Alphas can often be a difficult way to judge a game. It can be a difficult task to determine if a feature is a placeholder, if there will be enough content to flesh out the experience, and if certain things are design problems that will be fixed. That’s kind of where I am with the current build of Planet Coaster. It feels really good – Planet Coaster will most likely be the RollerCoaster Tycoon successor that many are hoping for. Some aspects keep me from wholeheartedly endorsing it, but this looks to be the go-to simulator for building the theme park of your dreams.
Planet Coaster looks gorgeous and runs smoothly – even in its alpha state, it was tough to bog down the game with too many assets running at once. Characters move fluidly, rides act as they should, and of course you can hop aboard and ride in your park and strap yourself in. In addition, your park can be customized however you like, and there is already a huge amount of content available in the Steam Workshop. If the community stays aboard Planet Coaster, you will never lack for new attractions and ways to customize your park.
In a way, the sheer amount of content and minutiae available in Planet Coaster can be intimidating, especially in the game’s alpha state. There is no tutorial currently available, so figuring out how to do things can be a task in and of itself. I found myself struggling with how to build an upward path, for instance, to access a roller coaster with an elevated entrance. That kind of trial and error is expected in any game, but the labyrinth of options combined with a lack of instructions made it difficult to determine if I was just overlooking something simple (I was).
One of the best and worst features of Planet Coaster is that the familiar grid system of most construction simulator games is gone. In most games of this ilk, paths and buildings snap into place in a grid, giving you less freedom of where things can go but making it easier to visualize and organize things. In Planet Coaster, paths can be winding, curving messes. This can make things tedious when you absolutely want to make a straight path but cannot quite hash it, no matter how many times you place things. It can also make simple things like placing a ticket booth to enter a ride much more difficult than they need to be, as the path will not always “snap” together the way you think it should.
The pure sandbox mode grew tiresome quickly for me, as building management simulators need a degree of challenge for me to enjoy them. Infinite money and an ability to pause means that it is too easy to create an efficient juggernaut of a theme park. The other available option in the alpha puts some limits on your spending, so it is where I have spent most of my time. Difficulty is still not really a thing, however: those with experience in this genre should not have much trouble with either of the available alpha modes.
Planet Coaster does have other content on the way, including scenarios and a career mode that will hopefully add some structure to an otherwise enjoyable experience. It seems as this will be the definitive theme park management game, but there is one thing that concerns me: Planet Coaster seems awfully unfinished for a game that releases in just over three weeks.
Part of the unfinished nature may be due to whatever the Planet Coaster team is saving for the upcoming beta release or the final product release on November 17. This game has all the pieces in place to be really good. It just needs that fine-tuning in order to become a must own simulation game.
Ready for Planet Coaster on November 17th? Have you had a chance to play the alpha at all. Let us know in the comments below! For another take on a similar genre, check out our review of Parkitect here.