ScreamRide is an odd little game. As Nintendo and Sony bring out new hardware and big exclusives, Microsoft's answer is a trio of roller-coaster themed minigames from the developers of Rollercoaster Tycoon.
You'll cling on for dear life as we hare through ridiculous loops and corkscrews, design your own monstrous creations using a robust 3D CAD suite and destroy some buildings with a catapult in glorious slow motion because why the heck not, effectively playing three separate games in one package. It's left-field, out there and exactly the refreshing change of pace we love to see from console manufacturers in off season.
But that's not why ScreamRide feels like such an odd proposition. A game about creating, riding and annihilating awesome roller-coasters should be bags of fun by all rights... and yet screams turn into yawns after just a handful of hours.
To find out why we'll need to discuss ScreamRide's three gameplay modes in turn: ScreamRiding, Demolitions Training and Engineering. As an employee of a somewhat shady testing company with limitless resources and a mandate for testing human endurance, we're free to pick our career path and work through the standalone campaigns through six shared thematic zones.
ScreamRiding is self-explanatory, seeing as it's literally a roller-coaster riding simulator. A little like Trials HD, only viewed from a first-person perspective, you'll control your carriage's speed, boost and weight distribution as you hammer down the track, attempting to keep your riders on board while pulling off stunts for bonus points. And that, as they say, is that.
I had serious concerns about longevity and repetition after my time with the demo, so I'm delighted to report that it's actually the most consistently enjoyable of the three modes; visceral enough to satisfy yet deceptively technical once you start gunning for the higher scores and star ratings. It's not something you'll want to play for hours at a time, but it is reasonably good fun little and often.
Unfortunately, I'm still convinced that ScreamRiding would have been far more immersive using Kinect motion controls, and frankly feel that it's an opportunity squandered. Hell, it would have been so easy to provide extra value for those of us who were suckered into buying the pricey peripheral.
Demolitions Training should have been the highlight of the package. Armed with a catapult and a selection of ordnance pods, you'll reduce a series of floating structures into piles of rubble, witnessing the devastation in deliciously satisfying slow-motion as buildings crumble into ruin and massive chain reactions take out cars, blimps and conveniently placed explosives. Think Angry Birds mixed with Pain and BurnOut's destruction porn and you'll be somewhere near the mark.
Great stress relief, you might think, but Demolitions Training can cause more aggravation than it soothes. Objectives are often incredibly strict and require you to exercise an annoying degree of accuracy that the default catapult simply can't provide. You'll have to release the pod at the perfect time to stop the freely-rotating boom from slinging the pod miles up into the air or into the sea, yet the camera angle makes it excruciatingly difficult to see what you're doing, let alone time the release to a fraction of a second.
The fact that you're just destroying a selection of custom built floating test structures robs the experience of much of the cathartic impact (it's all just a test), and let's face it, the concept is really more of a distraction than anything, lacking the satisfying puzzle gameplay of Angry Birds, Worms and other artillery games.
Then we come to Engineering: the brains of the outfit. Tasked with completing some half-finished roller-coasters to strict technical specifications, you'll lay track,outfit your creation with a selection of loops and boosters and then iterate like crazy in an attempt to create the most thrilling ride possible. Or, in some cases, to purposefully fling carriages into target buildings.
Despite wonky camera control, laying track is surprisingly intuitive (a bit like squeezing spaghetti out of a pasta machine) and the physics engine powering the whole shebang is fearsomely robust. As such, Engineering mode is versatile, solid and purgatory.
Finishing off incomplete rollercoasters to increasingly ludicrous standards is painstaking and onerous, but worse than that it's pointless. You'll slave and graft and test and test and test, and then as soon as you've finally created something worthwhile, it's deleted forever as you move onto the next stage. Creating roller-coasters you'll never ride, for people you'll never meet, just for your darlings to be destroyed. It really is roller-coaster hell. Sisyphus had it easy.
Thankfully it's also a tutorial for Sandbox Mode. Progressing through all three campaigns unlocks parts to incorporate into your own dream coasters, which you can design, test and then share online from scratch. Designing something that actually works takes time and effort, not helped by the aforementioned devil camera and laboriously tabbing through sections of track to the bit you want to edit (Kinect voice commands would have also made selecting components much easier... just saying), but Sandbox Mode can be satisfying if you stick with it. You can set victory conditions and designate your coaster to be played in any of the three modes, valiantly trying to pull all three separate games together in a meaningful way.
And failing. Sadly, ScreamRide feels like the foundation for a theme park sim that will never be made. Sure, you can create a roller-coaster, but you'll never see the happy crowds flock to it or your creation take pride of place at a funfair. You can throw pods at buildings, but it's just a prefabbed target rather than something that needs to be dismantled. Great, you can ride roller-coasters, but you're stuck in the testing grounds, learning three "careers" that will never actually translate into a real job. ScreamRide just isn't a complete package, and this subconscious feeling of futility saps the fun out of the experience after a handful of hours.
Which could have been forgiven were it not for ScreamRide's biggest flaw: its lack of personality. ScreamRide is supposed to be a game about roller-coasters, about fun, thrills and spills, but it's dull and bland, a gunmetal joyless understated businesslike workaday thing. Throughout the soulless futuristic design or the monotonous robotic companion, it's clinical when it should be colourful, sterile when it should be silly. Mechanically competent but lacking soul, lacking spark. Lacking fun, ultimately.
Imagine Aperture Science... running smoothly as intended. A sleek testing facility without the chaos that makes it so interesting.
- Visceral ScreamRiding has surprising sticking power
- Sandbox mode is very versatile, will provide plenty of UGC
- Demolitions Training is a laugh while it lasts
- Shocking lack of personality saps fun factor, can feel like a chore
- Engineering mode is Roller-Coaster Purgatory
- Camera issues and control concerns with in Sandbox and Demolitions; Kinect functionality sorely missing
- Feels half-baked and incoherent, not a complete package
The Short Version: ScreamRide's three modes and robust design suite are briefly entertaining, but the fun doesn't last. Lacking soul and connective tissue, this minigame collection never quite gels or comes together into anything particularly memorable.
The budget £29.99 RRP is cheap enough to be worth considering if you adored the free demo, but otherwise we'd suggest holding out for a bargain or waiting for ScreamRide's inevitable stint on Games With Gold.
5 – AVERAGE: Average games are exactly that. Neither good nor bad, some clever ideas have probably been marred by patchy execution, or strong mechanics let down by a lack of scope, new ideas or ambition. Often reserved for the completely unremarkable, the realm of the apathetic, you'll also find games here whose good and bad qualities basically cancel one another out.
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Frontier Developments