Planet Coaster: Console Edition Preview

There’s no need to worry about having to scream inside your heart in Planet Coaster, the eternally cheery theme park management sim from Frontier Developments. Well, you might want to keep it down for the sake of your relationship with your neighbours, but a little bit of screaming now and then is probably called for in 2020.

After almost half a decade on PC, Planet Coaster is finally making the jump to console, launching toward the end of this year for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and the next-gen PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Immediately, the controls feel fairly simple and intuitive, the twin-stick camera movement getting you around your park with ease and the UI overlays easy to get around using the other buttons. You can quickly start placing rides, creating pathways, and doing all the other park management things that you need to do.

That could have been it. That could have been the entirety of Planet Coaster’s translation to console, but Frontier Developments have gone the extra mile to reconsider the path you take through the game and some of its inner workings.

The game now has an overhauled tutorial and path through the career with a number of new characters thrown into the mix to lead you through its opening. A bouffant park organiser Oswald B. Thompson, eager to induct you as a new trainee into the park’s management, a shrewd businesswoman looking to eke every single penny possible out of your punters, a sassy young social media starlet giving you tips on how to add a little jushe and sparkle to the park’s design and the kinds of rides you have on show.

They’re an effective trio in the game’s opening level, as you get to the basics of placing and opening your first ride, lay out the path that the waiting line takes, jazz it up with some plants, scenery and eye-catching performances from staff to keep them entertained, and then set the price just high enough that punters don’t feel ripped off.

One area that Frontier have been able to enhance is the ease with which you can put all of this together using a controller. As in the PC version of the game, you can painstakingly place individual items and construct the perfect scenery in your park, but that’s obviously more awkward and finicky on a controller compared to a keyboard and mouse. To help, there’s the twinned features of a much larger pool of pre-built blueprints for players to use, and the Frontier Workshop, so that players can create scenery and scenarios and share them with others.

Of course, Planet Coaster’s main appeal is going to be the ability to create your own rollercoasters. Again, you have pre-built coasters that you can just slap down (if you’ve got enough space for them), but you can also build something bespoke in any of the coaster themes that the existing coasters use.

There’s two methods you can use here, either from the bird’s eye view that most of the game takes place in, or switching to a first person view to effectively ride the coaster as you’re building it. Think the Wallace & Grommit toy train ride, but a little less frantic. Again, it’s simple and intuitive to drop piece after piece, twist the track with different cambers as you go through twists, turns and drops that would elicit at least a small whimper. There’s also templates for certain turns and swoops that you can throw in quite easily.

My biggest issues came from trying to head back in and edit segments, with the controls feeling a touch imprecise and obtuse when trying to select what I wanted and then feeling pretty awkward to reattach to the rest of the track. The controls also struggle (or more accurately, I struggle with them) when pulling off steep dives with the track at weird angles, giving me a bit of disconnect between whether the analogue sticks are acting relative to the camera angle or the track. With a good few months still to go before release, there’s plenty of time to continue to refine and iron out these kinks.

It’s been far too long coming, but Planet Coaster: Console Edition does a great job of bringing the charms of theme park management from PC to console. There’s still some work to be done in refining the controls, but this is more than a quick port that reconsiders how to present the challenges of park management to players and gives more and new options for how you can build the theme park of your dreams.

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