Escaping to a virtual happy place

Daniel Lim

While the coronavirus pandemic caused global travel restrictions and lockdowns, it did not majorly affect my lifestyle much as I enjoy quiet alone time at home. However, I do miss travelling with the expectation of visiting theme parks around the world.

This is where I resort to indulge myself in online video games to re-live my passion for theme parks. But, what the games fail to convey is the sense of interactivity of being in a theme park, which so happens to be what Planet Coaster excels in.

While conceived as a construction and management simulation game, released in 2016 for the Windows Platform, Planet Coaster tasks players to not only builde a dream theme park but also to enjoy the resulting rides and atmosphere.

Celebrating its fourth anniversary late last year with the release of the console edition as well as a port to the MacOS, Planet Coaster has expanded with a multitude of free and paid downloadable expansion that greatly diversifies the gameplay experience.

This includes expansions that bring classic wooden rides in the Classic Rides Collection: an expansion that features building and sceneries from across the world in the World’s Fair Pack. These expansion packs further enhance the already bustling base game.

Players are tasked with building a dream theme park. PHOTOS: FRONTIER DEVELOPMENT
The game’s career mode thrusts players into managing a pre-constructed theme park with various goals
Planet Coaster allows players to spend time down on the visitors’ level

Speaking of the base game, one of the immediate highlights is its jingle and main opening theme, selling the fun and wonders of managing and visiting a theme park. It sure is an earworm for myself.

While the joy of managing and playing around in the virtual theme park can be appealing, the game is far from perfect as one of the initial hurdle that players may encounter is the career mode which serves as the overarching campaign of the game.

The career mode thrusts players into managing a pre-constructed theme park with various goals to achieve, which can include reaching a certain amount of income or guests, to building specific buildings and sceneries.

The trouble with it is that the game does little to highlight how to achieve these things, and are heavily reliant on the players’ ability to sort things out on their own. This resulted in players seeking guides outside of the game.

Granted, the number of tutorials and guides available online are comprehensive ranging from the basic and advance features of the game. However, I believe these guides should be easily conveyed in-game.

Regardless, once players get experience, Planet Coaster offers an in-depth simulation of running a theme park, as developer Frontier Development are known for. They made the popular Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 in the early 2000s.

That being said, building and managing parks in an isometric and overhead view are half of the fun in Planet Coaster as eluded before; the other half come from spending time down on the visitors level, and appreciating the detailed work that makes a theme park fun.

Among the downloadable contents released, two stand out – a free release of the Quick Draw Interactive Shooting Ride; and the paid Ghostbuster pack.

As the former’s name suggests, this particular content pack brings an interactive element whereby rides can be turned into a fun and interactive shooting gallery complete with targets and a high score table for guests and the players themselves.

In a similar vain to this is the Ghostbusters pack which offers the most in terms of playability, as it not only includes new scenery elements but another new gameplay addition.

In the form of ghost busting, players are tasked to manage parks that are prone to paranormal activities which can be countered by hiring the newly introduced staff – Ghostbusters.

The Ghostbusters pack differs from other packs with a campaign and story mode, which slowly introduces players to some new mechanics through scripted events voiced by Dan Aykroyd and Willian Atherton who reprised their role in the game as Raymond Stantz and Walter Peck from the 1984 Ghostbusters movie.

With all the additions, Planet Coaster is now a game that can transport players to fantasise about their dream theme park, building a virtual reality and enjoying the finished product from an eye-level perspective.