Reinstall: RollerCoaster Tycoon 3

PC Gamer

Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Jon constructs some fine vomit comets and manages the mess in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.

Article by Jon Morcom

I am one very contented hour into Box Office, the fourth career-based scenario in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and my park rating is falling. I can see no immediate reason why until I zoom into a corner I've been neglecting for a while and see that it's slick with vomit.

The Rotor I've placed there is obviously a bit too exciting for the 'peeps', as the game calls its park patrons, and many have lost their lunch. I locate and pick up one of my janitors, then drop him nearby where he dutifully starts to mop up, sending my park rating off in the right direction again. It's this simple type of tinkering and troubleshooting that makes a construction and management sim like RCT3 such a satisfying alternative to games that are twitch-based or time-critical. So the peeps have had to wade through some puke for a little while; no biggie.

With its colourful amusements and gentle management demands, RCT3 grabbed me from the start. Like its predecessors, it available says it combines micro-management with some basic economic modelling ticking over behind a front-end bustling with delightful mechanical and character animations. It's a game that could warm the stoniest of hearts and is to me what Werther's Originals are to the elderly – something that provides a disproportionate amount of comfort and pleasure... that can fit in my mouth and comes packaged in a small tube. Sort of.

Including its brace of expansions – Soaked! and Wild! – RCT3 provides 39 scenarios and a deeply immersive sandbox mode that's like the best Meccano set you never had. The core game's campaign begins with the tastily-named Vanilla Hills, and ends 18 scenarios later on Paradise Island. In between you're provided with a contrasting range of environments in which to complete objectives that escalate from Apprentice level up to Entrepreneur and finally, Tycoon. The goals you're set mainly require you to increase the value of your park and hit monthly targets for attendances, park ratings and ride-generated income.

To suggest that you're ever under pressure may be pushing it a bit in a game this sedate, but things do get challenging when the terrain of a park is uneven and space at a premium, or when severe financial constraints force you into difficult decisions.

The Soaked! scenarios are incredibly easy: build a pool here, add a water slide there. The Wild! objectives are far more taxing though, requiring animal husbandry and shameless exploitation of fauna to generate income streams. This is where a ruthless streak is useful, as there is an optimum point at which baby animals attract their best sale price, so if you're desperate for cash, you'll need to have no qualms about separating Dumbo from his mum.

The slow, methodical approach to expansion that RCT3 encourages appeals to a sense of orderliness in me that borders on OCD. The joy lies not just in creating an attractive and fully operational park but in digging around in the menus and deciding how to tackle the emergent problems that arise.

The range of tweakable elements over which you have control is impressive, and although there are many sliders and settings you may never need to touch, it's just nice to know that you can if you want to.

Occasionally complementing the 'expand and prosper' objectives is a requirement that you pander to the individual predilections of a range of VIPeeps who visit your park. This creates an uncharacteristically painful difficulty spike at Tycoon level in the infamous La-La Land, a scenario that tests you like no other. VIPeeps Joe Sluggerball and Clint Bushton want to respectively visit adventure and sci-fi themed areas in your park, and boy are they particular. RCT3 forums are filled with postings asking how to complete this scenario. The answer: virtually recreate the set of Pirates of the Caribbean for Joe; nothing short of Mars itself will satisfy Clint. Danny Boyle had an easier time of it putting together the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

Running a profitable park is not merely a case of slamming down a few rides and food stalls, bunking-up prices and clicking on fast forward – although it's fair to say that the problems thrown at you are seldom catastrophic. The algorithms driving the AI are beyond my comprehension, but the way RCT3 alerts you to issues you might want to address – either directly through its message console or more subtly through peep behaviour – is remarkable. If a ride is too expensive, they'll avoid it. If there's too little 'excitement' in your park, they'll leave. If your employees remain untrained, they'll let you know that they're disgruntled and quit. Just as impressive is the way in which these behaviours collectively feed into data and graphs you can analyse in the Park Management module. There was more useful, characterful feedback here, almost a decade ago, than there is in 2013's SimCity.

The superb Sandbox mode gives you a blank canvas and cheque with which to create a park based on your impulses or a more orderly vision. The terrain-shaping tools, the manifold scenery options and the arboreal variety in the browser dropdowns give you scope to be adventurous with your layouts and channel your inner Capability Brown, while the versatile Coaster Designer and multifarious readymade rides grant you free-ranging licence to amuse. You're John Wardley with a mouse.

Rather than leave you with your nose pressed up against the toyshop window, RCT3 gives you the key and lets you loose. For a few hours, you're empowered: free to vacillate for as long as it takes to decide what colour overalls you'd like your janitors to wear, or what type of trees to use to screen off your toilets. And besides, what's not to like about a game in which regurgitated hot dogs and fizzy pop can be the difference between remaining a mere entrepreneur and becoming a bona fide tycoon?

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 is available for $19.99 on GOG .

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