As we have seen since the late 90s, theme park simulation games have the potential to make it big, being beloved creation games that can hold gamers for months if not years. But if you don’t manage to capture the imagination of players, experience bugs or just replicate the same formula done before, then you are likely to be compared harshly against the gems that came before it and are not going to have much of a lasting legacy. The problem with releasing a theme park simulation game nowadays is the existence of 2016’s Planet Coaster, arguably the modern-day version of 1999’s Roller Coaster Tycoon which has a thriving creator community, and an approximate peak player base of approximately 2,500 players (on Steam) at any one time.
The latest entrant into the theme park sim genre is Park Beyond, developed by Limbic Entertainment and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. This is not an attempt at just replicating what has been done before, instead being a tad more story-driven, pitting players as a Visioneer, who has the tools and powers to craft a park with rides that would not be practically possible in reality, through an increasing number of modules and the ability to “impossify” what might be treated as static assets in other games. It combines the joy of building your dream theme park with actually allowing you to build a park with rides only possible in your dreams. As a foundation, Limbic Entertainment has hit all the right notes, and from the tutorial mission you are provided, they truly deliver a sense of whimsy in what they present.
At its core, Park Beyond delivers the experience you would expect from any game in the genre – you build your park through a range of shops, flat-rides, pre-built rides and mammoth rail coasters where players can embrace the impossification components of the game. As you grow your park, you must manage your finances, staffing requirements and cleaning/maintenance to ensure everything stays afloat and guests remain happy – obtaining ‘Park Appeal’ to unlock more options to make your park yours. Once you have the cash flowing in and more resources unlocked (or just jump straight into the sandbox mode), you have a lot of freedom to make the park yours, with a good range of assets to turn your park from ‘Generic Theme Park’ to one of many or multiple themes, from a western mining town to one where you must fear the Kraken.
Easily the most fun component of Park Beyond is the ability to create the ride or rides of your dreams, and the developers don’t attempt to hamper your creativity in this regard. At times it does feel like the only limitation is your imagination, being given the tools to go all-out with both the aesthetics, terraforming and modules to make your concept a reality. At the end of the day, the ride does have to work, as you can’t practically have a park full of death traps or ones that don’t get up the first incline, but you can truly craft some unique coasters. Plus this is the first time in a while I have enjoyed sitting back and immersing myself in riding the coasters I have created. VR support when? The pre-built items in the game, such as the more standard theme park rides and shops are less exciting – but benefit from whimsical and fantastical upgrades that certainly have a visual impact. With more accessible mod support coming as of Version 2.0 next month, I am excited to see how the community takes this framework.
As with most simulation games nowadays, players can opt to dive into a sandbox or be taken through a more choreographed experience through a campaign mode – designed to assist you in learning the game, undertaking increasingly difficult missions, and delivering a storyline. The storyline is a bit hammy, but coming from the creative team who delivered the Tropico series, it offers a variety of comical and likable characters – including an antagonist. When did you last see a simulation game with an actual written-in antagonist? While the tutorial is a nice bit of hand-holding, I found diving into the sandbox mode to be much more satisfying, as the standard incremental unlocking of content can be a tad irritating when you just want to go in and let your ideas shine.
While there is a strong base to build upon, at least at launch, Park Beyond has some hurdles that it will need to overcome. Visual glitches, performance slow-downs, long loading times, and a range of experience/progression-hindering bugs are all par for the course. While mileage ultimately may vary if you were like me on the PC, as some could very well be based on hardware, it appears that many users are facing a weird menagerie of issues, indicating that more playtesting time would have been warranted before launch – and while they have been rolling out patches every couple of weeks, the issues list feels longer than it should have been.
Furthermore, for a game that lives and dies on giving players access to content, while there is adequate content for players to build their park with, more options would have been nice. The rides they have are genuinely good, however, there are just so few of them and more would have been welcome. Additionally, more pre-fab rides and shops would have also been welcome, supporting many more themed environments. At the very least with mod support coming next month, provided the community gets on board and creates the content, this should be an issue resolved by the community.
Hampered by bugs and a lack of custom content support at this stage, Park Beyond still has some way to go until it becomes a game I would casually invest dozens of hours into. However, its ‘impossification’ approach to park and coaster building does help carve out its niche in a market with a few heavy-hitting titles, and it has the foundations to potentially be a fun, niche, and long-lived experience in the theme park simulation genre I could see many sinking much time into.
A PC review code was provided by Bandai Namco Entertainment Australia for the purpose of this review