A charming third time that more than makes up for a disappointing second
It’s a little heartbreaking that us fans of Rollercoaster Tycoon as a series have to look back at the original with such admiration yet frown so disappointingly at its sequel. Though Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 was a decent enough experience – mainly for new players that have nothing to compare it to – it simply didn’t improve or innovate enough to live up to what was expected of it. The proverbial charm definitely made itself known for the 3rd entry to the series however: drastic improvements including a new 3D engine, swathes of content, and the ever-impressive “Coaster Cam” are just a few of the thirst-quenching refreshments that were missing from Rollercoaster Tycoon 2, so it is with excitement and the aforementioned thirst fully satiated that I enter into a review of Rollercoaster Tycoon 3.
Release Date: 26/10/2004
Available on: PC
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Hardware and Hard Work
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 marks the first time that the game’s developer, Chris Sawyer (as part of a collective called Frontier Development, who later became responsible for titles such as Thrillville: Off the Rails), worked with a full-on team to produce a finished Rollercoaster Tycoon product. Let’s just say that we’re all grateful for this.
The game’s appeal this time therefore comes down not to the recycling of older ideas, but a medley of factors: the changing up of the gameplay; an overhaul in presentation; also the improvement of computer hardware since the original’s release in 1999 is a factor, making things like the Coaster Cam and the exploration of your own theme parks an absolutely fantastic novelty here, and one that doesn’t quickly wear off.
In With the Old, In With the New
What makes this game so much better (and I’m talking an astronomical quantity of betterness here) than Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 is that Frontier Development didn’t go ahead and throw out the things that made the original game a complete success here: much of the original mechanics still remain. If you choose to tackle career mode you’ll be dealing with a range of different scenarios just like in the previous two games, using your management skills to revitalise failing theme parks or solving serious problems that exist within them. Direction and focus is then provided by the three-tier objective system that begins with Apprentice-level tasks and ends with you tackling (if you wish) Tycoon-level goals.
The thrill of the original Rollercoaster Tycoon also shines through in the park-creation process, and all the content that it delivers. We’re talking pre-made rollercoasters if you wish to start with those, or the ability to whip up tracks and plans of your own design. Here is where the new 3D engine really comes into play, allowing you to have better control over the coaster creation/park editing process simply because you can navigate more freely with the more convenient camera angles and clearer fields of view.
So Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is certainly a home run in terms of gameplay and content, from the process of building your park right through to the age-old tasks of producing revenue from various sources (rides, refreshment stands, other attractions), getting the ticket prices balanced enough to make money without upsetting customers, and also cleaning up the vomit if your rides are a little too jaunty for the patrons
New Look, Fresh Innovations
If you’re after things that are truly new to this particular game only, then you only have to look at the Fireworks Editor, a tool that lets you produce your own tailor-made firework displays to illuminate your park and go along with the music. If you look at the people in the park (colloquially known here as “peeps”), there’s more detail and customisation here than ever before. It is the ability to differentiate between the different generations of patrons that really makes this particular title special. The younger peeps n are more boisterous and will flock to the more extreme rides whilst the elderly are more likely to be enjoying the lighter entertainment in the park. This is a level of detail that the previous two games simply didn’t provide.
All you have to do is look at Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 and you will immediately be able to see why it is an improvement on its predecessors. The graphics are incredible, made possible by the new 3D engine. This in turn enables perhaps the biggest innovation – and one that you wonder how the series ever lived without it – which is the ride cam. Being able to see the rides from a first-person perspective is the equivalent of inventing the wheel in terms of this series’ development.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 is simply bigger, better, and beefier in all respects: aesthetically, content-wise, and performance wise. The early versions suffered from bugs that stalled gameplay a little, but these are minor things that still couldn’t make the game any less able to muscle out the (ancient) competition like the original Theme Park from EA. This is a triumph through and through, and any veteran of the series will find it difficult to disagree.
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Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is developed by Frontier, Aspyr (Mac).