Bringing the theme park simulation game thoroughly up to date, Planet Coaster arrives on consoles with full support for the new generation.
Ah, the rollercoaster. That great invention that grew out of the age-old question, “what if we put you in this cart, let go of it at the top of a hill, and see what happens?” As any theme park fan knows, coasters have been getting bigger, weirder and faster for decades – and for 21 years, aspiring coaster designers have been able to create, build and test their own, thanks to video games.
The Rollercoaster Tycoon series of games that got this train rolling (that way, really fast) reached a pinnacle in 2004 with the third in the series, the first developed by veteran UK studio Frontier Developments. A studio best known these days for its space trading-and-pew-pew sim Elite Dangerous, Frontier decided to revisit the concept using modern tech, resulting in 2016’s hugely successful PC release of Planet Coaster. Frontier have turned their attention to consoles recently, which means that you can now kick back on the couch and craft the theme park of your dreams in swanky 4K.
The concept of the game is pretty straightforward; as a campaign, you’re given a series of theme parks to manage… and they’re often in a pretty sorry state. Your goal is to fix the park’s problems – whether they be in the choice of rides, the state of repair, the layout and flow of the park, the price of the rides versus customer satisfaction, and of course the amount of fear your coasters generate. Yes, fear is a metric in Planet Coaster – too much fear and your punters will stay away, but without enough fear they’ll go home disappointed.
That may all seem a little weird as you sit through the tutorial, where you build what is effectively a neon merry-go-round and discover that it’s somehow the most popular ride in the park. As you tweak its admission cost the queues grow, the Sims-like murmurs of joy from the customers are tangible, and if you’re bold enough to shut the ride down, the crowd walks away, heads hung low in sadness. It’s a neat little preview of how the whole thing works, just on a smaller scale – so once you’re done tormenting your poor guests, you’ll be equipped to make them happy (and scared) on a grand scale.
The game’s move over to console is largely a great success. This – like Frontier’s other games – was a mouse-and-keyboard PC game through and through, and yet they’ve managed to transition it to consoles faithfully. Like almost all console versions of games like this, there’s a pretty steep learning curve when it comes to the controls – they’ve managed to cram everything in to the available controller buttons, but don’t be surprised if you initially find yourself zooming in and out and around like the last person at a New Year’s party deciding it’s a good time for gaming. If you’ve played simulation games on consoles before (such as Sims 4 or Frontier’s own Jurassic World Evolution) you’ll feel at home fast enough.
Graphically, the game is absolutely gorgeous in its bright, heavily stylised way. We played on Xbox One X (which auto-upgrades to the Series X version) as well as PS5. There’s very little difference visually between the two, remarkably – Frontier have used the extra power of the new-generation consoles to increase the size limit on the parks that you design, something that will become an important thing once you get into the game’s sandbox “go nuts” mode.
“Graphically, the game is absolutely gorgeous in its bright, heavily stylised way.”
If there’s anything to criticise, it’s the amount of downloadable content that’s likely to turn up for the game over time. With four years in the oven, the PC version has scored nearly a dozen DLCs, most priced at 15 bucks each, adding new stuff to plonk down in your parks. That’s not unusual for the sim game market by any means, but it would’ve been nice to see some of that existing DLC wrapped up in the console package. Instead, you’ll see the first four paid add-ons advertised the first time you load the game. We could also have done without the “aspirational” music that constantly plays across the game (think “eyyy-ohhh” excessive joy as heard in many a banking ad) – it makes the Sims 4 muzak sound appealing by comparison, and that’s really saying something.
If you love your sim games, love your theme parks, and especially if you love both, Planet Coaster on console is quite possibly the best thing to grab for the summer holidays, especially in a year when the real-life theme parks are a little more out of reach than usual. Despite some awkward controls, it’s a really well-made sim that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and its new console versions maintain the quality and fun that made the game such a huge hit in the first place.
Planet Coaster: Console Edition is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S/One and PS4.