Rollercoaster Tycoon is, ostensibly, a game about managing a theme park. Charging admission, distributing bathroom facilities, and designing rides were all part of the experience. But eventually, just about everyone got to the same place. We all ended up torturing our park-goers by putting them in endless lines, devoid of bathrooms, waiting to ride the very coaster that would soon derail and end their tiny digital lives.
ScreamRide for Xbox One, by the same developer behind Rollercoaster Tycoon, Xbox One launch title Zoo Tycoon and most recently, space simulator Elite: Dangerous, is just that.
Instead of worrying about all the detail of managing a park, you have one goal stretched across three game modes: Amuse and thrill at any cost.
You can assume direct control of a rollercoaster car, build a rollercoaster and watch riders enjoy your work, or you can hop into the seat of the demolitions expert and tear it all down.
Physics is Everything
Without a story, linear campaign, or even sweet graphics to act as supporting legs, ScreamRide depends heavily on just two legs to support it: Technology and gameplay. The two have to work well and support each other for the game to have any hope of standing up.
The tech on display in ScreamRide isn’t a simple gimmick. It informs the entire game. Rather than using the game to show off the tech they’ve created, Frontier users their tech to show off the game.
It’s all about physics here.
Each level you see in ScreamRide is built from hundreds and hundreds of little parts. When you knock out a major support in a huge building, it doesn’t simply fall over in a pre-ordained direction, into a couple pieces the developer set out ahead of time.
Instead, it’ll fall apart – if not realistically, then believably – a different way each time. If you manage to hit the same support with the same force at the same angle, you might be able to reproduce the destruction with some consistency, but generally speaking, you’re getting new, live chaos each time you initiate it. While there are indestructible areas to be sure, you’re never left wanting for things to tear apart.
This effect creates a new spectacle each time you take off, and it’s consistently amusing to watch the effects of your actions. If you hit a building just right, you might see it collapse onto its neighbor, which happened to be full of those explosive red barrels we all love so much.
The destruction applies to both the coasters you’ll create and the buildings that populate the different levels.
Your rollercoasters and riders, too, are subject to the laws of physics. If you create a coaster with an outward-facing curve with tons of g-forces, your riders will be whipped off the ride and out into the ocean.
Ride, Destroy, Build
There are four things you can do with all this crazy destruction tech. Riding, destroying, and two different kinds of building.
As a ScreamRider, you’ll be be put on a pre-built coaster with the goal of completing it in the fastest, most exciting way you possibly can, leaning into corners to stay on two wheels, timing jump landings perfectly and, of course, staying on the track. The better you do, the more your passengers will enjoy themselves.
This mode is very different from the others in the game, but it works well as a good introductory session for others. Here you’ll get an idea of the way the game world works. Especially the physics.
When building this mode, Frontier seems to have worked in a little bit of DNA from the Trials series of games. ScreamRide isn’t nearly as tough as Trials, because no game is as tough as Trials. It can still be challenging, though, to get the most excitement out of a given track, and you’ll end up throwing your coaster off the rails dozens of times. Like Trials, though, ScreamRide has nailed the difficulty and restart time in these levels to ensure that not only do you want to keep retrying over and over, but that it’s fast to do so.
As you progress through the levels, you’ll encounter different types of coasters, each with its own list of challenges, and the variety is good enough to keep things interesting. It doesn’t offer as much fun as the other modes, but it complements them well as another way to interact with and better understand how the game works. The things I learned in ScreamRider mode would come back to help me later when I started to get creative.
Before we get to that, though, there’s the role of the Demolitions Expert. Here you’re given either a sort of high-tech trebuchet or a turbo-charged rollercoaster car and pointed in the general direction of a bunch of structures. Using your available items and a general knowledge of how things break, the goal is to cause as much mayhem as possible.
Demolition expert ended up being my favorite mode of those available. Like Burnout‘s Crash mode, I instantly fell in love with the crazy spectacle I was able to create in each space. Interestingly, this mode even made restarting a level enjoyable. Restarting a level causes the game to rebuild it tile by tile. This only takes a second or two, but I loved watching my destroyed game world disappear and rebuild.
There’s something truly satisfying about knocking all that stuff down, like blowing on a house of cards, stomping on a cardboard city, and ScreamRide delivers on the joy of that perfectly.
Finally, there’s building. ScreamRider and Demolitions Expert could be considered, in a way, extended tutorials for building.
The first building mode is an objective-oriented campaign mode focused on completing coasters that accomplish a set of goals. The coasters need to make riders duck, need to accomplish a certain number of jumps, or any number of other objectives.
The second is a free, open sandbox that gives access to any of the tiles you’ve unlocked in previous modes. You select which size of area you want to build in and then from there you can set up everything from the ground to the buildings, coasters, moving parts – you name it.
The first, again, acts as a sort of tutorial for the second. The challenges and coasters start off easy, but the difficulty quickly ramps up. It’s easy to lose 45 minutes at a time in these challenges (compared to 5 or 10 minutes in the other modes). The challenges presented in Engineer mode are a basic education for the possibilities that the coaster building system can offer, and players primarily interested in creation will find a lot to enjoy here as well.
My only real issue with this mode is one that reminds me of 2014’s Trials Fusion. Like that game, ScreamRide takes places in a distant future where people get injured in hilarious ways while pleasant robot voices announce things about the world. This works pretty well in the ScreamRider and Demolitions Expert modes, but when you’re spending as much time building as the game asks, the announcer quickly gets annoying.
The second building mode, the Sandbox, will be the real meat of ScreamRide for many players. The only limit here is yourself (and the outer bounds of the map you’ve chosen). You can build any kind of crazy building you can imagine and any kind of coaster to go in and around it. You can even build working machines of your own, though there are blueprints for some of the ones shown in the other modes.
Once creative builders have their hands on ScreamRide, there’ll be an almost limitless amount of content available.
It’s easy for me to recommend ScreamRide as a buy, but with that said, there’s a demo up on Xbox Live. Check it out before you buy the game. Additionally, the version available on Xbox 360 is likely significantly less detailed about the way it handles destruction, so keep that in mind as well.
With that said, ScreamRide has turned out to be a late winter gem for Xbox owners. There’s a lot of fun and tons to do. Each level has lots of replay value and room for creativity.
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Screamride for the Xbox One from the publisher. We played about 12 hours across the game’s three modes before writing this review.