Review by Chaos Control

"Become Big Brother"

Ever feel like you are being watched? The uneasiness you feel when you realize somebody is controlling every aspect of your life is frightening in its own way, isn't it? Those who have read 1984 by George Orwell should be all too familiar to the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", and the book describes a society in which this mystical "Big Brother" is constantly watching you, manipulating every condition of your life. Not even your thoughts escape surveillance, as the Thought Police are always waiting for some poor sap to make a mistake. Keep that unnerving idea of 1984 in mind, and we will look at the greener fields of Roller Coaster Tycoon. Sure, the goal of the game is to create a successful and fun theme park for all kinds of people to enjoy. But if you look past the wonderful colors and awesome rides, you see so many distinct parallels between this cheerful amusement park and the darkness of 1984. This game allows you to step into the mythical shoes of "Big Brother" and enjoy limitless control over the lives of everyday citizens with nobody checking your power. For one thing, you can pick up any individual and move them anywhere inside your park. From the moment a guest enters your park, they are your prisoners and are at your mercy. Another thing is that you can see what your guests are thinking with a little message in the guest status window. When you can see the thoughts of an individual, you know something is wrong with privacy protection. Conclusion: Chris Sawyer is "Big Brother"?!

Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? Maybe he read 1984 in an amusement park and got this sick, twisted idea to create a theme park simulation based on absolute control? Either way, this is a very fine game that I really enjoy playing, not just because I get to mess around with virtual lives. There is not much of a story mode in this game, but a list of scenarios for you to complete. You start off with a certain number of scenarios and unlock more as you complete them. The requirements for completing scenarios are straight forward, like achieving a certain number of guests in park, retaining a certain park rating, or getting a high park value after a predetermined number of years. Some of the later scenarios have really difficult requirements that will have you racing against the calender to complete the scenario. The calender is should be familiar, but you skip the winter months (November, December, January, and February) to avoid the snow. Sometimes, you will just get an empty block of land and are told to create a theme park. Other times, you will already be started with a small theme park and told to expand it. To expand it, you will need to build rides, shops, stalls, and the real money makers: roller coasters.

The variety of buildings and rides is enormous and adds tremendously to the game play. You start off a theme park with a few minor rides, like Merry-Go-Rounds or something. Then once a few guests start to arrive, you can start building cheap thrill rides to get your money flowing. Once you build your first roller coaster, however, people will really start pouring in. If you build more rides and expand your park, you will be rolling in wealth and can really start enjoying the game. Of course, overpopulation can be a really bad thing. An overcrowded park is never good, and can only make guests unhappy. With so many people, you have to provide food courts, restrooms, and Information Kiosks that sell maps and umbrellas for those rainy days. You gotta build trash cans so people don't litter. You need to hire an efficient staff to maintain and fix rides, maintain order, janitors to clean up messes, or even poor souls thrown in animal costumes to entertain people. And of course, to those people with motion sickness, one ride on a roller coaster can make them puke, so your janitor will have to mop up the barf. And when a hundred people puke every day, you can imagine how dirty his mop becomes. See how complicated running a theme park is? Add up all the little responsibilities and you suddenly find yourself completely busy.

Common strategies used by real theme parks are present in this game as well. For example, one strategy is to build your food court far away from the monster roller coasters. Other strategies would be to build flowers, statues, and fountains throughout your park to keep your guests happy and distracted from the fact that they have no free will in this park. As a joke, if you leave the status window of one individual on your screen long enough, they will start thinking, "I feel as though somebody is watching me". Ha! Strategies that real theme parks can't use but you can are also prevalent. For one thing, you somehow have a little pincer tool that can pick anybody up. You can watch them dangle from the sky before you put them down somewhere. You can repeatedly pick them up and drop them in front of a ride until they enter the queue line for that ride. It's a really cheap way of forcing people to spend money. You can even abuse your guests by dropping them in bodies of water, or on really high elevated squares of land to trap them. See the potential abuse for human being lives?! I love this game.

Besides human abuse, another major aspect of your park is economics. In most scenarios, you are allowed to manipulate the prices of your park. You can change stuff like the price of maps, umbrellas, food, drinks, rides, and the entrance fee. Nothing can beat my personal favorite: charging people to use the restroom. If somebody needs to go really badly, they really don't have any choice but to use my reasonably priced restroom at 50 cents per use. Same with the food. Would you rather starve or pay $4 for a delicious burger? You can use your money to put up advertisements for your park or a particular ride, to encourage people to enter your little world, or even offer promotions like coupons for free drinks. The possibilities are endless! Another one of my favorite things to do is to build an Information Kiosk in the middle of nowhere selling over priced umbrellas. By building just one square path and dropping people onto that path on a rainy day, they are forced to walk that single path until they buy an overpriced umbrella because that's the only way I'll let them go!

As the name of the game suggests, roller coasters and rides are a huge part of the game. All types of roller coasters (like wooden or steel) already have models already designed with price tags that you can build instantly. If you have the time and budget, you can even design your own coaster to have it go as high or far as you want. Just make sure you don't design something too intense or nauseating, as no one will dare ride it! For all of the rides, you can color them as you see fit. If there are trees or hills blocking your way, you can bend the landscape with a click and drag of the mouse. Destruction of trees and the natural environment is fully supported and is actually good for your park. Ironic, isn't it? Safety is also important. In order to keep rides running safely, you need to hire many mechanics to quickly respond when rides break down and to inspect them regularly. It would be an absolute shame if a ride would crash and people die, right? Surely this game doesn't attract the maniacs who laugh with glee when they watch the awesome animation and sound of a crashing coaster, right? I hope not, but it just emphasizes how important safe fun really is. If anything, some roller coasters will let you create a photo booth, where you can take pictures of guests at the most exciting parts of the ride, and sell it to them at expensive prices.

Just don't forget your budget. Your staff need to be paid every month, rides need money to run, shops and stalls need to be supplied. All these costs add up and you will be paying a lot of money just to keep your park running. If you run short, you can always borrow money by the thousands from a usually generous bank. They charge interest though, so it's always a good thing to be free of debt. People are willing to pay higher prices for new rides, so if you see that guests aren't riding a particular attracting, try lowering the price a bit. If that doesn't work, just tear it down and rebuild the same thing again, bumping up the price to it's prime again! The game will tell you exactly how much certain products cost and give a recommended price. Of course, you have to jack it up yourself for the extra money!

The goals of your park are Number of Guests, Park Value, Ride Value, or more. You can increase the number of guests by building more attractions or trapping people who want to leave on an elevated piece of land. Don't do the latter unless you really need to meet a deadline. Park value is the value of everything in your park, like how much money you have, the rides, and the shops. Ride value is just the value of all your rides. Meeting these are the most important criteria and after a few scenarios, you will feel very comfortable even in the most challenging of scenarios.

The interface is surprisingly easy, especially with keyboard short cuts. With the push of one key, you can pull up windows that you can drag around the screen of stuff like ride statuses, list of people categorizes by their thoughts (privacy controversy), or finances. This makes the game play very organized and efficient. I found no problems with the controls, but you better have a good mouse, because a touch pad just won't work quickly enough.

This game is very fun and very addicting, being that you are the sole owner of a prospering theme park. You have the freedom to do basically anything you want, from designing heart stopping roller coasters to building idle rides like a Cinema. If it makes you feel better, you can rename your guests. This is a great game for those interested in economics and strategy, as well as those dictator types. There is much more to be found under game play and rides, but you can only truly understand if you experience for yourself.

So we have established that the game play is excellent, but what about the graphics and other visuals? I'll tell you, they are pretty amazing. You can tell just by seeing the huge roller coaster designs when you preview it before you build it. Everything about this game looks splendid, from the decorations/scenery to the environment. Before you deforest the land and dry up the lakes, you actually see a very pretty landscape with animals like ducks. Well, move the construction trucks in and watch as a theme park takes over the land.

The actual sprites of the walking guests aren't very detailed, but they are all individually colored and have motions and actions that look smooth and connected. You can view the entire park with a camera that can zoom in and out, with kind of an overhead view. You can see little puddles of yellow that is actually puke, food and drinks, and other aspects of your park clearly.

The animation is also well done. The way a roller coaster slows down as it goes up the rails and zooms down never gets old. You can watch as people board your ride and get off. People also have their own actions, like checking watches and maps, or even putting up an umbrella when it is raining. Overall, the graphics are nicely shaded to take light and weather into account to make the environments look somewhat realistic, and the rides, attractions, and stalls have many vibrant colors and designs that never gets old.

In the sound department, the first thing you notice is how much your theme park sounds like an actual theme park. You hear people chatting randomly, screaming on intense rides, or even puking. You can hear the sounds of roller coaster moving on the tracks and can even hear the sound of rain! You can tell people are using your overpriced bathrooms by the sound of toilets flushing. When people enter a ride or buy from a shop, you can hear the best sound in the game: the cha-ching and the money counter at the bottom of the screen going up. Sound effects are well done as well, like the revving of engines in Go-Karts. Roller Coaster Tycoon does a great job of imitating the sounds of a amusement park, although it is slightly limited.

Musically, there are common circus tunes and such, evident by rides such as Merry-Go-Rounds which play annoying music. Bumper Karts have their own theme as well, so there is much that you can explore in this category. Personally, I was having too much fun messing around with people to put much consideration in here.

Completing scenarios will only take longer as you venture into tougher categories, so you may be spending hours a day just to complete one scenario. Beating every scenario will take a long time, possible longer than RPGs. Most of the time will be spent micro managing every aspect of your park, so no fatal accident will kill your park and make people leave. You can tell something is wrong when floods of people leave your park and fixing that would take much time and effort.

There are many scenarios to explore, and since they are all different and challenging in different ways, the replay value is moderately high. The only exception to this would be to play Roller Coaster Tycoon for a little bit, then move on to something bigger and better like Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 or 3. This game is certainly good to replay, as you can try out new types of park designs, new roller coasters, or new methods of torture? Anyway, whichever path you choose will result in a good time, because this game really doesn't lack anything except more rides and stalls. That problem is fixed in future expansions, but it is always fun to revisit the first game in a series and wonder in awe how far this series has gone.

I would definitely recommend that you purchase this game and once you feel comfortable with it, try out some expansions (there are many of them) or many even the second or third installment in the series. You simply cannot go wrong with Roller Coaster Tycoon because it is perfect for people of all ages and is actually good practice for those interested in the field of economics. Remember, Big Brother is watching you. But wouldn't it be more fun to actually BE Big Brother? The theme park and all those in it are yours to control.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/29/07

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