Frontier Developments has hit the jackpot with Planet Coaster. Not only is the spiritual follow up to Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 a fantastic game, it's a love letter addressed to every series fan who has been clamouring for a new, modern game for so many years. Superbly designed and filled with nostalgia, Planet Coaster is an open palette on which players can craft and create, and is everything fans could have hoped for.
Planet Coaster offers three modes – Career, Challenge, and Sandbox –alongside five scenic locations, from forest paradise to arid desert.
Paths have seen a big change up in Planet Coaster, and are now laid down via an ingenious snap system that's extremely easy to use and understand. This system enables you to build intricate patterns, incorporating things like turns that rotate, which simply weren't possible in prior games. You can even put railings on your paths, or construct a small scenic lake for your park-goers to gaze at in awe.
Terrain options are also varied, allowing you to sculpt, mould, and chisel your park to your liking, and this level of flexibility extends across the game. Everything is designed to feel unique to you – there are few limits, so it's possible to build a theme park that satisfies all of your thrill-seeking desires.
Sandbox mode was where I spent most of my time, and it's where my OCD-like attention to detail started to spiral out of control. The mode allows you to indulge your wild side from the outset, free from the confines of the other two modes on offer, by giving you unlimited money to throw around. This means you're free to build any coaster you can think of, and there's a slew of creative building options available.
As you start building a coaster, you'll start to figure out new tricks and spins that – at least in your head – would be pretty fun for your guests to try out. It turns out, though, that most coasters you build will be sickness and fear-inducing piles of garbage. That's according to the game's ride rating system anyway, which splits guest's thoughts and experiences into three categories: nausea, fear, and excitement. The first two are hugely important, and will determine whether guests want to keep coming back to your rides, or if they feel sick just from the thought of even going near them again.
This system has a bit of a learning curve to it. Unlike previous RCT games, it's important to not let yourself go too wild on the Sandbox creations if you want to make a viable, fun theme park for your guests. Adding to the challenge: no two guests are really ever the same, so fine-tuning your park is a tricky business. And while it is fun making coasters of doom and despair, crafting a theme park that your guests will enjoy is a more entertaining and fulfilling experience.
If you think infinite money is a bit of a bore, Planet Coaster's other modes will keep you occupied for a while. Career sees you attempting to resurrect over half-finished projects and deal with wacky scenarios, while Challenge gives you a handful of goals to complete. Of the two modes, Career was where I spent a majority of my time, and goals here included bringing up the concurrent guest count, building more rides, and turning a larger profit.
The mode is a great deviation from Sandbox, although I feel like it doesn't have a ton of staying power. That there's only five career scenarios available right now probably doesn't help, although another seven are expected in the next day or two. I did have a blast trying to achieve top rankings, but I found myself always thinking about the Sandbox mode and how I'd make a bigger, better, and more dangerous coaster when I jumped back into it.
As for the Challenge mode, it's very much a branch off of what Career mode has to offer, although you aren't ranked in the same way. Challenge mode tightens up the purse strings and gives you set objectives you have to try and complete without going bankrupt, such as building a viable, attractive park with only $15,000. This mode was great to try out, but again I couldn't help but just want to have those purse strings unleashed. Perhaps it was just my innate drive to want to continue to create cool, random theme parks that pulled me away – your mileage may vary.
Planet Coaster revels in customisation, player choice, and celebrating everything that was so damn cool about the older Rollercoaster Tycoon games, and that is its greatest asset. Combined with the ongoing works created by fellow Steam players via Steam Workshop — which will no doubt end up giving Planet Coaster an extremely long life over the years — and the tonne of options already available at launch, it's easy to recommend to players who just want to make and design things in a sandbox filled with interesting toys.