Words: Ed Smith
Screamride is like Drayton Manor, Gulliver’s Kingdom, or any of those lesser theme parks. It looks like it should be fun – there are lively colours and sounds, and lots of different things to try – but ultimately, it’s not quite there. This is a well-intentioned game, and you certainly can’t criticise it for lack of effort, but, well, maybe that’s the problem. Maybe it’s because Screamride seems so desperate to entertain you that it ends up falling flat. The creation mechanics are a good example of that. Screamride has a campaign, which we’ll get to later, but its biggest draw is the Rollercoaster Tycoon-esque sandbox mode, which lets you create and customise an amusement park to your heart’s content. There are hundreds of different toys to play with, ranging from loop-the-loops to turbo chargers, and you can even design the colour and shape of your park’s surroundings, tweaking everything from the pavements to the foliage.
But although that level of customisation is supposed to be a draw, a way to let players express themselves and have fun, Screamride’s controls make any creation an awkward process. It’s perhaps a cliché, but Screamride is the perfect example of how PC-type gameplay clashes with console controls. Rifling through all the different rollercoaster parts using the Xbox pad, instead of a mouse, is a laborious process. Same goes for piecing your park together – since you can’t freely move and click a cursor, you have to tap shoulder buttons to cycle through every single component on the map until you reach the one that you want to work on. There’s an admirable level of depth to Screamride’s sandbox mode, but it’s hardly accessible. Instead of spending time crafting and perfecting a masterpiece, you’ll likely become frustrated – or bored – and abandon your park half-finished.
Screamride’s career mode is a little less frustrating and a lot more structured. It’s certainly not lacking in decent moments. You have three different level types. First is the eponymous Screamride, which sees you steering a rollercoaster cart around a track, trying to generate the most screams and excitement from your punters. You earn points by leaning into corners, pushing the cart up onto two wheels, going fast and pulling off perfect starts, a la Mario Kart. Once your passengers are sufficiently terrified, you graduate to the next track. It’s not quite as fast or exciting as it sounds – it’s no Trials Fusion – but the Screamride mode is at least idle fun.
Then there’s Demolition Expert, the second level type and easily the best time you’ll have in Screamride. Here, you have to launch giant metal balls (which for some reason are filled with people) at skyscrapers, the idea being to knock them down as efficiently and explosively as possible. Tapping LT and RT adjusts the power of your launch. One you’re prepped, holding down A lets you fine tune your aim before firing the ball directly at the target building’s weak spot.
You can usually cause mega damage just by clipping off a couple of choice chunks of concrete, but if you botch the launch completely, there’s an “aftertouch” feature, similar to Burnout’s crash mode, that lets you steer your wrecking ball in mid-air. Ping it off a skyscraper’s supporting wall, and the whole ruddy lot will come down, scoring you some major points. Every destruction is captured from multiple camera angles, which you can cycle through, and is modelled beautifully, with lumps of rubble falling about at random based on how you hit the building. There’s an entire game to be made out of the Demolition Expert mode. It’s undoubtedly Screamride’s high point and in stark contrast to the last campaign level type, Engineer.
In Engineer, you have to fill in missing chunks of existing rollercoasters, using a limited amount of track and toys to bridge gaps and up the riders’ excitement rate. In theory, Engineer should be the counter-balance to Screamride’s convoluted sandbox mode. There’s still room to customise and express yourself, but rather than wade through endless devices and parts, you only get what you need. However, the sense of reward in Engineer mode is nil. It’s not like you finish your rollercoaster, throw open the park gates and, like the Tycoon games, watch your bank account explode as people cram onto your creation, reminding you that you’re a creative effing genius. You just hit “test ride”, and observe as a cart goes around the track, checking to make sure it’s good enough. The payoff just isn’t there.
Frontier, the maker of Screamride, doesn’t seem to realise that since you aren’t actually riding the rollercoasters – as in, actually riding them – you’re not going to have as much fun as the in-game punters. The developer leans heavily on the fact that amusement parks in real-life are fun, and seems to believe that just having rollercoasters in Screamride makes Screamride as fun as actual rollercoasters. Which just isn’t true. And although it’s a noble effort to entertain, and has a few moments, Screamride, for the most part is plain, slow and never as “ca-razy” as it thinks it is.