Previews

So you wanna build a Theme Park? — Hands-on preview with Planet Coaster: Console Edition

If you’ve been reading the site for a while you know my love of sim games, and there is one I love above all others — Planet Coaster (you can read my review here). Recently we met up with the Frontier Developments team and got to go hands-on with the console version of the game, cleverly named Planet Coaster: Console Edition. Headed to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, could the team capture a completely new audience with their coaster theme park creator?

Focusing on the PlayStation 4 version (which looked essentially like the PC version, from what I could tell from the stream all the way to Cambridge, England anyway), the demo kicked off with a brand new tutorial designed to introduce new players (and double-dipping PC players) to the new control scheme built specifically for the console versions of the game. Focusing on radial menus, this demo started off by introducing a few new characters.

The tutorial kicks off with Oswald B. Thompson, your narrator, park coordinator, and self-described “theme park impresario.” His goal is to teach you the basics of ride and attraction placement, how to properly squeeze your guests of all of their hard-earned cash, and how to use that money to build fresh and exciting rides. First up, building and placement.

From what I’ve seen so far, the differences between PC and console are minimal.

A new character, Eugene Newton, helps you get your ride positioned and placed, showing you how to rotate, move, and place your rides within your park. Clearing the field for placement also introduces us to the new radial menu that will allow you to duplicate, move, delete (and/or sell) and otherwise adjust any objects in the park. Advanced move is in here as well, letting you change Z-axis, tilt, and shuffle your ride to fit any theming that may require it. It’s also here that we see our first improvement coming over from the PC version — the entry and exit system. Once placed, the ride immediately asks you to place the entrance and exit, instead of attending to those after the fact.

For all of that money business, Mr. Thompson also introduces you to another character — park CFO Cynthia Clarke. She’s going to help you yank dollars out of the pockets of your guests by adjusting the prices in the new Park Management sections. With consoles being played on large TV screens in the living room, the Frontier team moved to a more “metro” dash look, with large tabs and panels to show how your guests, park, staff, and finances are doing.

Theming your park is half the fun of running it!

In this tutorial you’ll also get to meet Lucy Summers, your resident teenager, social media maven, and guest happiness expert. She can guide you as you upgrade your queue path prettiness, plunk down park scenery, and generally improve your overall park aesthetics through careful use of theming. Generally speaking, your guests will guide you on where you need to focus, though you can also use “heat maps” to see where your theming is the most effective.

With the tutorial behind us, it was time to take it to the sandbox mode.

Sandbox mode, for those who haven’t played the PC version, gives players unlimited cash and sets them free in a world of their own creation. For my hands-on demo, I chose a winged coaster, though there are dozens of prebuilt and build-your-own options available as well. Settling on the Black Falcon style (two seats side by side on each side of the rail, not unlike the Joker ride at Six Flags over Texas (an S&S Worldwide free spin 4D coaster)), we began to build a rudimentary coaster layout. Selecting the lift type, we got to see another great improvement for this version of the game — the ability to look at the track build in the first person perspective. This allows you to carefully guide your track angles, threading it through any theming you might have placed, as well as allowing you to look around to see the experience your guests are getting. This is especially useful if you are wondering why a particular section is considered “too scary” — poke your head in there and you just might agree! Just like the PC version, you can use as much or as little track as your heart desires, and when you’ve got it generally close to the end, you can choose autocomplete to get it all lined up and ready to test. Auto-tunneling, track supports, angle adjustments and snap functions, and pre-built loops, turns, and banks all make their way over from the PC version, as does the live-data panel and first-person perspective to see how it all turned out.

To help with object placement, I also got to check out the new grid system. Poring through the myriad of options, I can see that they are also color coded by theme for easy sorting. Placing a few sci-fi pieces showcased just how huge the decorations can really be, as well as a fresh take on the grid system to help you precisely place objects in the environment. Dropping a Chief Beef burger joint and a Cosmic Cow milk shake shop and getting them lined up with a handful of shrubberies is easily accomplished with a new grid line system that lets you see precisely how things are oriented against other objects in the environment.

Hanging coaster are the best!

Seeing the PS4 version in action, I couldn’t help but marvel at the performance. The game looks fantastic, and the compromises are only really obvious if you’ve spent hundreds of hours in the PC version. The terrain painter is as powerful as ever, building a coaster has never been simpler, and bringing your pirate/western/sci-fi mashup to life for a very confused set of guests is as easy as it always has been — perhaps even easier thanks to some well-oiled improvements. I came away from my time with the game with the thought that this game isn’t so much of a port of the PC version, but a direct extension of the PC version. The team has clearly put a lot of emphasis on making this version nearly indistinguishable from its PC counterpart, while highly accessible for a brand new audience.

You won’t have to wait long to experience it for yourself as Planet Coaster: Console Edition hits PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this holiday, with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions likely hitting at or near the launch of those platforms.

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