Roller Coaster Tycoon Review - Revisiting a Classic
Roller Coaster Tycoon
It feels fair to say that Roller Coaster Tycoon is one of the most influential games ever made. It obviously hasn't had the franchise staying power of a near contemporary like Pokemon or Age of Empires, but there was a time in the early 2000s when seemingly everyone who played games played RCT and even those who barely knew the difference between Mario and Master Chief could at least recognize this humble theme park sim. No doubt there were thousands of kids out there who, just like me, learned about positive, negative, and lateral g-forces by discovering that nobody will ride a roller coaster that takes a corkscrew at 150 miles per hour. Ten-year-old me may not have had the business sense to run a successful theme park, but at least I had a bright future in Centrifuge Simulator.
Of course, just because a game is a massively influential classic doesn't mean it's still worth revisiting today. My childhood was a huge percentage Civilization III by volume, but it's hard to recommend anyone go back to single tile movement, stacks of death, and barely distinguishable civs when newer 4X games exist. Admittedly, RCT doesn't fare better entirely because of its own strengths: Unlike the 4X genre, tycoon games suffered a near extinction in the mid-2000s. Planet Coaster and Parkitect eventually came along almost two decades later, but even then Planet Coaster has little in common with RCT and two games in twenty years is hardly a blistering rate of iteration.
Given the dearth of similar games, it's somewhat ironic that the biggest factor in RCT still being worthwhile is its dedicated fans. Thanks to OpenRCT2 and its plugins, it's possible to play RCT with years of bug fixes, AI updates, and quality of life changes that all help make it less noticeable that you're playing a game that's older than many college graduates. It's obviously still far behind Parkitect in terms of features and especially graphics, but I don't see that as a major flaw. RCT has more scenarios, and there's certainly room for two similar theme park games over so much time.
Still, while everything that was fun about RCT 20 years ago remains fun today and OpenRCT2 has patched over a lot of rough spots, the game still has its flaws. The lack of an undo button can be maddening when you accidentally landscape the wrong area and the collision detection between rides and terrain can cause surprises that make your whole plan for a coaster unworkable. It can also be very hard to judge the relative height of buildings or paths in crowded areas, and often you won't know you've misaligned something until you start getting complaints from angry guests. On top of all that, there's remarkably little variation in the base game's scenarios and most of them are trivial to complete. Every park challenges you to either have a certain number of guests or reach a certain park value, which in turn means that nearly all of them can be quickly completed by taking out the maximum loan and then building a dozen copies of a decent ride. Although very similar at face value, RCT is leagues behind RCT2 and Parkitect in terms of scenario design.
Still, the core loop is as fun as ever and the scenario's being so easy at least means that you can get through them quickly. Base RCT is perhaps best seen as a bridge to the more challenging and interesting levels in the later expansions and games. Nothing here is going to be all that difficult or surprising, but it will at least give you a solid foundation to beat the more demanding parks that came later. RCT might not still be king of the park sim, but even over twenty years later, there's certainly still a place for it.
Time to beat: Around 10 hours if you have access to OpenRCT2's time controls. Much longer if not.
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