Developer: Frontier Developments
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One (Version Reviewed), Xbox 360
Release Date: March 3, 2015
The roller coaster genre is not as prominent as it has been in the past. What was once a solid simulation niche has fallen off as of late, with recent iterations of even the genre’s most famous series turning to both mobile and free-to-play trappings. ScreamRide, from the very studio that brought us the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, aims to shake things up by adding a more eccentric action tone. While noble in theory, they could have used some more practice.
ScreamRide, surprisingly enough, carries a campaign that sees you working at “ScreamWorks,” a testing facility with a focus on seeing the limits of extreme entertainment. The ScreamWorks International Research Facilities are home to the greatest roller coasters and theme parks known to man, showcasing unparalleled speed, destruction and unbridled creativity in locations around the world. None of that actually matters, as the game frames a story in the loosest sense of the word. It merely acts as a vehicle for the crux of ScreamRide’s campaign gameplay, which breaks down into three modes; ScreamRider, Demolition and Engineer.
ScreamRider puts the player directly in the controls of a coaster car in a predetermined track. The goal is to manufacture a high Scream Score with a combination of a fast time, maintaining two-wheel travel as a bonus, nailing a safe landing off of jumps and by gaining turbo boosts along the track (press “X” right as the section ends). Depending on how well you do across each stage’s levels across any mode of ScreamRide you will score commendations, which help you access the next stage and enjoy the new tracks ahead in a new locale. Think of a 5-Star system that rewards you an extra for completing bonus challenges.
As odd as it may sound, it’s one of the more attractive gameplay modes in ScreamRide because it works as intended. Each gameplay mode sees 6 different locations with 3-4 different stages, and ScreamRider mode carries an increasingly difficult adventure. As time goes on, obstacles like bumpers to avoid, partially-missing tracks and winding turns force you off the track quite easily if you think you can whizz right on through. It carries a decidedly arcade feel, with derails that cause explosions and nameless NPC “dummies” that display comic sickness after high-speed race tracks.
Engineer Mode is the bread and butter of the roller coaster genre, yet its oddly forced restrictions limit enjoyment in ScreamRide. The dominant task at hand is to take an unfinished race track and fill in the gaps of what is already in place. Oddly enough, you are extremely limited throughout most of the campaign, restricting yourself to few loop and special twist pieces and laying down regular track metal. With limited mileage in construction materials and length, one can’t help but feel the creativity of construction be handicapped by artificial barriers that are unlocked later due to unspecified reasons. At times, you feel cheated that you can’t add boosters or breaks because the game says so, forcing riders off the track due to the level’s own placement of pieces you have to connect.
Once you are finished your attempt, your track is submitted to an AI test run. A Scream Score rating is judged by 3 factors: Scream (excitement factor), Intensity (G-Force levels) and Nausea. You also get bonuses for steep drops, ducking under tracks, air-time weightlessness and using your limited special pieces. Ultimately, you want to have as high a Scream factor as possible, while maintaining an average intensity and a low nausea factor. Plus, you really don’t want to lose riders, as their screams fuel your average Screams per second. Yes, this is actually a marker of success in ScreamRide. Video games!
Players buy into roller-coaster creation to enjoy the freedom of self-expression; it doesn’t make sense that due to basic control layout failures, player creativity is in jeopardy.
It’s a novel concept, but the accessibility of the game’s controls stops the joy of ingenuity dead in its tracks. Using the right analog stick both zooms in and around a point of interest from a high angle in a manner that makes it difficult to guide laying down track in a three-dimensional space. Linking between separate pieces of track (a mandate to complete most levels) requires minute tact and deliberation in order to prevent your riders from generating a low score due to induced nausea. Unfortunately, the game’s controls make it difficult to gauge directional input and where the track is headed, even from the POV position.
This kind of gameplay design is deserving of a mouse and keyboard, as dragging the camera to exactly where you want would be paramount to player success. As that is not the case, it crushes one’s ability to progress to the game’s later stages. It also locks out crucial twist and loop pieces from basic Sandbox level creation. Without completing the entire Engineer “storyline,” you’re limited in what you can use when creating custom tracks, placing further unnecessary restrictions. Players buy into roller-coaster creation to enjoy the freedom of self-expression; it doesn’t make sense that due to basic control layout failures, player creativity is in jeopardy.
The second part of Engineer Mode simply sees short pieces of track placed to aim at destroying buildings, which leads to the genuinely confusing inclusion of a Demolition gameplay mode. For untold reasons, you control testers being hurled at buildings, with the ultimate goal of knocking them all down for points. Rubber balls, three-pronged-springing capsules and explosive barrels are just some of the objects that you hurl at towards surrounding buildings, with magnets, speed-increasing rings/targets, bounce pads, bullseye targets and explosive barrels helping your take out the environment around you to score high points.
While simple in concept, the limitations in the ScreamRide game engine helps display truly garish destruction animations. It’s clear that the game was also designed for Xbox 360, as unappealing textures and simple collapse physics on the Xbox One are only matched in a disappointing, stuttering framerate. Setting up environments after collapse highlights ScreamRide at its weakest, as an appealing color scheme cannot mask the shortcomings of the game’s technical deficiencies. I’m convinced most of the engine’s budget goes towards water physics, which are puzzlingly beautiful when close up.
I saw one level where it was your job to destroy a gigantic PS4, to “stop the Sony ponies invasion” in the name of Phil Spencer.
It’s unfortunate that so much time spent on standard gameplay modes (required to obtain all the track pieces possible) gets in the way of a truly engaging level editor. In ScreamRide, there are enough engineering tools provided to create both expansive, death-defying roller coasters and wonderous works of art. With each of the six main locations to work with, there are tons of different utilities to create walls, buildings, sculptures and, of course, roller coaster spins, loops and twists.
Convinced that your lack of creativity hinders the ability to create something cool? What I love about the level editor in ScreamRide is its blueprint system. Players can create setups for their creations and share it online with others. Being able to expand upon someone else’s work to create something brand new was an excellent design choice worth applauding.
Once a level is finished, it can be shared online in the game’s Level Center. It acts as a hub, where other players take and share their own levels. Even in the review stages, the possibilities afforded from ScreamRide’s toolset allows for the wackiest of ideas. Not only can you create demolition levels in the form of a chess board (as shown above), but I saw one level where it was your job to destroy a gigantic PS4, to “stop the Sony ponies invasion” in the name of Phil Spencer. That kind of brevity can foster online.
That is, if you can perfectly defeat your own creation. In setting up levels for online ScreamRide play, you must be able to score 6/6 commendations in one single test ride before they can be shared. It makes sense that the game needs proof that your tasks can be done, but it comes at the expense of creative freedom once again. I crafted a level that expanded upon set blueprint, but with extra twists and turns. Players needed to score 1.2 million points, hit Perfect on all turbo boosts, finish in 100 seconds and not derail once to get top marks. It was meant to be a challenging track for those who try it out, with multiple attempts required to score all the bonus challenges.
Instead, I spent close to half an hour getting it perfect in one test ride, putting me, the creator, at a supreme disadvantage. I don’t care about my score; I care that it severely limits the possibility of creating tough levels due to completion failure. If players get discouraged after multiple fail attempts, then they will have to make tracks easier to beat so that they can actually get the level out to the public in the first place. They have algorithms in place to auto-complete track segments; they should seriously look into a tool that checks if completing bonus challenges and hitting score requirements is theoretically possible. It’s to the detriment of the creator if it cannot be done.
For as many times as I questioned why I’m even continuing on, the game has offered me fewer answers in reply.
It’s hard to gauge what exactly ScreamRide sets out to do. It’s a mish-mash of both sandbox creation with an action arcade edge. Level editing, while open to player creativity, is a smaller part of a title that insists on building itself on its career mode. It’s odd, however, that such a framing is loosely tied together, at best, putting you in control of generating screams in secret test facilities in remote locations. All you hear is a robotic voice guiding your play, while the same 5-ish predictable wubstep tracks serve as musical backdrop.
Despite everybody on site (including willing human excitement testers) aware of the experiments, demolition levels see small human NPC’s on the ground, running away in surprised fear. Or worse, sliding into the water while maintaining a standing pose due to terrible collision animations. Coaster cars carry extending wings, effectively seeing you pilot cars into a pair of tall, thin buildings, with nobody in the game’s developmental process noticing the parallels towards events that have dictated the early 21st century.
Despite being so key to showing players the basic gameplay tenets of ScreamRide, the actual implementation of career gameplay modes seems so lackadaisical in its finished product. The natural progression of ScreamRider sees a frustrating difficulty curve that leaves players unprepared for it. Career levels are key to unlocking level editing pieces, but over time the repetitiveness of demolition and engineering modes just grind the story pacing to a halt. For as many times as I questioned why I’m even continuing on, the game has offered me fewer answers in reply.
The silver linings of ScreamRide are overshadowed by a middling performance overall. Poor graphics, career and story development, technical performance, control scheme and sound design bring down an entertaining level creation system brimming with opportunity. It may capture the interest of those dedicated to the roller coaster genre, but doesn’t do much to appeal outside of it. At the very least, its modest entry price offers a fair look at a fair gameplay experience.
A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.
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