Theme park management was and still is a reasonably popular genre in the PC gaming world - if you had to name one "tycoon" style sub genre as the most mainstream, it would have to be the humble theme park sim. Various attempts at this genre have been made over the past few years, but one series always seemed to maintain the most presence ever since its first arrival, and that series is Roller Coaster Tycoon from Atari. The 3rd addition to this series has been released on the PC, and this time, some truly impressive features and details have been introduced, but unfortunately, it is not without its problems.
To start off, the game will advise you take on the tutorial, which is always a good idea, particularly for new comers to a series. RCT3 is quite a different game to the others in the series (it is all 3D for one) so even fans will probably want to check out the new style and features. After you've familiarised yourself with the game you will have a few distinct game modes on offer - Career mode, Sandbox mode and Custom Scenario mode.
Career mode is a typical structured style of play where objectives are given in each pre designed scenario. Often you will take control of a park already operating to some extent, which you must then expand as dictated by the objectives whilst making sure no aspect of your park suffers. This is a challenging mode at times but also a fun one, it will put you into varied scenarios and keep you occupied. On the other hand, Sandbox mode is the exact opposite really; whilst it also keeps you occupied, it revolves around the idea of no restrictions or guidelines whatsoever - you have an unlimited budget with no goals to create the park of your dreams. This is a nice mode for a bit of fun with no imposed hassles. Custom Scenario allows you to load scenarios made by yourself or others from downloads online, and it is this mode which may keep you coming back in the long term, as technically it will never run out of gameplay as long as fans keep creating content.
Outside of the play modes, you also have tool modes, which allow you to create peeps, rides, custom structures and as mentioned above, scenarios. It is good to see these as options in game, often complex external tools are offered by the developers in these type of games which may scare casual gamers away. In RCT3, however, these modes are simple to use and understand, which should help create more online content from a range of authors, and not just a few dedicated authors as seen with so many similar titles in the past.
On top of the content sharing capabilities adding serious lifetime to RCT3, the huge amount of in game items and options also extends the game's lasting appeal significantly. There are hundreds and hundreds of items to add to your parks, featuring just about everything you could imagine in a theme park. Sandbox mode gives you access to all of these straight up and the natural initial reaction is that of an overwhelmed kid in a candy store; I'm not even sure if there is enough room on any given map to fit it all in. As an added touch, you can also modify the colors of many items not to mention the landscape and terrain of your environment If that's not enough, you have 5 themes - Generic, Spooky, Western, Adventure and Sci-fi you can follow, all of which allow for a very unique appeal in any given park you create.
One of the more impressive aspects of RCT3 is how the game allows you to control your park's layout. Often tycoon games like this have tough placement restrictions where as most objects can't intersect or connect, but fortunately RCT3 is an exceptional to this in the most part. You can place paths under coasters, you can cross paths, you can cross coasters, even in mid air. Of course, some objects do have traditional space requirements such as bumpers cars, a pre built ride, but for the most part you can really create some impressive masterpieces when concerning track and path placements - RCT3 really takes advantage of all 3 dimensions when it comes to park design.
However, whilst on the topic of path and track placement, it must be said that often this aspect can become a little tedious. First off, placing paths can get messy at times often requiring you to trim unnecessary placements with the delete function, mainly because you don't have a visible blueprint when using the 'click and drag' method. You could just click for every path you want placed, but this would probably end up being more tedious. As for tracks, the actual placement isn't an issue, it is more the time needed for coaster design. I know it is imperil for the sake of realistic physics, but often it will take you quite a few attempts to get a medium or large sized custom coaster to operate correctly due to the laws of gravity - in other words, making sure your cars have enough momentum to actually make it through the entire track is very much a trial and error situation, and more often than not, enough errors to sour the enjoyment of the game a little. You will soon learn to start your tracks off with a steep incline followed by a steep decline to deliver initial momentum, although this can restrict your design at times. Fans of the series will probably not find an issue here, but new comers or casual fans may be put off a little at the sheer amount of time to perfect a roller coaster.
Another quirk in the gameplay I noticed is the amount of times rides and even shops break down - yes, even shops. While broken down the rides won't be useable and neither will the shops. Hiring mechanics is the obvious solution here, but regardless, the amount of times any given ride will break down in a reasonably short amount of time is stub shy ridiculous. I've never worked in a theme park in my life, but I'm guessing an expensive roller coaster does not totally breakdown multiple times a week. The intention here is to obviously force staff costs into the mix, but maybe a slightly less frequent breakdown rate wouldn't be out of order here (excuse the pun). It is a good thing the AI staff members are self reliant as having to manually order them around would have made RCT3 a micromanagement nightmare.
The CoasterCam is a new feature in the series introduced here with RCT3. As the name suggests, you can ride your coasters and other attractions through the eyes of your guests. This is a very nifty little feature that not only poses as a worthy time waster, it also really does offer quite a thrill on some of the more extravagant rides. Whilst it doesn't exactly make you throw your arms up and scream, it does give a new dimension to the game. Another addition to the series is the Fireworks Mixmaster, which basically allows you to create a fireworks show using any sequence of inbuilt fireworks types that you like, utilising as many firework bases as you like. You can save these firework formations for future use, which means this is yet another part of the game which can be supplemented by community based downloads.
Visually the game is pretty impressive. No one aspect of the graphics jumps out of the screen as such, it is more the amount of detail in everything from the facial expressions of your guests to the water splashing out of your rubber dingy ride, although I must say the pinnacle of the visuals is certainly at night, where you park comes to life in all its bright and shining glory. Unfortunately, this detail comes at a price. Even on our Athlon64 PC with 1GB of memory and a X800XT videocard, the game suffers from serious slowdowns once your park starts to become large in size and activity. I tried lowering the resolution, lowering the texture detail, lowering the model detail etc but nothing worked. Perhaps this can be addressed in a patch, because it does make managing a busy park pretty bothersome at times. For one, it makes the sandbox mode somewhat restrictive in the sense that soon enough, your park may simply become too big for your PC to adequately handle.
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 is really as good as a theme park simulation you'll get in today's gaming world. Whilst it delves into reasonably technical gameplay as far as profit and loss management goes, it still offers very addictive and fun gameplay at the same time, and this should appeal to PC gamers abroad. The sheer amount of control you have means RCT3 ultimately never runs out of gameplay; every coaster you create and every park you create can be completely different, and just when you think you've done it all, the striving online fan communities provide even more custom content. Unfortunately some issues introduce pretty hefty damage to the overall experience, but when it comes down to it, RCT3 is a one of a kind game that every PC gamer should definitely check out.