Can provide some fleeting roller coaster fun
When ScreamRide was revealed as the next project from Frontier Developments, fans likely noticed some resemblance to the studio's previous games, particularly the RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise. But ScreamRide, for better and for worse, is very much unlike Frontier’s amusement park simulator. The title does allow for characters to build roller coasters, but in no way is the goal to draw crowds to your rides. Instead, ScreamRide is more like a series of physics-based puzzles in which players manipulate gravity, destroy buildings, and create the ultimate g-force breaking toys. ScreamRide both suffers and benefits from this departure; it challenges your brain in creative ways but also lacks the depth that a traditional roller coaster sim would have.
There are three different play modes in ScreamRide and each of them feel distinctly different. First, players can control the roller coaster ride in Scream Rider. In this mode players control the riding car as it flies down the tracks and must keep it from going out of control. As a Demolition Expert you control destructive cabins fired by catapults and exploding cars launching off of tracks in an attempt to destroy buildings and structures. Lastly, as an Engineer you get to build tracks from scratch or sometimes help complete a half-finished project in an attempt to thrill riders without making them nauseous or eject from their seats. These three different game modes are packed into the Career Mode that makes up the majority of ScreamRide's playtime.
There isn’t really a narrative to ScreamRide's challenges. The game roughly explains that you have joined ScreamWorks International Research Facilities where you are tasked with testing the impossible, but that is never expanded upon. While working for ScreamWorks you travel to six different locations each containing three to four levels. After you clear the level you earn commendations based on your score. In order to move onto the next location, a certain amount of commendations need to be earned. This progression system works fairly well, but it usually means returning to levels you have already beaten because you need more commendations - and the constant need to replay previous levels makes the game feel like it artificially bloats the length of the campaign.
While the gameplay isn’t overly deep, the modes are fun. Scream Rider plays much like a racing game where players blast through the track mile-a-minute, but the true goal isn’t about time, as Scream Rider measures your success in other ways. Mostly it wants you to terrorize the riders in the car while not actually flying off the track. You can accomplish this by tilting the car onto two wheels, threatening to tip the car over while speeding down the track. ScreamRide quickly throws curveballs into the mix to make things more challenging. Monorails and obstacles force players to tip the car onto two wheels to avoid a crash, or gather turbo to speed up because jumps have to be taken at certain speeds to avoid obstacles and must be landed to increase speed. Scream Rider is good fun, but the difficulty ramps up sharply in later levels. The mode is at its best as you whip around the track, tipping and tilting your car in a desperate attempt to scare riders while not losing control, but later levels encourage cautious approach with slower speeds, which dampens the fun. This idea of pushing players to replay levels also comes through in game’s leaderboards, so you can compare your high score to friends.
The second mode, Demolition Expert, lets you toss explosive and destructive cabins at structures in an attempt to create as much wreckage as possible. While Scream Rider is all about speed and reaction time, Demolition Expert is a much more contemplative experience. Players have to determine the speed and angle of the cabin’s launch in an attempt to hit buildings in the right spot to cause the most damage. This usually involves trying to hit the right building in the right way so it tips over and destroys other buildings - there is a slight Angry Birds feel to it. Much like Scream Rider mode, the game continues to throw ripples into the level design in order to keep players challenged. You can fire the cabins into special fans that catch and toss your cabin again, allowing you to hit hard-to-reach places; you get cars and cabins which have rocket power to give you more control after they are launched; and you can bounce cabins off trampolines to extend their reach. Watching your destruction and seeing the fruits of your explosive labor is interesting and fun, but like Scream Rider, Demolition Expert suffers from forcing players to return time and again to old levels as you run up against the late game difficulty.
The most unbalanced mode is Engineer. While the aforementioned modes are a little extreme in ramping up their difficulty, Engineer feels random in this regard. I found early levels just as difficult, if not more so, than late levels. Engineer mode puts players in a more traditional roller coaster sim role as they build coasters to excite riders without having them be ejected from their car. Engineer mode is the most frustrating as it can be hard to gauge why riders are being ejected. The game points out places where these ejections occur, but it’s never clear how you can fix or prevent the accidents. Engineer mode also struggles to come up with new ways to challenge players like the other modes do. While the final mode might be the most familiar part of ScreamRide, it’s also the least interesting and most uneven.
After you’re done with career mode, you can jump into sandbox mode to create your own levels. Sandbox mode allows players to start from scratch or use templates from other levels to create a Scream Rider, Demolition Expert, or Engineer level. The elements used here have to be unlocked in career mode, but after everything is unlocked there are a lot of designs to choose from. Sandbox offers a lot of customization options, including the settings for commendations and bonus challenges. After you have created, tested, and finished your level you can upload it for other people to play. It hard to gauge how much of ScreamRide's community will take to creating levels, but good tools are there if the interest is.
Presentation wise, ScreamRide is very unimpressive. Its white and grey levels are repetitive, even if their backdrops differ. But even worse are the small intro and outro cutscenes which are constantly repeated. Just as droll is the computer voice which gives instructions and objectives - trust me, you are going to grind your teeth after hearing this voice saying “Restarting Level” for the hundredth time. The electronica and dubstep score is a little fun, but it's not nearly enough to keep you engaged with the presentational package ScreamRide offers. The game loses almost nothing if you mute the sound altogether and play your own music.
At the price of $40, ScreamRide still feels incomplete as many downloadable games with similar mechanics offer an equal experience at a lower price. It is a fun distraction, a collection of interesting mini-games that can test your brain in creative ways. Scream Rider and Demolition Expert have smart mechanics which take the aspects of a roller coaster/theme park and make you approach them in a new way. While Engineer is an uneven mode, it’s still fun to appreciate the insane rides you can create. The gameplay of ScreamRide is perfectly capable, even if it’s not very deep. But therein lies the problem; after you get past ScreamRide's unique gameplay, there isn’t much else to enjoy about it. The game forces you to repeat the same levels multiple times instead of keeping up its creative twists; and, aesthetically, the game offers nothing engaging. For an asking price significantly higher than other games which offer the same amount of fun, ScreamRide's shallow depth doesn’t deliver enough bang for the extra buck.