Every so often – with increasing rarity – a game comes along that provides genuine doses of innovation on a wide scale. It may be entirely original. It may build and improve upon notes taken from another title, or even from more than one. But with more and more copycat products just rehashing the same old concepts and trying to get the basics covered to an acceptable level so that they can be vehicles to convince you to shell out for DLC and all manner of other extras, when one of these innovation pushers comes along, they'll stick with you for a long time. You'll remember the ins and outs of the game for months, if not years to come.
ScreamRide – as surprisingly to us as it may be to you - is one of those titles.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. People didn't have the highest of expectations for Frontier's new IP. If we're honest, most viewed it as a time-filler designed to pad out the ranks until the big-name titles land later in the year. But that only makes the final product an even sweeter surprise. Given the lack of real explanation in the advertising, most people won't even know that riding rollercoasters only makes up about a third of the ScreamRide experience.
Starting out as a first-level ScreamRider, Engineer, and Demolition Expert, you need to master each task to a certain extent before being given the credentials to move on to the next of the game's six areas. Up to five "Commendations" are awarded based solely on your final score in each level, with a bonus commendation available for completing tasks on a checklist. Multiple runs are allowed (aside from in Engineer mode) much in the same way that you could take several shots at a list in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater titles, so the majority of levels will all but require multiple playthroughs in order to maximise your returns.
Indeed, ScreamRide is essentially three separate games in one – you can complete any one game mode before even thinking of taking on another one, if you want to play it that way. It's probably a good idea to look at the different play styles separately. So, let's do that.
In the ScreamRider mode, you're doing nothing but steering the coaster cars along some tremendously challenging pre-built coasters. Given that rollercoasters use rails, this could have been incredibly, incredibly dull. The fact that it's actually a fun and challenging gameplay experience is testament to the additions that the development team have made. As well as the super-fast coaster experience you get from just being a passive rider, you must also collect turbo boosts, lean into (or out of) turns, make jumps, and avoid obstacles, all while managing the speed of the car to ensure that you get the fastest time without derailing. Bonus points are awarded for hitting the 'X' button at the perfect time to collect your turbo allocation, and for tilting the car up onto two wheels.
This latter feature can be breath-taking stuff. You get more points for the angle of the lean, the amount of time you've got two wheels in the air, and the speed at which you're travelling. This means that you're constantly pushing the cart to the edge of its limits, riding not only the coaster rails themselves, but the thin rail that lies between success and catastrophic failure. As you tilt the car, lights on the back start to flicker to indicate how close you are to flipping the thing over, while the controller vibrates with increasing force to let you know how close you are to wrecking things.
With the music that increases in volume as you pick up speed, the split times pushing you on to travel ever faster, the outstanding designs of some of the coasters, and the constant requirement to take bigger risks in exchange for higher scores, the ScreamRider mode in ScreamRide is very well done.
The demolition mode is where ScreamRide begins to take real notes from other games. In this case, Angry Birds would be the obvious influencer, but to write this mode off for that – as some will want to do – would be foolish. As we mentioned in our opening paragraph, the well-flogged equine carcass that is the bird-flinging phenomenon may have been the influence here, but it certainly isn't the be all and end all.
What the development team have done is taken the best parts of the game mechanic – the physics-based destruction, the differing types of projectile, and the indirect targeting system – and have built upon those things. You're throwing different type of amusement park ride cabins at buildings in order to knock them down, but the round isn't over when you've fired the shot. Instead, you can apply limited amounts of aftertouch in order to fine tune your shot's aim. Shots can be bounced off trampolines, rolled like a bowling ball, fired through hoops and goalposts, or caught by magnets. Catching a shot on a magnet allows for you to re-aim the cabin and fire it again, so you can reach things that were previously unreachable. Some levels provide you with a short coaster car launcher, so you can fire cars at your targets. One type of coaster has wings, so you can aim with precision, another has a set of rockets that you can deploy after launch, and so on. This only serves to mix things up and keep things fresh as you play through.
Rather than simply being a game of blowing things up or knocking them down, the Demolition Expert modes are akin to the trickiest of puzzle games. If you hit that trampoline and get reeled in by that magnet, then you might be able to reach that hoop that's way, way, WAY over there. If you take out a certain support on one specific building, it might fall and topple another, which might cause a chain reaction and hit some explosives. The physics system works beautifully well, which only adds to the challenge. Take out one panel at the base of a large skyscraper, and you may see panels above it gradually pinging off as the pressure becomes too much for them to hold, eventually causing the entire building to collapse. However, if you'd gone about it a different way, it might have collapsed in a different way and destroyed a second building, which would have boosted your score to 5th commendation-style heights.
Some levels task you with a few challenges that are at odds with each other, meaning that you can't feasibly complete your checklist list in one attempt. This is no bad thing, since it extends the mode's longevity – in a good way - immensely. There are a couple of challenges that we could have done without which seem to have been poorly thought through. Hitting a boat when it only ever steers outside of the area in which you're allowed to control the cabin is an exercise in frustration, for example. It must be said that these bum notes are very much the rarity however, rather than the norm.
Possibly the least talked-about part of ScreamRide is the one that is the most obviously influenced by one of the team's previous works - Rollercoaster Tycoon. We've left the engineer mode until last, as it spills over into other aspects of the game, which we'll get into shortly.
In the career mode's Engineer portion, you're either given a blank canvas with a set of restrictions, a partially created coaster to finish, or are tasked with building a demolition-style coaster launcher to complete in order to cause as much damage as possible. You will spend hours here, and that's no joke.
When starting out, you may be told that you need to build a ride that scores more than 3 million Scream Points, but where riders "nausea" levels are kept under a certain level. So, you build your coaster and hit the "Test Ride" button. This puts a non-controllable coaster on the tracks and sets it running. You can watch it from the pre-determined camera angles, jump into one of the cars, or choose the breathtaking front bumper camera in order to inspect your work. Scores are updated live as you careen through your creation and – providing your riders don't meet with an unexpected disaster – you're given a final score for your attempt. However, it's highly likely that you will have lost a rider on an overly-sharp turn, seen the ride slow down to a pedestrian pace on an uphill section that was overly long, or simply not met one of the challenges on the checklist. A quick press on the d-pad takes you back into edit mode, where important factors such as where the ride was too slow, where the riders suffered from high lateral G-forces and the like are pointed out. From here, you can make changes or replace entire sections of track in order to iron out the problems and maximise your score.
You're generally limited as to how much track you can use, or – as we've mentioned – how much space you have to work with. In one early level, you're asked to make a long, thin coaster which avoids high G-forces and inversions, but which scores highly. How do you avoid high G-forces when making the required tight turns that the width of the buildable area requires? How do you rack up points without inversions, if you can't use sharp banked turns combined with drops in order to rack up the screams? Well, you'll try a few things before stumbling upon the answer, and when you work it out, you'll genuinely feel as if you're learned something to use on your next coaster. The ability to go back in and manipulate your creation time after time after time in order to boost your score will see the hours tick by for sure, and the puzzle aspect of the whole thing is something that really should be complemented. It just works so well. The build controls become second nature within just a minute or two, and the ability to switch between "snapped" and "free" building modes at whim just by clicking the left analog stick mean that you can genuinely create whatever you want to. No matter what the angle – as long as the laws of physics are followed to allow your track pieces to connect up – you can build it.
One thing that may bug people is the inability to save your progress on a level in the Engineer mode. You can spend half an hour building a coaster, tweak it a few times, get to the point where you've got all but one checklist item, and then realise that you have to stop playing for whatever reason. When you stop playing, your creation is destroyed, and you'll need to start again. While that makes for a bit more of a challenge, some people won't be happy with having to commit a large block of time in order to fully complete a level – especially when the more difficult challenges start to rear their heads. We were so hopelessly addicted though, that it wasn't a real downside for us.
The Engineer mode spills out of the career area and into the game's "Sandbox" mode. Here, you start with a single square of land. You're free to add land pieces in any shape that you wish, using varying types of material. Then, you can add some scenery pieces, or start building a coaster of your own design, with your choice of track and stanchion colours. If things still look a bit barren, how about creating a building from scratch? Or building your own type of demolition mode launcher? How about an amusement ride that spins in the middle of a rollercoaster jump, so riders have to get the timing right in order to avoid a crash? Or a coaster that ploughs through a tiny gap in a ridiculously tall mountainside (which you created) and then drops vertically to the ground? If you don't want to put in all the work, you can download entire levels, or indeed "blueprints" for your own level.
Blueprints allow people to share individual level pieces. You could design a kick-ass island that's a replication of a world you created in Minecraft, for example, and share just the island design itself. Folks can then download that island and amend it, or just jump in and build their own theme park on it. The same can be done with buildings, coasters, sections of coasters, amusement rides, and entire levels.
The best thing about all of this though, is that you can create a level that's meant to be PLAYED by others. It isn't just about making pretty things. ScreamRide allows you to make ScreamRider, Demolition Expert, and Engineer challenges from scratch, and gives you the tools to amend the parameters of those levels. You can set up preview, destruction, and jump cameras, and set requirements for commendations on each level. In fact, you can't publish a level unless you've proven that you can achieve the targets that you've set, so don't be thinking that you can ask people to get ten million points on a level that only allows a player to get a maximum of two million.
ScreamRide's Sandbox mode is what will keep people playing the longest. Those who get into it will be trying to top the leaderboards for the "Most Downloaded Level" and the like, and those who don't really want to build things will benefit from having tons of new content to download and play, should they feel like it. Before launch, there are already more coasters available to download than there are in the game's on-disc ScreamRider mode. There's even a Pure Xbox island with a crazy coaster on it, which we built in an absolute snap, considering what it is. It isn't likely that the building community will rally to ScreamRide as they do something like Minecraft, but Frontier have certainly given them the tools to do it if they want to. Use ScreamRide in conjunction with a few free Xbox One apps, and you have a "Let's Play" channel all set up from the get go, after all.
The most impressive thing about ScreamRide though, is simply how well it works. Everything makes sense right off the bat, everything is easy to control, and there are very, very few limitations. This is echoed through the game's career mode, which will provide plenty of hours of gameplay for the discounted price.
ScreamRide is thrilling, addictive, fun, enjoyable, well-crafted, rewarding, challenging, and has the potential to go on to be a long and successful franchise. It isn't just about holding on to your hat as you fly down a vertical drop, building the biggest coaster you can, or trying to hold on to your lunch as you hit an inversion at 120mph. There's thought, the tools for a community to spring up around it, and lots of longevity here, and at really is only some very minor niggles that stops ScreamRide from picking up perfect marks.