There's something about long, detail-oriented games that really seem to stick to the inside of the proverbial rib cage. Take monopoly, for example. Sure, it's not a computer game (well, it is...), but the basic concept is the same. Try sitting down and playing a single setting in less than forty-five minutes. It takes time, involves complex, detailed accounting, strategy, and patience; but try to find someone who's never played it. Any takers? In the same line, the Sims is the all time best-selling game. It's not a fast paced, high intensity action shooter. Whether you play them yourself or not (and chances are you do), there's no denying that simulation markets are one of the most stable and consistent genres in the gaming industry. Since 1990, when the original SimCity took to the streets (and possibly before that), there has always been at least one solid sim performer: a game that allows you to micromanage other people's lives.
As one of Infogrames' latest sim releases, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 proves to be just as addictive as its original little brother, RollerCoaster Tycoon. In fact, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 plays so similarly to the original that you would be hard pressed to identify the major features that separate it from an impressive expansion pack. With the exception of a new campaign editor, a Six Flags theme license, and a much-demanded stand-alone RollerCoaster editor, what you get out of Tycoon 2 is mostly the same as what you get from Tycoon 1 and its subsequent expansions. But don't let that get you down. RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 is packed with a creative and incredibly addictive list of features, elements, and gameplay. What made the original great was carried over, improved upon, and thrown into a new box with some additional features. Something entirely new? No. Worth your time? Yes. Cast aside a few hours work, re-adjust your monitor for optimal viewing, and settle in to deprive some quarter-inch tall people of their hard earned cash.
For those not familiar with the original, the RollerCoaster Tycoon series places you in the role of a theme park manager, responsible for both the minor decisions (YOUR FIRED!) and the major ones (Dear Bank, would you please loan me another $10,000 for my latest roller coaster monstrosity). Assisted by a detailed set of tools for determining customer satisfaction, thoughts, and checking account balance, Tycoon lets you embark upon the task of putting together the greatest amusement park ever built. At your disposal you'll have a wide range of buildings and rides, from hot-dog stands and first aid stations, to log rides, death drops, and those spinning gravity wall thingies. At its heart, though, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 has towering coasters to be the center of your private play land. With the ability to select roller coasters from a pre-fabricated list, or design them yourself, you'll find that the roller coaster is the cash cow of your industry.
Graphically, not much has changed since the 1999 release of the original. While the new game allows for far more animations, and the building roof has been substantially raised, what you see now is pretty much the same thing you saw three years ago. The lack of a 3D engine is very obvious, especially when you rotate your camera and find yourself confused and disorientated after a jarring transition. Fortunately for this type of game, that really doesn't matter (the 3D graphics, that is). Yeah, we all like our eye candy, but lack of modern graphics doesn't lesson the experience one has playing with the lives of your little amusement seekers. No, where Rollercoaster Tycoon soars is the attention to detail in other ways besides the visual effects. Take the information windows, for example. Whenever you're worried about what your park needs, all you have to do is take a look at the customer thoughts. Here, you'll find information on almost anything related to your park. How much money they have; what they've bought while in the park; their favorite rides; how sick they're feeling. Most importantly, it also describes their desired thrill factors, what intensity they prefer, and their last thoughts. Too many bubbles appear that read, "I have to go to the bathroom!" and it's up to you to build latrines or hire more janitors. If your little people start complaining about being in line too long, sick a big purple mascot on them when they enter the gate. With such intimidation, no one dares to speak up, and everything returns to normal (the game actually claims that people are happier when being entertained, but I have my doubts).
Unlike the original, scenarios are now offered to you all at once. There is no process of unlocking more difficult and additional challenges. It's up to you to choose what you want to play from the start. Unfortunately, there's a distinct lack of a speed control. This plays out in two ways. Either on one hand you don't want to spend time custom building your own roller coaster while you're simultaneously managing the park, and which case you think time is moving too fast, or you've completed your objectives early and feel like you could go watch a movie while you waited for that last year to click off. The ability to speed up or slow down time would have helped tremendously, as well as a pause-to-edit feature. It would have been nice to be able to construct a rollercoaster while in pause. Sure, time isn't passing, things can't be happening, but who ever heard of a theme park constructing a roller coaster without blueprints, from scratch, while people are watching? Asking you to build while guests are visiting is like giving an engineer a piece of land, no pencil, and insist that he let you flick him repeatedly in the ear while he builds you an intricate ride. Things just don't get done that way. It would have been nice if the game paused while you custom design you masterpiece, and at least during this period of the game, included an undo feature. There were numerous times that I ended up deleting paths and wasting money because I couldn't see the entrance to a ride clearly. Reality says that you wouldn't be able to build if time weren't moving; reality also says that no capable engineer would let you spend ten thousand dollars starting construction on a track whose ends don't line up on paper.
To its credit, there is a stand-alone roller coaster editor within the game that allows you to design rides free of cost, time, or space limitations. You can save these designs and then implement them later while constructing your park, but in order to build a coaster while playing you have to quite your game, load the editor, build the coaster, save the edited ride, and then re-load the game itself. A bit complicated. I'll just end up buying a pre-manufactured wood and steel structure, and have it shipped FedEx. Nice and speedy that way.
That aside, you still find yourself playing for hours. Sure, you might take a dinner break, but that's only because you skipped lunch while glued to the screen. All the elements that made RollerCoaster Tycoon a hit are still here, almost duplicated to a flaw. I suppose what bothers me about this new release is this: there is nothing you'll learn from this review that you couldn't have learned playing the old game, and reading GamesFirst!'s E3 preview last summer. Unlike some games that come out and surprise the world with their hidden wonders, every major feature in RCT2 is either played out in entirety in the original, or summed up in a two-paragraph preview without ever playing the game. You played RollerCoaster Tycoon? You want to know what RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 is like? Imagine RCT, and then ad the ability to play with Six Flags layouts and roller coaster designs, the ability to build coasters outside the game, and some more animations in the graphics. There you go. Cool? Cool.
Aaron Stanton (12/16/2002)