Screamride is one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. I played it at a preview event a few months ago, and had a lot of fun with it. One of the big questions I had walking away was whether or not it would hold up under further repeated play. I'm happy to announce that it indeed does.
It's created by the team responsible for the hugely successful Roller Coaster Tycoon series, and is themed around roller coaster rides. However, it's a far cry from Frontier Developments' more amusement park simulation-oriented games. There's no setting the price of burgers in this game – 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. Here's how I described them when I previewed it:
The first mode is Screamrider, a fairly straightforward affair where you test and ride prebuilt roller coasters to create a great rider experience. However, rather than simply pressing a button and then sitting back and watching your coaster ride around the track, you have control over the speed of the car. 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, 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 they not only have to complete, but also hit specific goals, such as using particular pieces of track or making your addition a certain length. Once you've finished your track additions, the car can be sent around the track and the results 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 where you need to figure out exactly where to launch your cabins to take down enough 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.
All three modes are really enjoyable to play. I personally like Demolition the most, simply because it's the easiest and most immediately gratifying. Lining up your shot and then watching as its consequences unfold is highly entertaining, and there's definitely a good degree of skill and timing required to achieve the kind of scores you need to unlock the higher levels. I like that it's easy to dip in and out of. You can play a few goes and feel satisfied when you add a star to an existing score, or perhaps get lucky and finally hit the right series of targets to unlock the next level. But the gameplay is also strong enough to hold your attention over a far more protracted period of time.
Screamrider mode is probably the weakest of the bunch, but when I say weakest, I should really be saying it's the least best of the three modes. While it's simple to play, it's surprisingly challenging, and you really need good timing to hit the big score thresholds. Fortunately, poor rides that aren't going well can be quickly terminated and restarted, making this a quite moreish experience.
Finally, Engineering is a great puzzle experience that also doubles as a pseudo-tutorial for building your own coasters and rides. As you progress through the levels, you really begin to learn and ins and outs of making a good ride, and also find out just how far you can push the extremes without making your riders sick, or sending them crashing to the ground because they've been ejected from their car by your crazy curves. Again, this is another fun mode that offers plenty of head-scratching puzzles, and will keep you entertained as you figure out the optimal solution to sometimes quite fiendishly complex problems.
The icing on the cake is the whole building/sandbox mode where, if you have the time and patience, you can build all manner of coasters – or simply make landscapes that other players can then use as a base to build their own rides. Everything is sharable, and it's possible to build completely new levels to challenge other players across all game modes – which is a very cool feature.
Downsides? The camera angles are sometimes awkward in certain situations, and the graphics, while decent, aren't exactly cutting edge. I also question the slightly uneven difficulty on the higher-level puzzles, which can result in the game becoming frustrating at times. But then, that's typical puzzle game stuff – just try not to hurl your joypad across the room when you're a few hundred points short of hitting a next-level threshold.
Ultimately, Screamride is an original and entertaining puzzle game that packs some great modes and a good sense of humor. When you take into consideration the fact that there's already a huge amount of user-generated content to try, and you've got a sandbox building mode that offers massive scope for creativity, you have a really fun game that packs plenty of lasting appeal for those who love its premise.
Decent enough, but not outstanding.
Like the graphics, the sound is fairly simple and straightforward. Does the job fine, but it won't be winning any awards.
Generally excellent. The builder mode is intuitive to use and lets you rapidly iterate and experiment.
The three puzzle modes offer good entertainment, but the true long-lasting appeal comes through the builder and user-generated content.
An original and addictive puzzle game that includes a terrific roller coaster builder - and plenty of user-generated content.