch how you spend money, or what rides to buy. In addition to rides, you have to spend money on staff, path extras like benches and trash bins, scenery additions, and buildings like drink stands, or toilets for guests to use.
These are all important things for your actual park, but there is a more meta-financial system that you also need to partake in. You’ll (likely) need to get loans to be able to build expensive rides and pay them back in due time. You have to research new rides to unlock them and be able to use them. You’ll also need to run marketing campaigns to get people into your park, or to focus on certain demographics you are targeting. If you’re going for an all-thrill ride park, running an ad campaign for teenagers is going to get more of them to visit. But running an ad campaign for families won’t work nearly as well. On its own, Challenge mode is fine but nothing very special.
Sandbox mode is special and where you’ll likely spend the bulk of your time. It’s not revolutionary by any means, it just gives you infinite cash and no responsibilities, but since the entire point of the game is to create something cool, this is the easiest mode to actually do that in. You can build a park to any specification you want, throw in 20 roller coasters, or 30 Ferris wheels, the only real limit is your creativity and trying to understand the tools you are given. The basic tools are fine, but trying to deal with terrain formation, or building your own type of building, goes way over my head. This is, again, where a more guided tutorial would be helpful in letting the player really unlock the full power of the game.
My only real knock against Sandbox, and generally against the game overall, is that the area in which you build seems small. If you just put in normal rides, you’ll be able to fit in a ton in but building roller coasters (either your designs, or the premade ones) can be challenging due to their size and the large footprint that they can take up. The flipside to this however is that the game is pretty demanding on a system level, so if you did try to create the most insane park in the world, 95% of computers wouldn’t be able to run it, so limiting this aspect is actually probably a good thing.
My review might make it seem like I’m overly harsh on the game but I’m really not. Frankly, none of the drawbacks to Planet Coaster mean a hill of beans because the game is so much fun to create and experiment with. Even on the most bare, surface level of the game, you will be able to create something unique that can help express your creativity. The last thing I’ll mention is that the soundtrack for the game is really great. If the soundtrack goes on sale again on Steam (it’s on their site if you want), it is worth a pickup for sure.