Screamride is out for Xbox One from 6 March for £29.99.
For a game about building, riding and smashing to pieces death-defying (or more often death inducing) roller coasters, playing ’Screamride’ is an oddly cold experience. Maybe it’s the setting, which is a sort of sci-fi future theme park set on a series of disjointed islands, spotted with massive, empty buildings like the shells of half-finished Las Vegas hotels? Maybe it’s the creepy sort-of-people who ride your coasters, and whom you send flying into the ocean when you mess up a turn, who somehow end up scarier than the rides themselves? Or maybe it’s just that this collection of game ideas and mechanics — all of which are totally solid, and enjoyable in short bursts — don’t quite seem to add up to an entire game?
All of the elements of a great theme park game are there - and that’s no surprise given Frontier Developments legacy in games like Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and Coaster Crazy. There’s the ‘Screamrider’ section, which plays like a cross between Trials and Alto’s Adventure and sees you controlling the weight and thrust of a roller coaster car to get safely around increasingly tricky tracks. It’s simplistic but it feels just as quick and subtle as it needs to. There’s ‘Engineer’, in which you build coasters to spec based on factors like excitement and top speed, but working within the confines of pre-placed pieces and other obstacles. And there’s a Destruction mode, which takes the same building blocks and turns it into a carnival/Angry Birds style exercise in smashing buildings (very realistically, we should add) for points.
All of the elements are well thought out and satisfying to play — and they’re all deeper than they appear at first, iterating on a basic premise with creativity to match the Nintendos and Rovios of this world. And if one doesn’t appeal, you don’t have to play it to progress on the other modes — which is handy, if you’re not minded to spend hours pouring over track pieces or honing your timing to hit a particular trampoline or hoop. There’s also an extensive Sandbox mode, with full community features like level trading and testing — though without the well-tuned tutorials of the other modes.
The problem though is that ultimately it doesn’t quite hold together. The game feels disjointed and sterile. It’s competent but it’s not loveable, and it didn’t have that intangible mix of digital chemicals that makes a game catch fire in the imagination and become compulsive, rather than just entertaining. If you’re really into coaster games, love Frontier, or just want a really well-made, fun and family-friendly game to dive deep into at this fairly bleak period in the year for game releases, you might want to give it a look. Just know it’s not a tremendously memorable ride to the finish.