I feel a little like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, crouching in a darkened cave and cursing that yellow circle that torments me so. Well... a Gollum with a broadband account and a fairly hefty PC, so a little better than that gangly CGI runt. I need water, desperately. Thankfully, Frontier Developments are here to help me out. Alas, it's an expansion pack for Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 rather than a tall glass of iced water. Damn them.
Soaked is a classical expansion pack for a management game in many ways, in that it simply adds a pile of new content to the old game, with new decorative themes and rides a-plenty to expand the creative possibilities. It dignifies itself by the technological underpinnings which it uses in many of these. Rather than just giving you things anyone could have made given access to the basic tools, this actually adds gorgeously reflective water to the world with some relatively cute fluid modelling. This means that when people fall off the end of one of your newly designed water slide, ripples spread out. You can even dabble your mouse-pointer in and create little whirlpools and similar.
Hurrah for Pixel Shaders. Making wet things wetter since 2002 or so.
Away from the pool-based antics, which allow you to make a more dramatically attractive place, you have a selection of other additions. Some are obvious, and arguably should have been in the original game, like the ability to build tunnels through vertical faces. Other are more interesting, such as the firework control panel being expanded into a general event sequencer, where pre-generated or user-created lasers or water fountains can be integrated with pre-existing fireworks, and timed to coincide with rides or animal tricks. The lasers are especially welcome, allowing you to crudely animate an enormous phallus on nearby surfaces. Oh yeah - and there's a nine-mission campaign to master, for those who enjoy a bit of the old game to add purpose to their random construction.
That said, a few problems in the mother-game are magnified by the expansion pack. Firstly, the already fairly hefty system demands can be stretched even further by some of the water refraction effects, requiring some option-fiddling to get a playable game. It's especially true as your park expands and settings which were fine when you had a grandmother and her cocker spaniel wandering about your park suddenly grinds to...
Like this when there are eight hundred million and four customers.
Secondly, the step from earlier Rollercoaster Tycoons to a true 3D world, while increasing the level of abstract beauty several times over, lead to an increased level of confusion regarding the difficulties of three-dimensional construction. In other words, it's often hard to build things that go up. While there are tools here to assist you, it's often hit or miss, and made more noticeable by you having to do it, as many of the water-related rides require their start platform to be on a higher level than their finish. Because they're waterslides, and need gravity to go down.
Man, this reviewer-speak is getting in the way of clear communication today. Forgive me. It's the heat.
Terrible heat. Can barely summon the strength to type that Soaked is a strong, well-designed mission pack, which expands the creative options in interesting ways but fails to rejuvenate the game in a way that will drag anyone tired of all things rolling and coasting back to the PC. Especially during a heat wave, when we should all be outside playing Frisbee and/or Battlefield 2.
Phew. Made it.
If you find my desiccated corpse, throw it down the nearest waterslide.