Review by asherdeus
"Real RollerCoasters make me sick. I threw up all over one of my aunt's friends one time when she made me go on one."
I once worked in an amusement park, in the gift shops at a Six Flags near my house. The pay was awful, but for the most part I liked my job. That was, until I made some comments in my online journal about the job. Then I hated it, because the managers found my journal online and decided I couldn't work there anymore. Instead of taking the manly approach to the situation, they interrogated me in a small room for about an hour, trying to get me to confess to stealing product, which I'd never done, until finally I called my dad and they explained the real reason I got called in. I never got fired over it because they had nothing they could fire me over (they tried suspending me for two days), so instead I quit. The few weeks after, I vowed revenge against Six Flags: The Great Escape, planning one day to buy the amusement park entirely and fire every single employee working there that was involved. While I hope to fulfill my dream of bloody revenge, in the meantime I'll be playing RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, the game that gives me the chance to be in charge of the park of my dreams.
I played the original two RollerCoaster Tycoon games, so I'm no newbie to the series. Even though widely successful (right up there with The Sims in sales, if I recall correctly), I have a laundry list of complaints with both games. They're graphically deficient, incredibly restrictive, and horribly lacking in many key design areas. So, when I got RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, I was admittedly hesitant to get into it. Getting into it actually was tricky to be honest with you, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 has one of the most bizarrely designed game boxes I've ever come across, and finding the opening was like finding a challenge. It's shaped like a roller coaster itself, and uses double-sided tape and regular tape to seal it closed. Even the front flap, which is probably one of the best advertisements a PC game can have is hard to open, because it's taped shut with more double-sided tape. This isn't a review for the game's box though, it's for the actual product included. Once the installation was over, I found a game that won't be leaving my hard drive for quite some time.
Every complaint I had with the previous game has been addressed. One of the biggest problems I had with the first two games was the graphics engine. I'm not a graphics whore, but on my nice spiffy laptop, I want a game that doesn't look like it was made in 1994. And thankfully, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 delivers. The series has made an incredibly smooth transition into the third dimension and with that transition came a new camera that really rocks. Not only can you zoom out and in to incredible levels (you can see the entire park or the hat on a customers head), but you can also ride on your own rides. Building your own custom coasters was cool to begin with, but being able to ride them really helps your creativity soar as you can get your own impression of the ride, right from your computer seat without any harnesses.
To go along with that, a custom coaster utility is included with the game, that can be accessed from the main menu. In this mode, you have an unlimited amount of money, and you simply design and test coasters. Instead of worrying about patrons to the park needing to pee or wanting a hat, you can just build and ride your own coasters, and even save them for your parks. I spent a lot of time here trying to make the longest, most intense roller coasters that I could out of the games many different types, including corkscrew and wooden coasters. This also acts as a nice tutorial to coaster making, as there is no punishment for screwing up. Every statistic you'll need is provided after testing the ride, from excitement to intensity to nausea to lateral and vertical g-forces. Basically, everything they try teaching you in physics that you can't comprehend.
The biggest and most fan-requested addition to the game is included as a sandbox mode. In previous RollerCoaster games, this was the game's Achilles tendon, but now that it's here, it was worth the wait. I had hours of fun playing around, building rides without having to worry about cash supply. Sandbox mode also affords you the luxury of being able to setup a park in any fashion you want, without ever having to worry about anything. The sandbox mode in this game could be packaged separately, and it's my opinion that Atari and company could sell it by itself and still have a great game.
Of course, it wouldn't be a RollerCoaster Tycoon game without their patented objective-based levels, and even they have been improved. Instead of having one rather difficult objective to achieve in order to unlock the next level, each objective is based on one of three difficulty levels. Beating the lowest difficultly level will unlock the next available level, which makes it much easier to move on after a particularly tough level. Each different area is creatively designed around a central theme (such as a scenario situated around a lengthy set of Go-Kart tracks in the desert with a Western Theme) with a set of objectives you have to complete (the previously mentioned scenario required you to build up your shop sales while impressing a VIP with exciting coasters). Should you finish all the objectives, a scenario editor is included, and making your own is pretty easy to figure out.
This game is all about customization. You get everything you need to create a park right out of the box, but you can design your own scenarios, park guests, fireworks shows, and buildings. Incredibly, none of this is particularly challenging to figure out as long as you put five to ten minutes into tinkering, with the only exception being the fireworks creator. But even then, the results of the fireworks display can greatly enhance the reputation of your park (also carefully monitored through charts), so any time spent with it is well-worth the results. I think one of the reasons I love this game so much is because it's so accessible, I don't need to have a degree in physics to build a roller coaster, and I don't need to have a business degree to hire staff. Amazingly, both these features feel robust and deep.
The final, major addition to the game is the inclusion of custom music. This is one I would have never even thought of. Each ride allows you to play music and by simply moving some of your own into a special folder the game creates, you can force your guests to listen to your own music. Even better, when you zoom in on that ride, you can hear the song yourself. It mixes surprisingly well, as distance from the particular ride determines how well you can hear the song, so you don't end up listening to 47 different songs all at once. The traditional amusement park sounds like people chatting, lifts for roller coasters and such are all present and accounted for.
If you still don't believe me that this game is wonderful, well, I don't know what else to tell you. Since I begin all my reviews with anecdotes, let me end this one with another. The other day, I was in my college library, armed with my laptop as I struggled to write a paper about Edgar Allan Poe. I was having some writers block, and tapping the side of my notebook by my disc tray. It opened, and RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was in. I didn't realize (I don't normally bring games with me for a reason), and so when the autoplay popped up, I didn't have the willpower to click exit, and ended up working to get tycoon-level on a scenario. Now, if you'll excuse me, time is money, and I have a park to run.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/22/04, Updated 02/28/05
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