Cards on the table. I am a complete rollercoaster groupie. I have scoured the world from Six Flags Magic Mountain in California to Sydney's Manley Park in an effort to attain the biggest high of all, the adrenalin fix of hurtling down a sheer drop on a driverless train, and inching up that first huge climb knowing that there is no turning back now. Bullfrog have in one foul swoop satiated my burning desires, not to mention my bank account, by letting me build my very own on my computer, while creating a masterpiece of a game that is way up there in the league of the World Builder genre.
Building Game Worlds has a special place in computer entertainment, because it gives the player's own imagination a chance to really let hp and do its own thing. In Railroad Tycoon, I built the biggest most successful railroad system in the world; in Sim City, I saved the world from pollution and traffic jams; in Populous, I played God and decided the fate of mankind and in Caesar, I rewrote the history books. Airbucks made me more successful than Branson; Settlers showed me that storing wealth doesn't do anybody any good and Sim Earth proved to me that a world covered in just oceans spawns some interesting alternative outdoor sports!
Having dealt with violent death in Syndicate, Bullfrog have gone the opposite route and made a world that is free from injury. If one of your rides explodes, or someone is flung from a badly designed rollercoaster, they don't make a red mess on the pavement, just get up, dust themselves off and wander away in the direction of the nearest ice cream parlour. They may however have a word or two in some of the other visitors' ears about avoiding said rides and that will affect your income just a tad!
In its most basic format, Theme Park has a simple scheme. You start with some money and land and using the bit in between your ears you build the biggest fun fair you can imagine, while trying to turn a tidy profit. But not only do you build a fair, you must also provide paths, toilets, food and scenery like lakes and trees. You need to employ staff: mechanics to fix the rides and maintain safety, rangers to keep the place clean from litter and the grass short, entertainers to keep the crowds happy while they're standing in line and security guards to throw out the troublemakers.
There are a number of levels available to test your theming skills. On the most basic level the 'sandbox', you have to construct your park and set the prices for admission and food. You start the game with just four rides and some shops, but new rides become available at the start of every new year. Whether you can afford to buy them though is another story. On the next level up, you don't get the rides handed to you, you have to invest in researching them instead.
This, of course, brings in the spectre of overindulging your fantasies too early. Run out of cash, and you'll run out of customers pretty quickly. Who would want to come to a theme park with only a ghost train and a jumpy castle? You can allocate research money to different projects, for instance new rides, or upgrading existing rides, making them safer and improving capacity so more of the punters can use them.
Food stands and sideshows are an important source of income. You can begin with a Mr Whippy ice cream stand, a coffee shop and a balloon stand, but pretty soon you'll need to look at burger bars, restaurants, saloons and video arcades. Then you'll need to look at upgrading your park's facilities. That cheap, smelly loo might just have outlived it's usefullness, now that those new super toilets have come on the market. Staff training is a good idea to motivate them to work harder. The stock levels in the shops and restaurants have to be maintained at the most economical levels, (you could build a warehouse and store it all for later) and what about increasing the size of the buses that bring in the punters? If you set your wage levels too low, or your stock prices too high, negotiations need to take place. This could end in a strike and you'll see Chicken Man and everyone else picketing the entrance waving placards!! This means that there is no one to maintain the rides and fires break out everywhere!
But really the most rewarding level is the 'full' level, where you get the chance to invest in other rival parks. Buying shares in these parks may be a wise investment, but remember, your rivals can also invest in your park and you could find yourself ousted in a boardroom takeover. Where Theme Park really takes a major step forward over say Sim City is that life doesn't end when you've built a major successful park. Now you can sell off your dream to the highest bidder and then use the cash to buy something else in another part of the world which would test your skills further. Try building a park in Siberia or darkest Africa!
From the amazing ray traced intro sequence to the first person testing and riding (1200 or CD version only), there is quality stamped all over the game. All your customers have their own personalities for instance. They laugh, cry, get scared, yawn, throw up, get hungry, all kinds of things. These traits are shown by little "thinking" balloons above each character and close monitoring of your customers feelings will point you in the right direction for customer satisfaction. Disregard them at your peril. There are even yobs who vandalise the rides and beat up the entertainers. A few good security guards should put paid to these bad guys.
Back to my personal favourite though, the rollercoasters. You can design your own making them as high and as fast and as twisty as you like. You can add water splashes, corkscrews and loops, but make them too violent and people start to get thrown off with alarming regularity. You can customise almost anything to suit your own preferences and warped state of mind. Theme Park is addictive, attractive, compulsive and great fun to play, and will appeal to anyone who enjoys at least a particle of brain testing games.
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