Every game critic out there has something they focus on in the industry. My most mundane crusade regards game preservation. With tech getting newer, older games are going to get harder to run on modern systems. Try running the original Sims with your current rig, or the PC port of Manhunt. There are ways to do it, but it will take some time and plenty of Googling. So when the re-release of RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was announced to allow the game to work on modern hardware, I was curious how it would be to jump back into that trilogy after it was pulled from digital storefronts in 2018. No matter how you feel about the game, it is more important than ever to make sure gaming’s past is accessible for future generations. Luckily, there’s a reason why people loved this game back in 2004.
If you haven’t played a RollerCoaster Tycoon game, it’s a straightforward premise: each level gives you a task to beat in a separate sort of theme park. Maybe that could be a positive park rating, plenty of customers (or peeps) in your park, or making some very good roller coasters, or all of the above. Since this version comes with the previously released expansion packs, there is a ton of variety in both level types and in goals. Each level has three goals: Apprentice , Entrepreneur, and Tycoon. You can unlock most levels on the easiest goal, but additional levels are unlocked by finishing every level’s more difficult challenges.
The first thing you’ll notice when you dive into the game proper is the User Interface; it’s a bit of a struggle in higher resolutions. Everything is surprisingly small, which makes it a little difficult to get things settled efficiently or even know what you’re clicking on. It can be tricky to differentiate between buttons at times, and it makes for a game that can be hard to navigate (especially if you have impaired vision). You can get used to it or decrease the resolution to make icons bigger, but it makes something as straightforward as buying a burger stall convoluted compared to previous games.
This is a game that you’ll need to do the tutorial for. Thanks to the additional mechanics from the Wild and Soaked expansions that give you the options for water-based rides and zoo-esque features, it’s got a lot to learn and plenty to do. However, the tutorial itself is pretty dry. Since you have to load into each section of the tutorial, it has the perfect mix of long and unengaging. Once you get that settled, it’s time to build your park’s rides, stalls, even scenery and landscaping if you’re someone who likes to detail your parks. I’m not that type of player, I will color-coordinate nothing and make everything look as tacky as can be.
There’s something freeing about making a park in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 the way you want it, and the huge amount of customization is still a joy (though I used this limitless potential to just name my rides things like “I Miss My Wife”). Many rides have the option to build your own track. It gives you plenty of freedom to make a track how you’d want, but that tiny user interface rears its head here. If it doesn’t bother you, it’s fun to figure out a track. This is helped by an autocomplete feature that can finish a track for you if you’re close enough to the end. It’s not perfect, but it helps those moments where you can’t figure out how to get the track to properly snap.
One thing that’s surprising about playing RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 in 2020 is that it has a meditative quality to it. Once you get used to the UI and the dry tutorial, there’s a game that’s still pleasant to dive into. It’s still fun to manage a theme park, and it’s pretty chill to design a coaster and make some money. This is doubly true for the sandbox mode, a feature that wasn’t in previous RCT games. Hell, you can even make your own missions if you want to create your own challenges.
RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 has more of a toybox vibe compared to previous games in the franchise. While that is pretty appealing, it means that RCT 3 is very much a “make your own fun” game alongside the tycoon aspects you know and love. I’m not the most creative player, so I didn’t embrace the wide possibilities. I definitely prefer the approach of the first RCT instead, but more imaginative players will find this very liberating.
It’s been 16 years since RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was first released and it’s clear how much graphics have improved. This was the first time in the series you could properly jump into the rides you designed, and it’s a fun break to ride a coaster. However, sitting next to a wide-eyed park goer is uncanny in 2020. Luckily, the uncanniness of people and the outdated graphics are the biggest issues.
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3: Complete Edition runs pretty smoothly, though there are some cases of flickering textures when you zoom in and out. Water textures are a pretty notable case, but it doesn’t distract from the game. This is not a remastered version of RCT 3, and that works more in its favor. The simpler graphics don’t only allow the game to run better, but it also gives players a proper taste of gaming in the mid 2000s. If you can accept the warts, RCT3 isn’t a bad way to escape the hellscape of 2020.
ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON 3: COMPLETE EDITION VERDICT
Even if RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 hasn’t aged as gracefully as its predecessors, there’s plenty of fun to be had. If you still have the original and can run it fine, you don’t need to buy it again. But if you’re someone who never got to play it, can’t run Planet Coaster, and miss the old school approach to the Tycoon genre, the Complete Edition is a neat relic to a bygone era of gaming. Just be prepared for some outdated features and a shockingly small UI.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Relaxing with a nice cup of tea as I paid off my loans and named everything in my theme park rude words.
Runs Pretty Well
Plenty of Content
Autocomplete is a cool feature.
Minor Graphical Hiccups
About Gavin Herman
Gavin Herman is a critic with experience in editing, journalism and video game PR. He's still too afraid to ask what this Fortnite thing is all about.