It’s been a while since Frontier Developments have been able to develop a title for consoles outside of the long, dark shadow of Microsoft’s Kinect, but with an opportunity arising for a Kinect-free game on the Xbox One, develop they have. From the creators of the always popular Rollercoaster Tycoon and more recent Elite: Dangerous, Kinectimals and Zoo Tycoon comes the first budget exclusive of the year for Microsoft’s fun box – none other than the rollercoaster builder/destroyer/simulator Screamride.
Screamride’s premise is simple: In the future people want rollercoasters… And they want them bigger, faster and better than ever before. This is where you come in – your job is to ride rollercoasters to determine the maximum speeds for safe rides, build your own assortment of rollercoasters to meet various requirements and shoot thrill seekers in pods at targets to demolish rollercoasters and buildings that aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing. If you haven’t got it by now, Screamride is primarily about rollercoasters. Exciting!
The game’s campaign is split up into three modes that include: Screamrider, Demolition Expert and Engineer. Each of these three modes offers a unique gameplay experience that tie in well with one another to promote the central amusement park and rollercoaster themes to offer a more robust, entertaining package.
Screamrider mode has players riding around a pre-made rollercoaster vying for the best possible scream rating (read high score). Using boosts, forcing cars up onto two wheels without coming off, leaning into corners (or breaking at the last moment) and maintaining speed to get around the track in the quickest possible time will all factor into the final score. Although this sounds fairly basic, the tracks get progressively more difficult as you advance through the various challenges to keep players on their toes. The design and range of tracks available makes each feel exhilarating and the necessity to frantically mess with your controller to adjust your ride as you aim for those high scores make it extremely entertaining.
Demolition Expert on the other hand feels like a themed version of the physics-based destruction puzzler Angry Birds. Players are tasked with launching pods full of patrons at structures with the purpose of hitting and destroying them. The goal is to earn a high score by causing as much destruction in as few shots as possible whilst meeting certain scoring and demolition requirements. The most enjoyable part of this mode is watching the destruction in action. The buildings and rollercoasters (or whatever else you are targeting) are made up of hundreds of little pieces, so knocking out a key support or section of track can have a cascading collapse effect which can be incredibly satisfying to watch. There are also quite a few optional objectives such as targets within each level which require players to think outside the box and add a degree of replayability to the levels.
Engineer mode requires that players use their building skills to create a rollercoaster that is able to meet a range of set criteria whilst earning the highest scream rating. To do this, players need to create and modify (ad infinitum) an entertaining ride that limits nausea, manages the ride’s speed to ensure the coasters stay on the tracks and complete a number of optional objectives that will earn additional bonus points. This can be quite tricky and requires a lot of experimentation with different track pieces and a great deal of trial and error.
To add even more bang for your sexy buck, the game also features a sandbox mode which gives players free reign to create the rollercoaster/s of their dreams (or nightmares) or additional destruction maps to mess with the game’s physics in amusing ways. Unfortunately, whilst Sandbox mode is available quite early on, not all of the track segments and rollercoaster pieces are accessible from the start as they need to be unlocked by progressing through the campaign. Whilst this does give players an impetus to play through the developer levels, learning various attributes of the game and how to properly manipulate the rollercoaster creation system, it feels like a bit of a forced grind for those who just want to make rollercoasters and forget about the rest.
Screamride’s presentation is fairly well done. The visuals are crisp and clean, with a dash of neon and some great animations and character modelling for your captive thrill seekers that do a good job of portraying the developers’ ideas of what futuristic rollercoasters ought to look like. The game’s high tempo tunes match the rollercoaster and building action nicely. The game is also narrated by a disembodied voice not unlike GlaDOS of Portal fame constantly giving hints and making amusing observations that are good for the occasional chuckle. This all feeds into the central, comical theme park vibe that gives the title a great deal of character.
Unfortunately Screamride does have its fair share of drawbacks. The career mode is fairly short and although it is enjoyable, it will probably only last the majority of players a few dedicated gaming sessions. The controls behind the track creator are also a little fiddly and can be frustrating as they lack the finesse, accuracy and ease of use afforded by the studios prior Rollercoaster Tycoon’s editor and its mouse and keyboard. Finally (and most noticeably) the game also suffers from periodic frame rate issues that grind the action to a halt, especially during the more intense destruction sequences.
For now though, despite a few missteps Screamride remains an entertaining budget title that has enough content to keep most players occupied for a long time. The addition of online leaderboards and user-generated tracks (via Xbox Live) ensure there is plenty of content and that there is always an excuse to go back and challenge your high scores and those of your friends.
Side-note: With the renewed interest towards console compatible VR headsets, let’s all hope that Screamride gets the VR treatment. The game’s rollercoasters would be absolutely incredible in a VR setting.
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