Go ahead. Scoff. Another roller coaster sim, but on a console? Is Microsoft desperate here? Maybe, but MS has a history of attempting to create games that skirt the casual party game line, whether it's the ill-fated Fusion Frenzy games or even Viva Pinata!. Roller Coaster Tycoon has been moving along steadily over the years, mostly on PC, but there's an undeniable appeal to the idea of making your own coaster.
ScreamRide is obsessed with the concept of building a better thrill ride, but it's almost two distinct games. The sandbox mode is the meat for the more hardcore simmers among us--those who revel in theme park simulations. Playing the main campaign unlocks toys (parts, mostly) for the sandbox, but there's a surprisingly hardcore construction set with a steep learning curve, online sharing features, and a ton of things to construct.
Granted, you'll need the patience to actually put up with the convoluted interface, questionably helpful camera, and general issues regarding creating monstrous apparatuses of screaming fear within the huge 3D space. There's no doubt that for the stubborn player who can deal with all these issues, the sandbox is where it's at.
More casual players and those less-inclined to deal with intense three dimensional construction do thankfully have a lot to do elsewhere. The career mode has players coming onboard to the most sadistic, yet squeaky clean and futuristic theme park ever. It's really just a series of ever harder mini-games set among three styles.
The first career mode activity is the ScreamRider. These levels task you with actually riding the pre-made roller coasters. This basically means leaning left and right around the curves and collecting and using turbo boosts at the right time. The whole point is to get the best time possible completing the track. It's the sort of activity that VR was made for, but the graphics are sharp and zippy enough to provide a nice sense of movement. It's an odd, barely interactive affair though, yet fun in small doses.
Demolition Expert will likely prove to be the favorite part of the whole game for most. It feels a bit like the amusement park version of Burnout's crash mode mixed with Angry Birds. Basically, you fling a cockpit (a sphere at first, then other weirder and more useful shapes) with actual humans in it at disposable futuristic buildings. There are special targets, hoops, video screens, giant shiny skyscrapers, and other fodder, and each level has specific secondary goals.
The Demolition mode is awesome. It's fun flinging idiotically grinning and screaming humans at buildings, and lining up the perfect shot that causes a beautifully momentous orgy of destruction--where the buildings crash down upon each other like crumbling dominos--is thoroughly satisfying. This is absolutely the highlight of the game and the sort of thing that can bring even non-gamers in.
That said, aiming can be a real pain. The camera angle is set just behind the launcher, making it hard to approximate distances well. While the right stick moves the camera around as expected, there are significant depth of field issues that give accurate firing a steep learning curve.
Finally, there's the Engineer Mode. This is a bit like the sandbox primer, where the game gives you a mostly complete coaster to finish up. The object is multi-tiered. The first task is just to complete the track, but points are awarded for lengthy and crazy solutions to this problem. Another amusing bonus objective is to not lose any passengers.
Bumps, sharp curves, and other hazards can cause your hapless visitors to go flying out of the coaster cab (where, yes, robot helpers rescue them). This element is surprisingly tricky, and getting through some of these levels with all thrill riders intact can be incredibly challenging. Engineer mode is fun, adding a sort of puzzle vibe to the coaster creation, but couldn't stand on its own.
All this destruction and building is brought together in a nicely polished and shiny package. The graphics are more than slightly reminiscent of the clean, chrome, yet disconcertingly sterile worlds of Portal. ScreamRide looks excellent, but has sly undertones of making fun of the future it's created.
ScreamRide offers its thrills across six different theme park styles and 50 levels, so there's a reasonable amount of game play. This is such a different kind of game from most of the stuff we've seen lately, however, that it feels distinct. ScreamRide isn't amazing or likely to keep anyone up to the wee hours of the night in an addictive stupor, but it does offer an adept mix of simulation and arcade action.