If you’re a simulation game fan, it’s likely you’ve heard about Planet Coaster. Developed by Frontier Developments, the studio behind RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 and numerous other simulation games, as well as Elite: Dangerous, Planet Coaster is a spiritual successor to RCT3. Although I never played much of RCT3, but I’ve been a fan of simulation games for most of my life.
Planet Coaster is a theme park simulator, a genre surprisingly popular at the moment, with competing games like Parkitect in early access, and RollerCoaster Tycoon World releasing just one day before Planet Coaster.
There is already an astounding number of rave reviews of this on Steam, so I went into Planet Coaster cautiously optimistic. Surely over 6,000 people can’t be wrong about this game? Let’s find out…
Your goal in Planet Coaster is to build a profitable theme park. You can do this in one of three modes: career mode, challenge mode, and sandbox. Career mode presents you with a series of themed, partially built parks and several objectives to complete in each. These objectives range from fairly straightforward, like earning a monthly profit of $1,000, to more complex, like constructing a roller coaster with 5 seconds of ‘airtime’. Challenge mode gives you an empty plot of land, some starting funds, and generates challenges while you play, encouraging you to build coasters and other attractions for cash rewards. Sandbox mode gives you an empty park and unlimited funds so you can build the ultimate park with no restrictions.
The simulation and creation aspects of Planet Coaster are very strong. It looks very beautiful, provides you with a clean user interface, there’s an upbeat soundtrack and realistic crowd and ride sounds. You can add pre-built rides like carousels and Ferris wheels to your park, as well as ‘track rides’ – think the log ride at Gold Reef City – and coasters in a huge variety of shapes and types. You will also need to add facilities for your guests, from food stalls to ATMs to bathrooms, and scenery to give them something to look at while queuing for the shell ride.
The game includes an assortment of prebuilt buildings and coasters, but the real power of Planet Coaster is the ability to customise just about anything. Pre-built rides like the teacups let you change their colours and music (including custom music), plus a few other details, while buildings and scenery can be fully customised. A food or drink stall is just a box around which you can construct any kind of shell using the many items available in several themes – fairytale, sci fi, western and ‘Planet Coaster’. This system takes a bit of getting used to, as there is very little in the way of tutorials and the objects can do some strange things when you’re trying to get them to sit in just the right spot.
Scenery can be customised in much the same way, and the game lets you place objects in impossible configurations to get some interesting effects. Terrain customisation is also very powerful. The rollercoaster building, a key feature of a game of this nature, offers many options, can be a bit overwhelming and frustrating to learn, but it does give you the ability to make just about any kind of rollercoaster you can imagine. You can easily spend several hours fine-tuning an insanely terrifying monster of a rollercoaster.
If all of these options sound intimidating, Planet Coaster offers Steam Workshop support, which means you can download the creations of other players. There are currently over 34,000 items in the Planet Coaster workshop, including scenery, buildings, coasters, and even entire parks. I played quite a few hours before I attempted to create my own coasters and custom buildings.
Planet Coaster ticks all the right boxes for visuals, sound, creation and customisation, and of course, rides and rollercoasters, it is lacking in one aspect: management. While you can do all the things you’re used to doing in management sims, like hiring employees, managing guest happiness, cleaning up litter, fixing broken rides, researching new rides, and making a profit, once you start making said profit, the game doesn’t get any more difficult. Turning a profit can be a real challenge, but once you’re in the black, your guests are happy, and your staff are well-trained, you may feel like you’ve switched into easy mode. The worst that ever happened in any of my late-stage parks was employees quitting, easily remedied by hiring new staff. Rides do break down over time, but your guests don’t really seem to care. This is something I hope will be added in a future patch.
The value you get from this game will depend what aspects of these types of games appeal to you. If you want to build beautiful theme parks with incredible roller coasters, then you will absolutely love Planet Coaster. If a really challenging management game is what you’re after, Planet Coaster probably won’t keep you interested for the long term – at least in its current form. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have rollercoasters to build.
I received a review code for this game from the developer. However, this did not affect my opinion of the game. This review reflects my experiences and thoughts from playing the game.