Building on the foundation laid by Chris Sawyer's original RollerCoaster Tycoon and its expansion packs, Loopy Landscapes and Corkscrew Follies, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 offers more of everything fans of the series have come to love. The basic premise remains the same: players are challenged to create a thriving theme park that houses roller coasters of their own design. Scenarios are provided that test the player's management and creative abilities, and task would-be moguls with attaining specific milestones such as a certain amount of money made from ticket sales, repayment of a hefty bank loan, and other such objectives pertaining to the success of the park. Unlike previous iterations, the 26 in-game scenarios can now be tackled in any order the player desires.
As before, players are given full control over the creation of their gravity-defying rides, allowing for whatever inclines, steep lifts, corkscrews, and drops that paying customers can handle. Of course, rides must strike a balance between fun and technical achievement or patrons won't ride on them, hurting the bottom line. Additions in this sequel include new roller coaster and ride variants such as the Giga Coaster and Spinning Wild Mouse, along with new scenery, animations, and attractions like ATM machines. The scenery is tied into the themed nature of the parks, and ranges from Old West to medieval motifs.
Fans of real-life coasters will be pleased that they'll have access to actual Six Flags roller coasters, taken from five different Six Flags parks such as Magic Mountain and Six Flags Great Adventure. They can even make adjustments to the actual Six Flags parks themselves, customizing them to their liking. A scenario and roller coaster editor are included, the latter allowing players to construct their dream roller coaster away from the demands and constraints of the scenario-based missions. The scenario editor, on the other hand, provides players with the ability to create custom, stand-alone missions with user-defined scenery, landscape, shops, rides, winning conditions, and other variables.
Unless you're completely new to Chris Sawyer's brilliant theme park sim, you're liable to find yourself disappointed at RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. What you get here is pretty much what you've had all along with the Loopy Landscapes and Corkscrew Follies expansions: more scenarios, more scenery, more stalls, more rides, more types of roller coasters, more roller coaster designs.
Some of the "more" really does feel new and even a little bit special. There's a new scenario editor, and although it's not very friendly to novice players, it does insure a lot of new third-party content will be available online. There are a few new options to make even more extreme coasters, such as the new rollercoaster designer that lets you build and test any kind of ride without limits on time, terrain, or money. Just go hog wild without worrying about running out of space or cash. See how fast or how high you can go. Test how many Gs you can pull on a tight turn. See if you can make the cars fly off the track. Go ahead, you know you want to! For all the complaints about there being no sandbox mode in the original RollerCoaster Tycoon, this is your answer.
But, like so many of the answers in RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, it completely misses the point. It isn't a sandbox mode; it's a rollercoaster designer. A sandbox mode should have been about building up a park with all the bustle and color. Erecting a lone coaster in black space with a grid, like some forgotten corner of TRON, is pretty unsatisfying. You can save your design and import it into a scenario you're playing, but there's no way to adapt it to the terrain or scenery you have available. In theory, the rollercoaster designer is a good idea; in practice, it just doesn't fit into the gameplay as well as it should.
Another common complaint from RollerCoaster Tycoon was that you couldn't build while the game was paused. This hasn't changed. Admittedly, the game moves at a languid enough pace that you shouldn't have to worry about running out of time; it's a matter of not wanting to worry about playing the game and building a coaster at the same time. Similarly, there's still no speed control, so you can't fast forward through the long stretches. RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 runs at the same pace whether you're hurrying to buy a maintenance worker for a broken ride, or just biding your time waiting for the end date after you've completed the objectives.
The graphics look identical to the first game, although the engine allows for larger map areas and the ability to build to higher altitudes. The engine does a good job of rendering a basic theme park stuffed with rides, peeps, and stalls, but it doesn't do exotic environments very well. The shading effects used to distinguish slopes in deserts and forests look horrible when used to render snowy mountains in stark blues and whites. Grey lava mountains can be pretty hard on the eyes, like reading dark print on a dark page. There are, however, a few interesting attempts at creating themes like factories, farms, and airports for the foundation of your new parks. Some might wish for more cutting-edge graphics, but there is an upside in that the game requires very little in the way of computing horsepower.
In RollerCoaster Tycoon 2, you can now build your own structures from a variety of walls and roofs, but this new scenery often highlights the limitations of the 2D engine. It's very satisfying when it finally comes together, but fitting overlapping pieces together is often an exercise in trial and error. An "undo" option to backup from a mistake would have taken a lot of the frustration out of playing with RollerCoaster Tycoon 2's new scenery.
This time around there's no unlocking scheme for the scenarios. RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 takes the approach of dumping everything it's got into your lap and saying, "There you go -- have at it!" While this opens the game up, it removes the first title's reward system for completing scenarios.
In addition to a number of original scenarios divided by difficulty, RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 features scenarios based on real-world Six Flags theme parks. While this is a nice touch, it appears there were some limitations to the deal when it came to licensed rides. For instance, RCT2's version of Magic Mountain includes the "Superman" ride, but the superhero's name has been removed and the little Superman figure at the top of the ride is missing. And, there's no sign of the Batman-licensed "Riddler's Revenge," a thrilling overhead rail coaster. Still, if you have visited any of the Six Flags parks included in the game, it's nice to recognize the layouts and actual coasters, even if the parks aren't exact replicas.
When all is said and done, maybe you'll feel that RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 is really just a glorified expansion pack ... or maybe you won't. Regardless, you'll know it was $30 well spent when you're building your next big coaster (perhaps grumbling that you still can't pause while building) and you notice something different -- a peep stopped dead in his tracks, looking right up at the last track segment you dropped. He's not moving. This has never happened before. Is it a bug? You click on the peep's thought bubble tab and find he's thinking, "Wow! A new ride being built." The little guy takes a picture of your work in progress and you think, "Damn ... this game has won me over again..."
Perhaps the best advice is to ignore the little "2" at the end of RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 and just enjoy the ride.
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