Hardcore roller coaster fans are a distinct and dedicated breed. They go to great lengths to satisfy their thrill ride addiction, traveling incessantly from amusement park to amusement park, memorizing a wealth of related statistics and design specs. Building a coaster simulation is a challenge for any game company -- the rides need to be accurately detailed and true-to-life for the diehards, but also fast enough to excite casual fans. The coaster building interface needs to be powerful enough to let would-be designers customize to their heart's desire, but also streamlined for everyone else to jump right in. Ultimate Ride accomplishes all these goals admirably.
The main focus is on "Build Mode," featuring freeform roller coaster construction. A relatively easy 3D building interface makes assembling coasters simple to learn, as is loading and editing ten pre-built coasters or downloading other user-built rides from the game's website. Though all coasters fall into one of the three basic types (wooden, steel or hanging), a nearly endless combination of variations can be built by combining different building approaches with a wide selection of attractive and animated scenery and decorations.
After construction, payoff comes in the form of a speedy ride on your new creation, which is enhanced by four different camera modes: first person, tether, cinematic and free. The latter angle is hurt somewhat by a lack of a scroll feature, but the first-person option includes positioning within cars 1-4 of the coaster. Unlike games like RollerCoaster Tycoon, your goal is not money making nor modeling and managing a whole theme park, but construction and experiencing the coasters first hand. Think super-powered model making, not business strategy.
Even with all the scenery and decoration aspects available, the game still plays in somewhat of a vacuum. It's a bit odd to ride your coaster without seeing the surrounding ambiance of a theme park as you dip, whirl, spin, speed and twist through the various construction loops, bends, and heights. Full enjoyment of the title will likely depend on how completely immersed or enthusiastic you are about designing a specific ride with none of the frills of an amusement park environment.
For those who need a concrete challenge, the game also provides an "Imagineering Mode." Here, you must build under specific design restrictions, such as speed or G-force requirements, layout guidelines, and so forth. As challenges are successfully met for the three coaster types, the design requirements progressively increase in difficulty, with a well-paced build-up to earning the right of calling yourself a "Rollergod." Progress through this mode is assisted by on-screen gauges and statistics that inform you of various forces being modeled by the game's physics engine. Most puzzle fans should find this appealing, as well as those looking for a specific, game-directed goal.
Action gamers will find Ultimate Ride slow, but, shoot-em-up fans aren't likely to be playing a roller coaster design simulation anyway. The real audience will be thrill ride seekers, puzzle enthusiasts, and those with a bit of engineering spirit. While not an adrenaline-packed experience, Ultimate Ride will appeal to model-builders of all ages, and is a solid entry in the growing world of virtual ride simulations.
Graphics: The graphics are decent, though not cutting edge. Some textures and seams are less than smooth, but not so drastic as to spoil the illusion of being on a coaster. The choice of the four camera modes is especially nice and, most importantly for a game of this type, the animation during rides is extremely smooth.
Sound: Sound is well done, with a wide variety of appropriate sound effects. The game music is appropriate with the "Disney Rock" up-tempo not too hard or harsh. Full effect of the coaster ride is best experienced with the music turned down and the sound up.
Enjoyment: Though unlikely to win converts, roller coaster and building simulation genre fans will be greatly pleased.
Replay Value: Fans will find a good deal of replay value in Ultimate Ride, and the ability to swap and rank coasters online will add to its life span. In addition, it's the kind of game that has potential for full-family appeal -- parents will likely enjoy playing the game with their kids.
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