While it's created by the team responsible for the hugely successful Roller Coaster Tycoon series, and is indeed themed around roller coaster rides, Screamride is a far cry from Frontier Developments' more amusement park simulation-oriented games. There's no setting the price of burgers here – Screamride is instead a puzzle game, with a healthy dose of construction thrown in.
Well, actually, it's three puzzle games in one, plus a very comprehensive coaster and flat ride builder. The three games manifest themselves as a trio of modes, all of which are very different from one another. The first is the eponymous Screamrider mode, a fairly straightforward affair where you test and ride prebuilt roller coasters to create the best rider experience possible. To that end, you have control over the speed of the car, and the objective is to make the experience as exciting as possible without making the riders sick, injuring them, or crashing the car. In some places it's possible to go on two wheels for additional thrills, and later coasters even have jumps, where just the right speed is required to safely negotiate gaps in the track. Although it sounds simple, this mode is strangely entertaining – it's essentially a racing game on rails where you're carefully modulating the performance of your car to get as close to specific limits as possible without crashing.
The second mode is Engineering, and this is where the game starts to take on more of a classic puzzle bent. Here, the player is presented with a partially built coaster, which you not only have to complete, but also hit specific goals, such as using particular pieces of track or making your new sections a certain length. Once you've finished your track additions, the car can be launched and the results of the ride are tabulated in similar fashion to Screamrider mode. Success moves you onto the next level, whereas failure results in going back to the drawing board to try to figure out why your track additions didn't work as intended, or are lacking the thrills required to get a higher ranking.
Screamride's third mode is by far the most entertaining. It's called Demolition, and it basically reminds me of Burnout 2's crash mode. The objective is to launch “Cabins” – pods containing two riders – at buildings and landscape features to create chain reactions that destroy as much of the level as possible. It's basically an orgy of destruction in which you need to figure out exactly where to launch your cabins to raze sufficient buildings to hit the level's destruction target. Things start off easily enough, with simple explosive targets to hit, but very soon you're faced with puzzles like figuring out how to launch the cabin at a bumper, so it ricochets into the lower corner of a tall tower, resulting in it toppling into other buildings and taking them down too.
I had a lot of fun in this mode. It's not dissimilar to the way you destroy things in Angry Birds, only Demolition is in full 3D and – speaking as an Angry Birds addict – it's a lot more challenging and sophisticated. What makes this mode especially fun is the way buildings collapse. Sometimes you'll smash the cabin into a building and it'll remain standing for a while, but then will slowly and gracefully start to collapse. That anticipation of waiting for something to happen really makes the game addictive and fun.
As well as the three main game modes, there's a comprehensive set of coaster-building tools available, giving enormous scope to create all manner of highly sophisticated rides. Of course, there needs to be some semblance of physical realism to whatever it is you build, which you can test by riding the coaster once it's done. Care has to be taken to ensure there's the right balance of excitement and fear, and also to make sure your ride isn't so violent that it results in riders being ejected (though it's fun building coasters specifically for that purpose), or making them sick (though again, if you're feeling particularly mean, you can turn that into a mini-game in its own right).
Anything you build can be saved and shared with other players, and creations don't necessarily have to be full coasters. You can make buildings, or nice landscapes for other people to use as a platform to build upon. Or, indeed, you can make entire levels and missions that other people can play in the game's three main modes. This is definitely a very interesting aspect of Screamride, and I imagine anyone who gets hooked on this game will want to become a part of the building community. Or at the very least check out what other people are doing.
I finished my session with Screamride both surprised and impressed. I was expecting a variant on a theme park management simulation, but instead found what is a series of mini-games – none of which feel particularly mini – plus a comprehensive building tool that will enable users to generate a huge amount of content. All game modes are fun, and with the prospect of user-generated content to augment what's already in the game, Screamride is shaping up to be an unexpected treat.