Move over pretenders, there's a new claimant to the tycoon crown. After years of disappointment and dodgy decision making, Frontier has come along and totally obliterated the genre with Planet Coaster, reinventing theme park management in the process. In my time with it so far it's absolutely gorgeous, incredibly in-depth, and yet remarkably simple to get into. The downside is that it's incredibly demanding though. We stacked up our MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G against Planet Coaster in a series of benchmarks to see just how well it runs.

Planet Coaster benchmarks and frames per second analysis performed on MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G | Intel i7-5820K | 16GB DDR4 (Click to Enlarge) 

For our benchmarks we put Planet Coaster to the test against the MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G, equipped with 6GB video memory. It’s backed up by 16GB DDR4 memory and an Intel Core i7-5820K CPU. For our tests we looked at both a newly built small theme park and a full sized Disneyworld-style behemoth, pulling average frame rates from surveying the park and taking a ride on some coasters.

Planet Coaster Small Theme Park MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G 4K Benchmarks

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Planet Coaster Small Theme Park MSI GTX 1060 6GB Average Frame Rates

Graphics Preset1080p1440p

4K

Lowest918379
Low797471
Medium666160
High535049
Ultra424241

 

Planet Coaster Full Theme Park MSI GeForce GTX 1060 Gaming X 6G 4K Benchmarks

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Graphics Preset1080p1440p

4K

Lowest191716
Low181715
Medium171615
High161514
Ultra161513

Okay, so there really is quite a lot to parse with these benchmark results. Firstly, the results from the Planet Coaster small theme park. This theme park was probably a fifth the size of a full size park, all said and done, with just over a thousand visitors, a couple of rollercoasters, a handful of smaller rides and quite a few stores and eateries. The performance here was, for the most part, as expected. The Lowest graphics preset brought in an average 91 at 1080p, and a still very respectable and playable 42 frames per second at Ultra. Where things get a little more unusual is when we jump up to 4K. 3840 x 2160 resolution is pushing four times as many pixels as bog standard 1080p, and therefore in therefore in theory should be four times more demanding on the GPU. In these benchmarks however we see there is only a very slight difference in performance between 1080p / 1440 / 4K. The most we see is just a 13% drop. Odd, and usually a sign there are bigger forces at work than the graphics card.

Moving to a full park with dozens of rides and thousands of guests, this peculiarity is even more pronounced. In fact, we also see there is barely any change in frame rate when switching between Low and Ultra graphics presets in Planet Coaster. The difference between Low / 1080p and Ultra 4K is just 6 FPS. I automatically assumed this is because Planet Coaster is heavily, heavily CPU dependent. It wouldn't matter what graphics card you throw at it, once the parks get busy, it all comes down to the brute force of your processor. The Intel Core i7-5820K is no slouch either. It's a six-core beast clocked at 3.6 GHz. 

Delving a little deeper I got an answer of sorts. Even at 1080p / Low, the GeForce GTX 1060 was hitting loads of 99-100%. This stayed exactly the same all the way up to 4K and beyond. Planet Coaster is using every ounce of the GPU power available to it.

Bear in mind the 6% figure is from me alt+tabbing out. The red bar essentially shows you usage out of 100%.

In theory that suggests the graphics card is the bottleneck rather than the other way around, and a glance at CPU usage reveals this may be the case.

 

No matter what you throw at it, Planet Coaster on the i7-5820K sits at around 70-75% usage, although CPU usage is notoriously difficult to monitor accurately. Sometimes it may be running at 100%, sometimes 60%, giving an average of ~80%. To this end it appears as if Planet Coaster is heavily reliant on GPU horsepower but it is also asking a lot of a very powerful CPU, so you may find you have to drop down to a resolution lower or graphics setting than perhaps you're comfortable with. Ultimately none of that is going to help with the larger parks however, where performance nose dives across the board. Being a management game Planet Coaster is still very playable, but it's hardly the ideal solution.

There's no dancing around it then, a fully kitted out theme park in Planet Coaster is one of the most demanding experiences in PC gaming. There really isn't a great deal you can do about it either, besides waiting and throwing better and faster graphics cards and processors at it.

It'll certainly be interesting to see how this all shakes out with some of Planet Coaster's crazier creations. One of the great benefits of the RollerCoaster Tycoon series has always been that it would run on just about anything, regardless of the size of the park, but Frontier has instead opted for a new level of graphical fidelity and independent systems that make Planet Coaster a hell of a game to run well.