Planet Coaster has everything I need in a modern revival of the theme park sim format. The huge variety of attractions and rides are complemented by a ridiculous amount of terrain, structures, and customization options that make Planet Coaster so popular it begs the question: What took so long? Although it is far from being an engaging economic simulator, it does not have the ability to build certain types of buildings. However, many of its weaknesses will be overcome by the clever inclusion of mod support.
It is easier and more intuitive to build and manage a park than its incredible versatility suggests. I used keyboard shortcuts to place and reposition, move, resize, color, and edit gift shops and ice cream stands as well as coasters, carousels and walkways. Although fine control such as custom angles-snapping or widths for paths can seem daunting at first, it allowed me to customize every square foot of my park exactly how I wanted it to look. There are so many options available from just remixing stock items. The Steam workshop interface makes it easy to browse through the vast array of options.
Planet Coaster's spirit is best displayed in the coaster editor. There are 28 types of coasters to choose from, including wooden, chain-lifted steel, and hydraulically launched. Each type has its own behavior and restrictions. I was able to control the bank, slope, and turn of the track. This allowed me to make almost any shape I wanted. Every coaster comes with pre-made loops, turns, which I can mix in, resize and reposition. One problem was that I couldn't build the coasters I wanted, which meant no one would want to ride them.
It makes sense to a certain extent. Once each coaster has been tested, it is given a rating for Excitement and Fear. High Excitement is always a good thing. High levels of nausea are always bad. Fear is more of an artful balance where you can have some but not too many. Planet Coaster is a great tool for helping you determine where your ratings are coming. At least, that's the theory. You can view a heatmap that shows track segments by track to see which parts of your coaster are getting guests excited and which ones are making it difficult for them to pour a caramel sundae on the poor people below. However, I found that the goal of building a supercoaster was almost impossible to achieve.
My first designs were flawed in that they had a maximum lateral force of 48x Earth's gravity. However, my later designs, which are more refined, ran into problems where the Excitement level couldn't be raised to save my life. Even though Excitement heatmap indicated that more than half my track had Excitement ratings above 10, I often ended up with Excitement ratings lower than 1. The only difference between my designs and the coasters made by others was the size. It's a bit disappointing that a fantasy rollercoaster game's algorithm penalizes you for going big.
I played most in Challenge. This mode is very similar to the classic tycoon game. You start with nothing and build your park brick-by-brick. However, you are required to borrow money and have a budget. To purchase new coasters and stores, you will need to spend cash. Career, which is a series that you can take an existing park and make it more interesting to accomplish a set of objectives, was not something I found particularly exciting. They were great for showing me how the parks were designed by developers. This opened my eyes to all the possibilities that I could create with the tools I have. Sandbox is a Challenge mode that lets you build whatever you want and pays $1,000,000 per year to your janitors.
Although Career and Challenge is complex, the economic side of Career and Challenge is not difficult. Once you have a profit-making park, it becomes less important. It took me a long time to find the right piece of property, and I needed loans. But eventually I reached a point where my annual profits were almost enough to demolish everything and start over. You can set prices for entry, rides and stalls. If you feel particularly greedy, you can charge for the toilet and increase ATM fees. Staff wages are required, and will be expected to earn more as they get more experience. Each ride comes with a cost and a wear and tear rating. These ratings must be reset every now and again by paying for refurbishments. This last bit adds some strategy, as certain rides are more reliable than others but less fun. These considerations can be easily dismissed in an era where money is no longer a factor.
One of my biggest complaints about staff is the use of the same character model for each staff member. Janitors look exactly the same as Saturday's cartoon custodian at middle school. Every mechanic looks cheerful and mustache-wearing, even though the roster says his/her name "Nancy Brown". It would have been great to experience the same tech being applied to employees, since guests could make a variety of appearances at my park.
It is more difficult than necessary to manage these subordinates. Although the ledger lists all salaries, training levels, work groups, and other information, these can't be edited directly from there. To give them raises or assign them to another area of the park, I had to click on each staff member on the list.
Similar to the previous point, pre-made decorations that are not modified can be a little restrictive. You won't be able to create Fairy Tale Land or Robot Land unless you have the patience to hand-make your scenery and buildings. This is not something that everyone can do, given the time required. The tools are flexible enough that even the most dedicated can create almost any design they want. You can have a huge statue of Enterprise D standing over your inverted coaster. You can have a pizza place that looks professional if you put in the effort and time.
Although it is not a great capitalism simulator, Planet Coaster can be used to build theme parks. It rarely takes an idea that I have and tells me "No, you cannot do that." One of the best parts about Planet Coaster is its ability to integrate seamlessly with Steam Workshop. A great theme park simulator which I definitely recommend for fans of the genre.