Pegged as a spiritual successor to Rollercoaster Tycoon, British studio Frontier Developments have taken their work on Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 as a foundation, added in puzzle elements, as well as dollops of Trials Fusion, Angry Birds and Burnout’s Crash mode, and come out the other side with Screamride, a genuinely unique title exclusive to Microsoft’s consoles.
The game offers three distinct game modes; the titular Screamride, the destructive Demolition Expert and the more thoughtful Engineer mode. Screamride sees you steering a rollercoaster car around a track, attempting to elicit the maximum number of screams from the car’s occupants, all the while trying to stay on the track. At first you’re provided with just acceleration and a brake, as well as a turbo function which is filled by hitting the X button at the right time as you ride over special portions of the track.
Later levels pile the difficulty on with blockers and jumps as well as sections with a single rail, made all the more difficult by having to repeat an increasing number of laps. It can be an exhilarating ride, which is surprising considering that you’re limited to a set track, but with the different sections, obstacles, and turbo boosts, Screamride shares a lot of commonality with a traditional racing game, and you can spend hours trying to shave seconds of your time, or trying to maximise your score.
The Demolition Expert mode remained my favourite portion of the game throughout, though whether that was because it seemed the easiest to achieve higher scores and commendations is an interesting question. This mode tasks the player with flinging various weaponised ‘rides’ at very poorly constructed buildings that have often been laced with explosives, with the aim being to see them all crumble to dust.
This portion of the game reminded hugely of Burnout’s beloved Crash mode, with the same gameplay hook seeing you repeat each level over and over again looking to maximise the carnage you cause. Sadly, the key problem that exhibited itself in later levels was the unruly camera, which does you no favours as you try to work your way around some of the more complicated levels. Later stages require you to hit trampolines and other level furniture to reach far away constructs and were made immeasurably harder by not being able to turn the camera in the direction you really needed.
The Engineer mode is the most difficult of the three game types, both intentionally and unintentionally. Each level offers a puzzle to be solved by constructing your rollercoaster in a particular way, with the overarching target of causing your passengers a fun ride, based broadly across three criteria: screams, intensity, and nausea.
Each level also has its own objectives, which range from simply completing the rollercoaster, to having to include a number of special pieces, reach set speeds or minimise or maximise a particular rider response such as keeping the nausea levels down. It’s an interesting and fun mode, and is the most time-consuming of the three, but some of that time is spent dealing with problems rather than having fun.
The camera is sometimes utterly woeful at showing you the section of track you’re working on, and in some instances when you’re attempting to direct your build the direction selection makes it as difficult as possible simply to go in a straight line.
Some of the problems are alleviated by the autocomplete option which will fill in a short section of track when you’re close enough, but its own solutions are often not the optimum one. The final annoyance is the inability to fast-forward through each repeated run, meaning that if a problem only presented itself at the end of the course you still have to sit through the entire run to see whether you’ve fixed it. These are disappointing wrinkles in what is otherwise a fun and engaging mode.
Screamride also offers a comprehensive Sandbox mode, which allows you to build your own ride using parts which you gather by completing the main campaign. Once you’ve built your ride you can share it with the world, or simply download other peoples amazing pieces and try them out.
The Sandbox mode’s construction tools are shared with the Engineer mode, meaning they’re relatively easy to use, but are beset by again by the annoying camera and other control niggles. It certainly adds longevity to the package, though at the moment it seems that user levels don’t have associated leaderboards rendering them relatively inert once you’ve played through them once or twice.
Screamride’s aural and visual design certainly has a lot in common with Trials Fusion’s near-future setting, with techno beats accompanying all of your actions. Screamride opts for a more comedic approach to its characters though, with the manic riders gurning their way through each task, whilst the blank faced overseers perform their tasks with a great sense of physicality.
It’s a huge shame then that the pre and post-ride animations are so limited in number, and you’ll soon be skipping through them rather than see and hear the same thing over again. All of your tasks are also commentated by a robotic female voice, who will offer some assistance and colour to proceedings. Occasionally her input is amusing but overall she’s annoying and repetitive, though at least you have the option to turn her off.
From a technical point of view the game runs fairly smoothly on Xbox One, though the engine seems to struggle a bit at the opening or restarting of each level as buildings and rides are constructed from the ground up. Part of this may be due to the speed with which the levels load which is thankfully very swift given how often you’re likely to hit retry in search of a perfect run. The physics engine is certainly very robust, as buildings, cars and riders fly across the screen with satisfying weight, and everything hangs together in a solid if mildly uninspiring way.
So much of what Screamride does it gets right, with the necessary gameplay hooks to see you repeat sections again and again, just to score a few more points to move you up the online leaderboards or achieve a perfect level rating. It also offers a relatively good degree of variety, and across its fifty or so levels there’s enough content to keep you interested before you turn to building your own creations. However, there are some troubling flaws with the camera, and the construction tools, though potent, are not as immediately accessible as they should be.
Version tested: Xbox One