Having been eager for a proper theme park tycoon game for the best part of a decade, three have come along at once. Planet Coaster, RollerCoaster Tycoon World and Parkitect are all in Early Access, so whichever you opt for you’re getting the unfinished article, but the basis is there for a trio of dangerously addictive, chunder-sweeping, coaster-building management games. Of these three Parkitect is undoubtedly the most eye-catching thanks to its clean, minimalist visual style and a heavy debt to the games that started it all - RollerCoaster Tycoon and Theme Park.
If I were to choose Parkitect's place in the pantheon of management games it would be as a spritual sequel to RollerCoaster Tycoon 2. It maintains the strict isometric viewpoint and grid-based nature of the original two games, while layering on a few additional complexities. For the most part you'll be starting from scratch and trying to build a gigantic theme park capable of drawing in an equally large number of visitors. From your early pool of cash you can build a bunch of smaller rides and attractions such as ferris wheels, ghost houses, and teacups. Each needs an entrance (with a queue) and an exit. That's the basics, and from there it's about servicing your visitors' needs, whether that be toilets, ice cream stands, or my favourite, bubble milk tea.
And that's the essence of Parkitect and just about any theme park management game out there. You can delve a little deeper of course, funnelling users who like high intensity rides from the exit one to the entrance of another, but Parkitect is currently lacking the additional layer which makes tinkering fun. The Early Access release of Parkitect unfortunately only has a sandbox mode, which lacks the challenge and direction I usually look for from a game's campaign. I like putting more salt on the french fries so I sell more drinks. I like jacking the price of the toilets up to make a quick buck. That, and the ride selection leaves a little to be desired at the moment, but this is all likely to change with updates from the team at Texel Raptor in the coming months.
As with any Early Access title, it's not without teething problems. Parkitect’s UI could definitely do with some work. The ride select screen doesn’t disappear when you click on the ride you want to build, likewise with path placement or just about anything really, necessitating tapping X to totally remove the UI temporarily. It makes everything a little more fiddly than it should be, made all the more difficult by problems with sloped paths and finishing coasters, although fortunately it’s only something which needs tidying up rather than a major rethink.
But, I’d be kidding if I said it wasn’t fun, and it looks absolutely exquisite. It's all too easy to spend hours creating custom ride lines or building elaborate themed areas. Most of it probably means nothing to the little people wandering around your park, but it taps into that innate joy of gradually building a complex machine, piece by piece, and just watching it tick.
What I also really enjoyed is the already vibrant Steam Workshop integration. In the middle of building a park I pulled up the Steam overlay and downloaded the plans for a massive hedge maze based off the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Within a matter of seconds it was placed in my park and users are already getting busy building crazy coaster designs, medieval castles and massive shopping complexes. If mod support is going strong even at this early stage then I could see the community really giving Parkitect some serious legs.
For those looking at running this on a PC with weaker CPUs I should warn you Parkitect is a bit of a resource hog, no doubt thanks to the use of Unity. Once you get the larger parks going it even got my i5-4670K & GTX 970 combo chugging, and my test on the AMD FX-4100 brought the FPS down into single digits. Hopefully plenty more can be done on optimising performance between now and its expected final launch in 2017.
Unlike its visuals the rest of Parkitect doesn’t really stand out just yet. Sure, it’s that same compelling mix of building rides, managing prices and controlling layouts that makes these games so addictive, but at this early stage it’s every bit the same game you played 15 years ago. The building blocks are in place for Parkitect being a worthy spiritual successor to RollerCoaster Tycoon. All it needs a bit more ride variety, an actual campaign to work through, and a UI tidy up and we’re good to go. You should know where you stand on more of the same, but if this is your first rodeo then I can wholeheartedly recommend Parkitect even in this embryonic stage.