Microsoft Studios has been busy of late. For the last six months it has been steadily churning out new titles for the Xbox One. Some have been fantastic, some have been frustrating. With its ups and its downs, ScreamRide falls somewhere in the middle.
The rollercoaster genre has had a long history, but ScreamRide is one of the first to bring the joys of sandbox theme park action to consoles. Microsoft knows that the genre has a pedigree. ScreamRide hat-tips with a heavy hand to classics ike Rollercoaster Tycoon and has clearly been inspired by the zany humor of Theme Park and Theme Hospital.
ScreamRide is split into three distinct play styles: a build mode, a ride mode, and a destroy mode. On their own, each mini-game has merits. For a pickup casual game, there is a lot to see and do, but here ScreamRide fails to loop the loop is it’s overall packaging.
Of the three modes the build and ride mode are easily the most amusing. The ride mode’s first person game design is well thought through and smooth, if a little uninspiring. Players will find themselves doing what it says on the tin.
By controlling the balance and speed of your roller-coaster car, you fire it and its hapless occupants through a twister pre-built roller coaster. Along the way you can secure speed boosts by hitting triggers during especially exciting parts of the track, or by attempting to ride your car up on the rail or through the air. As far as gaming skill goes, there’s not much too it. However, as a poor gamer’s Tony Hawk on train tracks, it’s enjoyable enough.
But it is in the game’s build mode that the title’s real depth shines through. By completing challenges and missions in the other sections of the game, new tracks, tricks, loops and infrastructure is unlocked. Gamers can then use these dangerous designs to make diabolic tracks that they can then ride in real time. If hardcore coaster fans can put the strategic (and economic) complexity of Rollercoaster Tycoon to one side, ScreamRide provides ample childish fun simply messing around with nuts and bolts.
However, it’s the game’s third “destroy” mode that runs ScreamRide off the rails. Without a doubt, it’s out of place. Players must fire gondolas full of excitable patrons from a giant trebuchet, destroying screens and buildings in the process. Extra points are awarded for maximum destruction and creative crushing combos. What makes this mode so strange is not necessarily its gameplay, it’s the strange disconnect with the rest of the game.
Sure, creative destruction is an important part of any building simulator, and rollercoasters are no exception. But when half of the game’s simple pleasures are gained from building tracks up and riding them, it’s quite an inversion to move right into breaking them down again.
This is sadly made worse by Microsoft’s clumsy attempt at packaging the game’s three distinct games, together. Taking a page from Theme Park’s book, ScreamRide tries to inject irreverent humor into its universe. But as much as it might like to think it does, Microsoft doesn’t have the sardonic touch that made Bullfrog such a well-loved studio. Instead, ScreamRide takes the easy option, wrapping its mini-games up with dopey characters, silly crash cut scenes and poor imitations of Portal-like voice-overs. It’s not enough. The result is a half-baked narrative that fails to weld the game together into the Daliesque amusement park it is desperately trying to be.
But that doesn’t mean ScreamRide isn't fun. Aside from the incongruous demolition mini-game, ScreamRide surprises. There’s more to this little rollercoaster simulator than first appears. But its flaw is that once you’ve made it to the top of the loop, there just isn’t enough gravitas to keep you riding for long.