Theme park strategy game reviewed
Rollercoasters, essentially, are a curious concept. We go to the little ticket box (or if its a pay-at-the-gate theme park, join a queue that disappears into the horizon and quite possibly crosses a few international time zones), pay an extortionate sum, stand in a queue, caged into columns like cattle, then eventually, you reach the station, dozens of people bundle off the train and disappear out of sight ("Exit the train to your right!"), and with a sense of joy and adventure we step onto the train, and anticipate what will follow.
Smooth, fast loops, hurtling drops into psychadelically lit tunnels, and waterfalls and lasers dancing on every slow uphill section. Sounds like fun. Immense fun.
However, what invariably does follow is between 30 seconds and 3 minutes of being hurtled around corners and loops of varying intensity, and if you aren't the exact height of 5'11", you will find your head and back being battered off the various lumps on the seat. Then you jerk to a stop back at the station where you arrived, step off feeling jaded and slightly cheated, and feel obliged, nay, forced to part with £3.99 for a Souvenir Photo and/or key-ring from the little shed next door, becase it's a "once in a lifetime oppurtunity.".
And the theme park makes money from this, because they know we'll all go on them. We need rollercoasters because we're weak.
Which is why, with some glee, I inserted the Rollercoaster Tycoon CD into my drive and launched it...
To give me my own chance to create the next RattleSnake or Space Mountain beater, something that the customers would love so much that they would offer themselves up to my park to be slaves, or at least to purchase an "I went to Nacho Land and all I got was this stupid mug" collector's souvenir. Joy!
The game is a fantastic piece of work. Several non-coaster rides are available, including old favourites like merry-go-rounds, haunted houses, and swinging ships, as well as more modern rides such as the Launched Ascent Ride (more commonly known as the PlayStation Ride if you've been to Blackpool). Then there are water-based rides such as slides and rapids, and go-karts and mini-cars, and so many other rides I can't be bothered listing them all...
You have the freedom to tailor these rides to levels of detail that border on the trivial, such as the colours of the rails and the maximum waiting time at the station. But some of these options prove very important. For example, on some varieties of rollercoasters (and yes, there are different kinds - inverted metal, wooden wildmouse, steel mini etc), there are different launch methods, including the traditional "kick-start", the powered launch (up to 60mph at the start, combine it with a sheer drop for an extremely intense ride!), and the intimidatingly named but frankly useless "Reverse-Incline Powered Launch Mode".
And you can actually "theme" your park. For example, in the second mission, Dynamite Dunes, I produced a park with three zones, using Roman, Egyptian and USA Mining scenery and objects. These can be researched and placed all over your park, along with trees, fountains, statues, benches, lamps and litter bins.
Of course, you have to ensure that your rides are safe, which is where the test mode comes in.
You see, when I first got the game, I spent around 10 minutes building a steel coaster, and itching to see the little people hurtling round on it. I opened the ride and the park just to see what happened. Big mistake. I had produced a hump near the middle of the circuit, but unfortunately the train wasn't going fast enough at the time to clear it, so it simply rolled back down the hill. Into the path of the next oncoming train. An explosion followed, and several people saw their vital organs splattering off in the other direction, as they flew through the air. Not good...
Of course, as well as making a really thriling coaster, you must make sure the people aren't too scared to board it. There are three main coaster ratings - Nausea, Excitement, and Intensity. You have to ensure your intensity remains between 4 and 6, the Nausea around 2 to 4, and the excitement as high as you can get it!
And lots of things contribute to this, not just loops and corners. For example, a coaster over water is more exciting than a coaster over ground. Coasters going over and under other riders will prove exciting too. And, of course, speed, duration and turns contribute, as well as the complex lateral and vertical G-force.
The shops and staff are the most disappointing aspect of this otehrwise superb game. The staff system is near-identical to the one employed in Theme Park, including Handymen, Mechanics, Security Guards and Entertainers.
The main difference is that you can assign jobs to people now. Handymen in Theme Park, no matter what the state your paths were in, tended to walk on to the grass and begin mowing. Thankfully, in Rollercoaster Tycoon you can turn this option off on individual Handymen, as well as being able to assign "beats" to all of the staff, ensuring every area is well covered.
Little thought has been given to the shops either, despite the fact that they are integral to your park's progress. The usual spiel of placing food and drink, toilets, and souvenir stalls is in place here, like in Theme Park. However, Information Desks are an original idea, selling maps, pointing out directions, and providing umbrellas if it rains.
Your guests are fickle folk too, who on occaision don't spend anything in your park and leave after a scant look around, although if you have placed rides and buildings well, they should look after themselves. You can follow their thoughts and spending, and even lift them up and move them to new locations! I tend to punish angry guests by making a pit in the middle of a lake with the superb landscaper tool, and dropping them in. [Um .. is that legal? - Ed]
Rollercoaster Tycoon is extremely impressive. This one is great for strategy fans, SimCity lovers, and anyone hoping to produce the next Disneyland. Great work from Sawyer and the team.
And when you have finished with the original game, why not check out the website which, especially for a non-multiplayer game, is extremely good. You can download new track designs for every kind of coaster and track ride, made by the game's creator, Chris Sawyer, and even upload and download custom rides made by other people. Fantastic.