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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Electronic Arts / Bullfrog Productions

Ups: Complex, but beginner-friendly; lots of detail and variety; highly addictive. 

Downs:  Graphics; typical AI limitations; unrealistic price scheme.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation

TPW0009_jpg-01.jpg (4594 bytes)Have you ever spent hours standing in line to ride a roller coaster and come away thinking: What the hell was that? I could have built a better ride than that! Well, put your money where your mouth is and try Sim Theme Park, where you design, manage, and maintain your own theme park. That’s right, you build it, and they do come: hundreds of entertainment-starved children hopped up on Skittles and Pokemon cartoons, ready to be spun, dropped, painted, and cheated at the ring-toss.

TPW0010_jpg-01.jpg (5388 bytes)You have two choices of gameplay in Sim Theme Park: practice game and the main game. In the practice game there is one park to design, and a minimum of management hassles to deal with. This is where you can learn how to make sensible aesthetic decisions, and build a feasible roller coaster track. (Trust me, the latter will take a few tries.) Besides providing a place to get your bearings, the practice mode also allows you time to sit back and watch the youngsters enjoy your grand creations, and to ride them yourself. Yes, the programmers of Sim Theme Park ingeniously provided you with a camcorder so that you can look the little ones in the eyes and experience your rides first hand. The camcorder is available in both modes of gameplay, though you will have to earn it in the main game.

TPW0011_jpg-01.jpg (5117 bytes)In Sim Theme Park’s main game you take full responsibility for your brainchild—from installing the first bathroom to putting a "For Sale" sign on the gate if it fails. Put your design skills to the test by deciding which rides will get customers into your park, and finding the safest and most convenient way to configure them. And this must be done while keeping in mind where the bathrooms, concession stands, and security cameras will be located, where the entrance and exit lines will go, what areas your employees will patrol, et cetera. Then, to keep your park alive, you will have to delegate, micro-manage, finagle—be everywhere, at all times. Where will your research dollars go? How much salt will you put on the french fries? Your janitors are unhappy and threatening a strike—what do you do? Well, you do anything and everything to keep those kids happy, and keep them spending. Profit is the name of the game.

TPW0012_jpg-01.jpg (4221 bytes)There are eight themes to choose from in the main game, so that you make your way from The Lost Kingdom Prehistoric Park, to Alice’s Wonderland, and so on. Each theme is complete and distinct in every way—you move from installing the wooly mammoth water fountain and volcano ride in The Lost Kingdom to setting up eyeball slides and pumpkin-shaped food stands in the Halloween park. The idea machine at work in this game is top-notch; the themes and rides presented here are works of art. Bonuses are awarded for the aesthetic touches—a nice palm tree here, or a horrible goblin statue there—hey, a good looking park attracts the big spenders. But don’t get too attached; you can only run three parks at one time. After that, when you complete your goals and option to open a new park, you will have to close one of the old ones.

TPW0014_jpg-01.jpg (4596 bytes)The scroll-down menus are well designed; they are easy to read, understand and use. Building the park itself takes some getting used to, but the game provides good visual cues as to the makeup and particulars of the attraction you are building, and camera control is excellent. The real challenge, and half of the fun, comes from keeping track of the onslaught of information coming from your customers, employees, and business advisor. Visual clues are given as to how your customers are feeling—a thought balloon appears over their heads as they enter or exit a ride, play the games, or search for a bathroom. You can keep track of your employees with their status screens, which tell you how motivated, tired, and skilled they are, how much they are getting paid, and your options for dealing with them. And don’t worry, whatever you miss will be promptly reported to you by your game advisor, who will also keep you abreast of your business goals and opportunities you are not taking advantage of.

The sights and sounds of the park are wonderful from the overhead perspective. The attractions are unique, you can watch the rides as they are working, and the screams and laughter of children are everywhere.

TPW0023_jpg-01.jpg (6029 bytes)The game does have some serious flaws in its intricacies, however. While the graphics are great from the park perspective, they are just plain terrible from the ground level. As seen through the lens of your camcorder, the landscape and people are often garbled and under-developed; the children always face you, so that they walk and even enter the rides backwards; and there is a lot of draw-in as you ride on the attractions. The game advisor is invaluable when it comes to public relations—he is on top of the customers’, and employees’, praise and complaints, and he is quick to tell you when there is an emergency, but his business advise can often be contradictory and redundant.

TPW0024_jpg-01.jpg (5902 bytes)But the game seems most out of whack in the most practical areas, especially at the level of commerce. You can open your gates in mid-construction, with only enough working attractions to qualify as a high-concept county fair, and still charge over $100 at the gate. And get this: your customers will be happy with the food service while they are paying $35 for an ice-cream cone! Isn’t that what bankrupted Planet Hollywood? And here you don’t even get to order an "Arnold Schwartzen-burger." There aren’t even any parents in the park. Who sends their child out the door with $200 to spend at a theme park? While these numbers save us poor gamers from a math-induced headache, they are pretty laughable, even in simulated reality. These are the things that pull you out of your gamer’s trance, and disrupt the suspension of disbelief.

TPW0025_jpg-01.jpg (6330 bytes)But some games are so fun that they can overcome imperfections that would cripple any other game on the market. Sim Theme Park is one of those games. In the realm of the Sims this is a beginner-friendly title that still manages to offer enough challenges and fun to be engrossing, even addicting. Like so many of the Sim games you become so involved in providing for their little computer-generated lives, that your own necessities—food, sleep, a social life—fade into the distance.

 --Jeremy Kauffman