A massive world of possibilities
Note: I got the Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 with both expansion packs Soaked! and Wild! and played them all at the same time, so this is a review of the game with its two expansions.
Pretty much every gamer is familiar or at least has heard of the Roller Coaster Tycoon franchise. The first one practically revolutionized the way simulations had been thought of before, and contributed to spawning countless other “tycoons” titles.
Offering practically limitless possibilities
As the name suggests, the primary concern of Roller Coaster Tycoon is to build an appealing theme park, attract visitors and rack in the money. You can do this in various ways, including entry fees to the park and to the rides, but also by information stands, toilets (in true French fashion), food stands and souvenirs stands- but, to my disappointment, still no game stalls where people can throw away tens of dollars to try and win a small teddy bear. The core of the game is really to build rides and coasters (one nifty thing is that you can custom build certain rides, including a wide variety of coasters, and one could find endless joys in that aspect of the game), while keeping visitors happy. In scenario mode, you may get more specific goals (building a coaster of a certain excitement rate, have a certain number of visitors, achieve a certain park rating), and even have to comply to the increasing demands of VIPs, but all scenarios revolve around the concept of making more money and bringing more people in, which should not really be any surprise. The experience is a very pleasant one as you can follow your little guests around, examining their thoughts, sharing their fun before they decide – generally a few days and sometimes weeks later – that it’s time to go home.
The third installment doesn’t shame its predecessors and, while not taking things much further than RCT2 did as far as basic gameplay is concerned, its 3D engine does make a difference since there are no more “hidden corners” while you’re building and you can zoom in, zoom out and rotate with ease. An added bonus of the 3D engine is that you can now ride your own roller coaster, and the game does a good job of rendering the appropriate exhilarating effect of coasters with all its sharp turns and drops.
The two expansions cover interesting grounds: in Soaked!, you’re enabled to build custom pools, water slides included. In Wild!, you can buy and breed animals in your park, build safaris, and custom build lion shows or dolphin shows, in a very Zoo Tycoonesque fashion. The fun part, of course, is putting it all together, but it can get a little messy and a tad unrealistic when you get a gorilla cage in the bare sand, right under a soaring roller coaster. It would have been somewhat challenging to have a sound factor and an environment factor incorporated in the game that affected the way animals behave. Otherwise, the animal aspect of the game is nice, although basic: you have to take care of them, otherwise animal rights activists take them away. They sometimes break away from their cage, and you have to go after them in a helicopter, equipped with shooting darts, which adds a nice little game-within-the-game aspect. Both expansions also come with their own scenarios that target specific aspects of the game, and they can be interesting especially in Wild!: a few scenarios, for example, require you to to breed animals and sell them for a certain amount of money. All in all, RCT3 with both expansion packs is a massive toy set with laser shows, animal shows, fireworks, a giant collection of roller coasters and rides and a variety of themed scenery items, although most of the latter is really for show and doesn’t affect the gameplay much. But all of it is custom, so you could play the same scenario ten times and end up with ten very different theme parks.
Nothing has improved in the way of the building system, which is everything but intuitive. Many times you start a road, realize it doesn’t connect with another for some odd reason – generally a slight bump on the map – and have to do it again, or try to patch things up with the somehow clunky landscape tools, ultimately deciding to abandon the task and bulldoze the ride you had planned to put somewhere. This can get excruciatingly frustrating when you discover that you can build rides over roads and even over other rides, only to find out it is almost impossible to connect the said rides to other roads. A more intelligent and self-correcting system of laying down paths – such as the one in Railroad Tycoon 3 – would have saved a lot of time, effort and frustration: it renders the custom building of rides tedious and overly technical when it should just be plain fun, and when some scenarios, due to the lack of ground space, force you to go up, it ends up taking hours to accomplish seemingly simple tasks. However, once you made a few of those mistakes, you’ll know how to avoid them and end up doing it almost right all of the time – but it never gets to an easy and intuitive point.
As far as sound and graphics goes, it’s superb. The roller coasters sounds are particularly well-rendered, and the water in the pools totally looks real – you can even use your mouse to produce waves and twirls, to the delight of customers. The animals look good and move realistically enough, and the general depth of detail is pretty fantastic: each visitor is unique and has with them a certain amount of money, sometimes items such as monkey ears or balloons that you can see floating around. The scenery is most of the time beautiful, varied and creative – there is a Dracula-esque castle and a mock Atlantis setting – , and even achieves levels of breathtakingness especially when riding coasters. The only problem with the sound is the default New Age music, but you can ask the game to import your own soundtrack from MP3s on your computer – one of the many nice little touches of RCT3.
All and all, despite the very particular problem with paths, Roller Coaster Tycoon remains with its 3rd installment one of the best in its genre: it has a huge library of objects, rides and scenery offering practically limitless possibilities, and enables you to build your ideal theme park, complete with pools, water slides, safaris and animal shows. So buckle up, because RCT3 is going to take you on one ride you will not regret!
The Bad: Goofy building tools make some tasks almost impossible; Still lacks the presence of game stands; Tacky default music