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RollerCoaster Tycoon (PC) artwork

RollerCoaster Tycoon (PC) review


"Chris Sawyer has been no stranger to management games in the 90’s, single-handedly programming Transport Tycoon before his White Knuckle project, eventually renamed Rollercoaster Tycoon. Various expansions and sequels followed, the third seeing a shift to full-on 3D and ending Sawyer’s exclusive development, but this original RCT remains as strong as ever. You’re simply building theme parks with a large emphasis on constructing your own custom rollercoasters. Swanky c..."



Chris Sawyer has been no stranger to management games in the 90’s, single-handedly programming Transport Tycoon before his White Knuckle project, eventually renamed Rollercoaster Tycoon. Various expansions and sequels followed, the third seeing a shift to full-on 3D and ending Sawyer’s exclusive development, but this original RCT remains as strong as ever. You’re simply building theme parks with a large emphasis on constructing your own custom rollercoasters. Swanky coasters aside though, this at heart a serious theme park management sim: meeting objectives by a set deadline, such as attaining a high reputation, a park value and ensuring enough guests are visiting. It certainly kicks Bullfrog’s earlier Theme Park in the backside, boasting superior graphics and somewhat realistic coaster building, as opposed to Theme Park’s endless 2km drops.

One of the key assets of this title is the large variety of scenarios on offer, being progressively unlocked throughout. Objectives can vary from building a park from scratch, or developing unprofitable small parks into a money-spinning wild theme park. Karts and Coasters and Evergreen Gardens are predominantly forest ridden, where a fair amount of money will have to be spent felling trees, but such activity is forbidden by the council in the Rainbow Hill park. Seaside based parks like Bumbly Beach want you to transform a Brighton-esque amusement park to match Blackpool, but Paradise Pier is actually on the sea where you’re constructing a park around a small pier. A disused coalmine where it rains more than a British summer is present here, plus parks like Ivory Towers have narrow, sloped terrain making it awkward to build in. The variety of parks is more than adequate, presenting real challenges and lateral thinking manipulating some tricky terrain.

Building roller-coasters is fairly easy, but creating rides that are exciting but not too intense takes some mastering. The killer-ride with five consecutive corkscrews and loops will lose appeal simply because it looks too scary. The construction process is simply building the ride from start to finish, selecting which track part to place, from slopes and turns to g-drops and corkscrews, and rides can be amended midway without having to erase what was built after it. Roller-coaster designs start from a classic wooden design to corkscrew and bobsleigh rides, spending more on added steel allows loops and even more specialist single rail or corkscrew designs. One of the great challenges presented here is building around obstacles, altering the landscape and editing other rides just so you can get the final turn to the station. The roller-coaster building interface is used for virtually anything that runs on a track such as the car-ride, log flume and river rapids for instance. It’s the intuitively of the interface that really makes this title, making it a pleasurable experience so you can focus on ace coasters, rather than fidgeting erratically through complex menus.

There’s far more to building a successful park than wacky roller-coasters. The flexibility and options on offer are further stand-out points, ensuring there is the right mix of casual rides and shops to even landscaping the park; with the option to raise or level land or add water, necessary for ride tunnels when the scenery often conflicts with your ride plans. A park laden with scenery and gardens is an effective way to make happy guests, but is useless if the path infrastructure resembles a plate of spaghetti. Aesthetics aside, the essential businesses components are here: a reputation has to be maintained by ensuring customer satisfaction and addressing complaints, there need to be enough staff like handymen, mechanics and security guards otherwise the park will spiral into a puke show with every bench smashed to bits iced with broken down rides. Finances never seem to be too much of a worry, as it’s easy to get a large loan without worrying about debts. Park prices need to be enough to break even at least, but set them too high and guests refuse to pay.

Rollercoaster Tycoon is truly a classic strategy game. There are plenty of options and ways to modify every aspect of the park, yet keep it simple and usable. Scenarios are abundant with challenging objectives, giving a real sense of satisfaction upon completion. The only real flaws lay within the flimsy guest AI, with little assistance when things go fatally wrong from an construction error, such as guests getting stuck on a path area because you accidentally deleted it. The objectives also soon become quite samey in the face of the long list of scenarios, being predominantly about attracting enough guests, building a reputation or achieving a park value before a certain deadline. It’s one to play in bursts, rather than start to end in a few weeks. A few more variations in shop styles and designs would have been nice, but it seldom matters when presented with masses of the roller-coaster styles with endless of customisation possibilities.

Behind the old-school isometric visuals lies a fun, tricky and ultimately satisfying experience, especially after building a killer ride from endless experimenting. Indeed, the nature of isometric 3D does make the park-building process quite tricky such as trying to work through rollercoaster supports or editing an area buried behind other entities. For a low-powered PC though, this game is a real bargain. Indeed the guest AI and a limited amount of scene variation are the two key flaws, but essentially this is a game that works, and well. Constructing killer rides provides endless fun, and despite two sequels to this title this original still holds up. Simple but effective, despite its repetitive feel, a bit of perseverance makes this title really rewarding to play.

Rating: 8/10

bigcj34's avatar
Community review by bigcj34 (December 06, 2008)

Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.

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