Park Beyond, an upcoming theme park management sim in the vein of a juiced up Rollercoaster Tycoon, is trying to balance two slightly opposed teams in its target audience. There are people who love doing the management bits - the bean-counting, optimising the amount of salt on fries to make people thirsty and buy more drinks, paying close attention to demographics and average spends and that sort of kidney*. Then there are people who want to design a park full of cool-ass rides and different themed zones, a true magical wonderland. Inside this Park Beyond are two wolves, in other words, and each needs a different but equally robust set of tools to wrangle.
After some hands on with an early build of Park Beyond, I have a little more faith that Limbic Entertainment are going to be able to pull it off. The toolset for building a rollercoast is, in particular, impressive. It's never been so easy to make a ride that breaks both the laws of physics and the laws of health and saftey. The coasters in this game are an absolute menace. In a good way.
The Gamescom demo build - which, in the spirit of Park Beyond's "impossification" concept of making the impossible reality, I played despite being hundreds of miles from Cologne - was the first level of the game, introducing you to coaster building. It's a good choice to demo, because it combines the "aw, man, cool!" instinct that rollercoasters tend to arouse in people, with an indication of how deep you can go with some of the systems. You can press different buttons to change the height, yaw, roll and pitch (or, as I would put it before playing the demo and learning these concepts, make the track all bendy and go sideways!) of indididual sections of the track, both as you place a new section for the first time, or afterwards if you want to fine-tune things.
It also introduces the impossification idea very neatly. For every ride you can unlock upgrades to impossify them, which in real life would make them incredibly dangerous and result in thousands of lawsuits every year, but in the game just makes them more awesomer. For the rollercoaster you get modules to add to the track, and there are apparently loads of weird ones. In the demo there were only two: the ramp, which attaches a glider to your carts and wafts them across a gap; and the cannon. Guess what that does?
But you can't just whap in whatever you fancy without thought to the larger physics of the coaster. The cannon speeds up your carts, so they're good to place near the bottom of an incline, so you can shoot the carts up there without having to use a chain lift on your track that kind of slows everything down. The ramp, on the other hand, needs velocity going into it, cos it slows down as it goes, so it's good after a big dip. Your rollercoaster, no matter how many loop-de-loops or undeground tunnels you put it through, still has to work, in other words. The cart has to get from one end to the other, and if it doesn't you have to work out why; it's probably losing too much speed somewhere so you need to change the track a small bit. Fortunately both identifying and fixing the problem are easy to do, because of those robust building tools. We're treading that line between the numbers and the fun.
I also got access to a sandbox mode (a slightly unstable one this early on, but the issues were known so we'll allow it). I was able to make a decent fist of placing a food and drink stand, a pirate ship swing and one of those octopus up-and-down rides, and then built a rollercoaster that went all around my little park. There are similar tools for creating curved paths and queues, and I loved filling the place with giant toffee apple decorations and trees with pink foliage. It's a very natural kind of design process and even without a gradual tutorial it was easy to figure enough things out that I was placing all the buildings and rubbish bins I needed. It' gets more complicated if you decide to start making buildings out of modular bits. There's a menu that just has all the parts of all the shops and themes you've unlocked. I had a go at it and was capable only of making the sort of monstrosity that would beg for death if it could speak, but I think people will spend a lot of time with Park Beyond paused while they're tinkering.
The logistics side of things was more complicated. There's a research tree to get more rides and develop impossified versions of them, various financial menus, a section for employees (who need a staff room, by the way), and I couldn't divine anything deep than the surface level on most of them. I'm not very logically minded, you see, and if I can't grasp something quickly enough then I pinball away onto something else. This is why I am not very good at e.g. grand strategy games, slow cooking, maths. A glace at a help menu revealed a dizzying array of things I could take into account, like taking into account the average time to walk places. That's absurd. I, the grand architect of God's perfect theme park (name pending), should not have to concern myself with the finer movements of the ants!
But, it looks like I could, if I wanted to, plus there are loads of landscaping tools that I didn't even get to grips with, allegedly capable of creating strange and unnatural rock formations. Whom among us wouldn't be tempted to make a giant... well... you know. There's certainly enough complexity here to turn the head of the most dedicated spreadsheet-ogler. I'm one of the people who'll need a pretty healthy tutorial to help me get under the hood of this complex machine. In the meantime, I am too busy admiring my rollercoaster, which dives underground beneath my pirate ship thingy. I'm hoping that I can make it kiss the top of the water in the nearby lake. Perhaps even dunk the riders straight through it. A little bit of drowning, as a treat.
*If you're one of those people you should watch this amazing video about queuing by Defunctland.
For more Gamescom coverage, be sure to check out our Gamescom 2022 hub for all the latest news, impressions from the show floor and more.