If it wasn't for Park Beyond's "impossification" gimmick - with its ludicrous, physics-defying rides - you'd probably be hard pushed to tell it apart from any number of other theme park management games based on its trailers so far. As a die-hard management sim fan, though, I couldn't resist the recent opportunity to take Tropico developer Limbic Entertainment's latest project for a spin to see what, if anything, it might be able to bring to the familiar theme park genre.
Park Beyond's big marquee addition is, of course, the aforementioned "impossification", a twist that wrenches the usually grounded theme park management genre a little out of reality to create a world where technology and physics are no longer limitations. The result is a game where players can build impossible, gravity defying rides, bringing Till Nowak's wonderful short The Centrifuge Brain Project to mind. Based on an early build given to press ahead of Gamescom, though, Park Beyond's impossification gimmick is, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a fun if rather inessential addition to the theme park management genre.
Rides, shops, and even employees can be 'impossified' by building a park sufficiently capable of wowing visitors and generating Amazement. Amazement can then be spent at certain thresholds to make increasingly reality defying upgrades - a classic pirate ship swing ride might suddenly gain the ability to split in three, each section whirling in loops independently of the other, while an octopus-themed attraction might come alive, its tentacles hoisting up ride cars and plunging visitors into watery depths for additional thrills.
Aesthetically, it's fantastic, lending an air of absurdist wonder to proceedings, but, in real terms, all that appears to means for your park is that rides get a bit of a stat boost with each new impossification upgrade, becoming a little more exciting, generating a little more money, becoming more costly in upkeep, and so on. It's the same for rollercoasters, which, in the press build, could be impossified with the likes of ramps and cannons, blasting cars into the air to traverse lakes, buildings, and more. Here, impossification does demand a little more thought - sharp turns after an airborne landing are a big no-no, for instance - but, aside from a pleasing dollop of whimsy, it's hard to really see what meaningful substance impossification might bring.
The good news, though, is that having spent an (admittedly relatively brief) bit of time dabbling around in Park Beyond's work-in-progress sandbox, it appears there's a pretty solid management sim beneath all this impossification business, with Limbic having included the kind of strategic wrinkles and micromanagement options that help keep things interesting. Park managers will need to keep an eye on social trends, for instance, in case, say, a health craze causes visitors to steer clear of your fast food stalls. And for those that like to really get stuck in - maximising traffic flow and visitor need fulfilment through hyper-efficient park lay-outs and economy engines - Limbic hasn't skimped, providing feedback tools, heatmaps and more.
The sense after a bit of a play around, then, is that there's real potential here, and that Park Beyond might be able to find a comfortable place alongside its genre peers, even without that impossification gimmick. Certainly, it feels like it might have a bit more strategic meat on its bones compared to Frontier's uneven Planet Coaster - a game Park Beyond apes a lot, particularly in terms of the feel and functionality of its extensive customisation and creation tools, from its modular building to its sausage-wrangling pathing.
The possibility that Park Beyond might eventually land somewhere between Planet Coaster's incredible creative flexibility and the depth of genre granddaddies like Rollercoaster Tycoon is certainly an appealing one, but right now it all feels a little safe in terms of its ambition and scope - a bit of a shame when indie developer Texel Raptor's wonderful Parkitect felt like a real genre advancement with its meaningful additions around intra-park goods logistics and front-of-house aesthetics just a few years back.
I've a few other niggles with Park Beyond right now - Limbic has, for instance, made the classic mistake of confusing approachability for infantilisation, and its cloying, cutesy presentation is all a bit off-putting, which might be a blow to its story campaign - but there are definitely signs of a solid foundation for management fans here. Throw in that inessential but undoubtedly appealing impossification gimmick, and I'm cautiously optimisitic for Park Beyond's eventual arrival on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S next year.