Planet Coaster can’t escape comparison to RollerCoaster Tycoon. Quite the opposite, it invites that comparison and strives to be the true successor to that franchise. Since my previous favorite was RCT2, that’s going to be my primary basis for comparison.
Before I get started, however, I’d be doing a disservice to potential buyers interested in the game if I didn’t mention that I’ve experienced frequent crashes to desktop throughout the time I’ve spent playing. It seems this is a rare problem, but for those it affects, it is game-ruining. I nearly asked for a refund, in fact, but decided against it. Eventually, I discovered a Band-Aid fix: turning all my graphical settings down to the lowest level seems to have resolved about 80% of the crashes, though I still occasionally get a CTD at random. After some research, I believe this is because I have 8 gigs of RAM, which is the minimum spec for the game, and something about how Planet Coaster handles RAM is causing it to fall apart during otherwise mundane actions in small parks when the memory margins are narrow like that. So, buyer beware: if you have exactly 8 gigs of RAM, you might experience repeated and frequent CTDs.
I did mention that I didn’t actually go through with my refund request in the end. That’s because, barring technical issues, this is currently (version 1.7.2) the best coaster tycoon game I’ve ever played. It more than holds up when measured against my darling RCT2; it surpasses its inspirations in every respect. So, I’m somewhat conflicted. I find myself now in love with what I can only consider something of a piece of junk, from an optimization POV. But it’s so much fun when it’s working that I’m willing to put up with it.
Here’s how Planet Coaster stacks up against RollerCoaster Tycoon 2:
- Instead of opening a new window for everything you click on (that must be closed individually), PC has a modern, unified UI with families of sub-windows that close themselves when you click on other things. Similarly, the camera and controls are very nice. I see people complain about the controls, but maybe they just haven’t played RCT2 recently because they’re fine.
- Instead of blaring all selected ride music tracks at full volume, the music for rides is at a much more reasonable volume, and plays only within certain radii of each ride, falling off more quickly than RCT2. So, you can zoom in and still get the effect, but also there’s a nice balance where it doesn’t drive you insane when zoomed out, but it’s not entirely inaudible either, giving a nice atmosphere while allowing you to individualize ride ambience and theming.
- Instead of requiring you to replace vandalized items individually, PC has a menu called “Security Management” where you can replace all vandalized items with a single click.
- Instead of requiring you to know how to “set up” each coaster element (such as loops and corkscrews) to enable their selection in the build menu, PC shows you all of your options immediately, which helps creativity for newer players who might not know how to get those elements started.
- Instead of throwing you in the deep end, PC’s career scenarios function as training wheels that nudge you toward important concepts one at a time in a very impressive, hands-off sort of way. By the time you hit the Chief Beef scenarios, you’ll be confident in pinpointing bad spots and getting a park profitable quickly, and can move into coaster design to spec, maybe without consciously realizing when that happened. That’s great tutorial design, because it makes you feel like you’re just exploring and learning naturally. And you are!
- The attention to detail in the game’s systems is really something else. You can (and are encouraged to) micromanage everything down to the toppings on your guests’ hot dogs. Combined with the expanded guest inventories and behavior options, the security features (pickpockets! cameras! guards!), and the generally more transparent information you’re getting about each system, this all leads to a very immersive, complete, and satisfying type of experience.
- It can’t be overstated how much the approach of giving you little TARDIS boxes for shops and such that you must theme yourself makes you invested in your park’s concept and design. There are some pre-built buildings and coasters, but they’re very limited in application and don’t exist for every type of thing you can place. Personally, I love this, as it encourages me to slow down and do more pre-planning and deliberate theming for a park, which I feel leads me to do better work overall.
- Putting guests into various types of groups that share a pool of money, rather than having them come individually, lends a very nice touch to the game’s mechanics and feels much more realistic. They also have much larger inventories, to hold more gift shop items and food! I also really like the presence of things like ATMs and hotels, so you can design some pretty modern-feeling resorts. Not to mention priority passes, which are such a great idea and a nice bit of park lore. Plus I dig those bracelets.
- Queue theming and prestige ratings are both fantastic systems. I wish I had more space to write about them, actually, but they’re both nice realistic touches that help with park design and creativity.
Here are my complaints:
- At time of writing, the security features need a bit of tweaking. Not only are pickpockets so common as to be obnoxious and the notifications for their crimes a bit spammy, but employing enough security guards and having enough cameras to successfully counter them can be crippling for an early park when your profit margins are so brutally narrow. For the smoothest experience, new players should disable security features in the Options menu. On the upside, they totally let you disable security features, and for experienced players (who are willing to partially silence security notifications or ignore them), they offer a stiff challenge to add in.
- I won’t reiterate my aforementioned technical issues. Suffice it to say it has been extra frustrating because the game’s autosave system has some wonky ideas about when it should be saving. For instance, there is currently no autosave made after you achieve a star on a career objective map, so if you don’t manually save after doing so, you could easily lose the star and have to redo everything. Some players also seem to suspect that the autosave is a culprit in some mysterious non-replicatable crashes, and you cannot disable it or change it in any way despite a very robust options menu in general.
- I would have liked to see umbrellas, maps, and weather effects. It’s a bit disappointing that information booths now ONLY function as stores that sell priority passes. Especially since the way guests value priority passes is something I haven’t really figured out yet, and doesn’t seem to be consistent over time (so a park with priority pass queues must be committed to early, but it doesn’t profit consistently). This might just be me still learning, but they don’t seem worth it.
- Though the prices of rides and food are definitely more modern and feel alright, the prices guests are willing to pay for ATMs, bathrooms, and first aid stations seem inordinately low for some reason. I’ve seen ATMs around as high as $3.50 or more per transaction, and that’s not even inside of a theme park. Again, though, this is minor and might just be a consequence of the small size of my parks to date.
This is the obligatory end of review wrap up sentence that adds nothing to the writing and might as well not even be there. Bye!