Adventure Park – Review

Title   Adventure Park
Developer  B-Alive
Publisher  bitComposer
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  Strategy, Simulation
Release Date  November 8, 2013

Love him or hate him, Peter Molyneux and his team at Bullfrog are responsible for many of the titles that we would class as ‘game changers’, and 1994′s Theme Park certainly falls into this category.  With so many features packed into such a small amount of space, and some pretty stellar graphics for its time – not to mention the avant-garde sense of humour – it very quickly became a hit and has since spawned many would-be theme park simulators.  One such title is B-Alive’s modern-day re-imagining, Adventure Park.  As someone who played Theme Park to death, and dabbled with Roller Coaster Tycoon for a while (not enough business management for my liking), it was naturally exciting to look under the hood of this new addition to the genre.

Sadly, it’s one of the most poorly executed examples of a strategy/management game I’ve ever played.  From the outset, it’s very apparent that the developers haven’t really given much thought to the end user, as every minor change within the display options requires a full restart… and Adventure Park is not a fast-loading game, so the wait between saving the changes, loading the game in, and continuing your current campaign to check the results is, at best, mind-numbingly tedious.  As well as being slow to load, the game itself is slow in terms of performance.  On a 64bit system with a 3.2GHz i7, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia GTX 680, and the game installed to a 6Gb/sec SSD which can run all latest releases at maximum settings with at least 60fps, the frame rate was regularly dropping to between 12-15fps and would only reach 30fps when the viewpoint was focusing on a desolate area, despite the recommended specs being listed as a Core Duo, 4GB of RAM and a GTX 280 GPU.

Not being one to shy away from a challenge and let something as insignificant as playability hinder my time with a game, I finished messing around with the settings and reduced them to a point where I had an acceptable balance between frame rate (20fps) and graphics quality, and continued with the campaign.  The first thing you’d likely notice about Adventure Park is that they genuinely tried hard when it came to graphics; the models may not be up to David Cage’s outlandish standards but they’re certainly detailed enough that you immediately know what you’re looking at, and the textures themselves wouldn’t have you running to Specsavers, as they’re more than sharp enough.  The problem is that they’re a little dated, almost as though someone has taken a game from the early 2000s and given it a texture revamp but not quite let go of the original era.  Given the number of people who still play the original Theme Park and RCT, however, I don’t imagine that the dated graphics will sway anyone away from playing.


What may, however, is the lack of variety.  At first glance, you’re presented with a decent enough range of rides, stores, and other attractions, although many of these are partially blacked out as they unlock as you progress through the campaign.  The problem is that once you do actually unlock them, you quickly realise that they’re no more than re-skins of the original ride and offer nothing beyond a change in aesthetics.  For example, the Western Riding is no different from the Buffalo Bill Bull Riding or Elephant Riding other than seeing your visitors sitting on different animals as they trudge slowly around a track.  The same can be said for the other ride types and, in fact, I wasn’t able to count more than eight or nine separate model types.  There was hope that the number of blacked-out rides and stores would increase as time went on, unlocking after reaching certain goals, but it wasn’t the case.

Unlocking isn’t easy; as with almost all games of this ilk, you’re expected to meet the expectations of your park vistors by keeping them happy, excited, and giving them more reasons to flash the cash.  This is generally a pretty simple thing to do as common sense dictates that a ride with a low excitment score isn’t going to draw the crowds and won’t make much of a return in investment, and pushing the adrenaline levels to the point where people are feeling sick will have the same effect – a ride that’s nothing more than a failure.  To that end, it’s always been easy to keep the visitors sweet and increase park rankings to the point where you progress to the next level and unlock more features… but with Adventure Park, it isn’t.  All too often, my attempts to satisfy the visitors with more decor or trash cans would result in the ratings dropping immediately, so my 94% rating wouldn’t get that much-needed 1% extra and would instead plummet to 80% even though I was doing exactly as I’d been instructed.  After eight hours of tweaking the tiniest of things over and over in an effort to push the bar beyond those last few pixels to the next level, I realised that it wasn’t going to happen – I’d be forever in limbo with only a few rides left to unlock. Ultimately, however, does that really matter when they’re re-skins of existing rides?

Building the rides themselves is being hailed as innovative as you can build the tracks in realtime – without having to resort to pre-determined shapes such as corners, loops, and other ready-made drop-in pieces – but I distinctly remember being able to do this with Theme Park World in 1999 and it was a lot more intuitive back then. With Adventure Park, the track follows your mouse and then you apply the changes, so you can pull tracks all over the place, creating straights, turns, climbs, drops and anything else you can think of apart from loops, corkscrews, camel humps and other more complicated structures.

The problem is that it just doesn’t work. Even with a precision mouse, moving the track a few pixels forward could result in it suddenly flying off to a sharp turn in one direction and attempting to resolve it would invariably end up with some other twisted feature that you couldn’t possibly work with.  It may be more hands-on than the old Roller Coaster Tycoon method of laying some track, switching to raising/lowering, then dropping in a pre-made loop or corkscrew, but the mechanic itself is broken beyond repair.  It’s far too eratic and turns the most enjoyable part of a theme park sim – the building of exciting rides – into a headache.

There also doesn’t appear to be any physics present in the game whatsoever.  As someone who is a bit of a coaster aficionado, I’m aware of how the process works and that most coasters (wooden or steel) rely on kinetic energy to drive the cars and will only employ mechanical boosts where required, so it stands to reason that if you build a very high climb followed by a steep drop, then the next climb would invariably be very quick and wouldn’t lose much momentum unless it was  particularly long or steep.  It’s how all thrill ride simulators work… but not Adventure Park.  With no obvious signs of any physics in play, the cars would make their way up the climb, get to the top, drop off and (as expected) accelerate before hitting the next hill but, regardless of how small that hill was, the cars would slow down and begin what looked like a chain-driven ascent once again.  No coaster operates like this, as it would be as thrilling as eating cabbage.

What’s more, if you manage to get through the build process unscathed with a decent coaster (you won’t) and want to tart up your rides, you’ll undoubtedly end up with the park visitors complaining about the theming being all wrong.  That’s because, for some bizarre reason, the developers have made the choice of park aesthetics very limited… and themed.  Let’s suppose you’ve just built a western-style coaster and your visitors want to have more decoration around it, you can’t just choose from the limited array of eye-candy on offer, because if you use anything other than a western-themed decoration anywhere near it… you’re in trouble.  It makes for a very linear build process and, when you break it down, an almost unpleasant experience.

There’s no real gameplay in Adventure Park, and that’s a shame.  A great deal of attention has been put into modernising this tried-and-tested fan favourite, but it falls flat on its arse when it comes to the mechanics, and yet it’s those that make this type of game work.  After countless hours struggling with various attempts to build a momentum-driven coaster that excites the park visitors and me, it became clear that it was never going to happen and, instead, all I ever got was a rigid animation of cars going over tracks at a pre-programmed pace. Shocking.

It lacks depth as a business management game (no stock control, no real research and development, and no ‘park leaderboard’ to conquer), has a pointless number of rides and shops available, makes ridiculous demands on you in terms of being able to progress when there’s really nothing more you can do than you are already, and the coasters themselves have absolutely no idea what physics is all about.  If EA’s latest offering in the genre and Adventure Park are anything to go by, then we’ve already witnessed the heyday of theme park simulation, and that was twenty years ago.

  • Only takes up 1.36Gb of space, so it won't fill your drive until you ultimately delete it.
  • They did actually make an effort to produce a decent-looking game.
  • Frame rates are ridiculous, even on a high-powered system capable of running modern resource-hogging games on maximum settings.
  • Ridiculously limited options in terms of rides and aesthetics.
  • Ignorant in terms of visitor satisfaction, so you may have to over-fill your park with decorations and make it look ridiculous in order to move on.
  • Eight or nine ride types. In total.
  • Coasters don't seem to have a grasp of physics.
  • Ride builder is eratic and tends to do its own thing.
  • Highly linear in terms of what you can use around the park, even in sandbox mode, because visitors expect it to be themed.
  • Boring and, after hours of trying to comply, very frustrating.

Theme Park was a great game and, for those of us who like a little meat on the bones, the inclusion of the business management side with stock control and such like made it a breath of fresh air. Roller Coaster Tycoon was a little more polished but, sadly, more scaled down than its inspiration although it introduced some fantastic building mechanics such as underground coasters. Adventure Park should, by all accounts, have taken inspiration from both these franchises and modernised it to produce a hybrid with HD graphics and physics. Instead, it removed physics completely, offered no ride variation, and dumbed everything down to the point where simplifying it only made it more annoying and less user-friendly. In short, it's a bad game and perfectly demonstrates that modern doesn't necessarily mean better. Avoid.

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