With Park Beyond, Limbic Entertainment and Bandai Namco invites players to build the physics-defying theme parks of their dreams.
Park Beyond enters a marketplace with very strong competition. The well-established Planet Coaster is feature-rich and also has the advantage of seven years of post-release tweaks to get it running well.
When Chris Sawyer release RollerCoaster Tycoon in 1999 he introduced gamers to a new game genre. Combining the mechanics of a management simulation with rollercoaster and landscape design, the game was a hit, spawning quite a few sequels. Frontier Developments took over the franchise, for licence holders Atari, bringing the series into 3D with the very successful RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.
Atari’s franchise revival, RollerCoaster Tycoon World, didn’t fair very well, whilst Frontier Developments’ own Planet Coaster has become the reigning champion when it comes to theme park management games.
The basic premise of Park Beyond’s story campaign is that the player has been bought in by an eccentric theme park entrepreneur to reinvigorate his aging portfolio of parks. You are joined by a bubbly engineer that researches new attractions and a surly accountant that provides feedback on your financial situation.
Designing your park using the keyboard and mouse feels intuitive and natural. Using the game controller option is a hard no. I don’t know if it’s because I’m predominantly a PC gamer, but I always find playing strategy games that use game controllers a bit ham-fisted. Park Beyond is no exception, and I recommend sticking with keyboard and mouse controls.
Across a variety of scenarios, you are charged with revitalising or establishing theme parks and turning in a profit. This means attracting paying customers that need to be fed, watered, and entertained.
Rides and facilities need to be constructed and maintained. This costs money, eating into your bottom line if they are not profitable. Run out of money and it’s game over. There are loans available, which are handy early on, but if the park is failing, propping it up with more cash is just delaying the inevitable. Each scenario has several challenges that when met unlock more attractions and a cash injection.
The financial management side of the game is pretty robust, giving the player plenty of tools to analyse and optimise the park. Important data panels don’t tile, though, so I found myself having to open and close them as I made adjustments.
This clunky design is apparent across the game’s entire user interface which, overall, is not particularly great. On a 4K the menu icons are spread a bit too far around the screen, making what should be quick adjustments a bit of a chore.
On the whole, though, the park creation tools are easy to use and fairly intuitive. Selecting and positioning rides is easy. The game allows you to construct rides and position objects that intersect with one another which can result in a messy arrangement. Whilst this didn’t affect the ride performance in any way, it still looked odd. Similar conflicts with paths are also overlooked. On the plus side, it does make things easier, as I’ve found the strict conflict systems in other theme park games frustrating in the past.
I had less joy with the landscaping tools. I found it impossible to create a lake and the game can be quite fussy with path positioning. Tunnelling is just completely unrefined compared to the competition.
You can still design and build impressive-looking parks, but I found the available rides and attractions to be a bit sparse, even when everything is unlocked. There are three coaster types, but no monorail or transport systems.
You can use one of the rollercoaster blueprints, to instantaneously populate your park with intricate white-knuckle thrill rides. The most fun, though, is had by constructing your own rollercoasters and this is where the game really shines.
Precisely positioning 3D objects on a 2D screen can be a chore, but Park Beyond makes it easy to build impressive coasters. As you connect the pieces of your track, a ghost rollercoaster train negotiates your design, so you know what’s working and what’s not as you are building it. If the train is going too fast around a tight curve you will see it come off the rails. This allows you to build a working ride the first time, without having to wait for a test once constructed. This test-as-you-go system is particularly important as you can incorporate things like reality-defying jumps into your design that may need a bit of tweaking to get the speed and distance right.
As visitors enjoy your park you gain amazement points which can be used to upgrade, via impossification”, your rides, shops, and staff. Rewarding players with the ability to enhance rides in a spectacular, physics-defying manner is better than just streamers and confetti. Theme park gaming purists may find all this a bit silly, but this is Park Beyond, not Park Today.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with Park Beyond. But, despite its unique take on theme park design, just isn’t as polished as it needs to be right now. If you are going to have the stones to enter a niche arena against such a well-chiselled and dominating champion as Planet Coaster, you have better ensure that you are prepared.
Park Beyond is a decent game that will offer hours of fun, but there’s no denying that the game is in need of more content and a bit of refinement. The future of Park Beyond very much rests with the developer, though, and what level of post-release support it provides.