by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
Thematic innovation vs gameplay implementation...
Park Beyond, developed by Limbic Entertainment, and published by Bandai Namco, is the newest AAA entry in the rather-niche theme park management genre, currently dominated by the likes of Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution. As its marketing material will broadly indicate, what sets Park Beyond apart from other titles, like those mentioned above, is its Willy Wonka-esque attitude of corporatized whimsey and unorthodox innovation. It's not enough to make the biggest and most commercially-successful theme park out there if you're not doing wacky and legally-dubious things like blasting your visitors out of cannons, or creating pathways so convoluted and violating so many safety hazards that any zoning committee would likely have your park torn down on the spot. In terms of getting the atmosphere across, Park Beyond definitely excels. However, the quality from that point on ranges so drastically up and down that you'd almost confuse it for one of the park's roller coaster rides.
While the tutorial does a decent job of introducing players to basic mechanics, like laying down roller coaster ride tracks, learning rotational controls, opening in-game menus, and otherwise interacting with many of the core gameplay elements they'll increasingly have to rely on during the actual levels, (or in the open-ended sandbox mode,) it does quickly highlight a glaring issue that will continue to rear its ugly head throughout the rest of the game. Whenever one of the levels insists you complete a specific objective, like placing a certain shop on a specified plateau, or place a series of rail tracks leading to a specific point, it usually also insists you do so in a specific location, but the game will either not mark said defined location, leaving you to needlessly spend several minutes repeatedly placing and deleting objects in your quest to find said spot, or in some cases where a visible spot is highlighted, said spot might not actually be where the game wants you to place it, but rather a spot near said marker, rather than directly over it.
The sound of music needs to stop sounding off at the wrong time...
This lack of quality assurance is evident in many other core aspects of the game's design, such as the sound design. For some reason, during cutscenes, such as when your character is making business proposals in front of a board of NPCs, which happens sporadically throughout the campaign and acts mainly as a transition between levels, or a means of unlocking new items or upgrades for your existing park, all existing sound effects, including the background radio announcer and everyday park ambience, as well as the park's soundtrack, will play over the voicelines and music of these conference scenes, almost drowning them out in proportion. It goes well beyond mildly distracting to the point where it becomes almost impossible to hear what's being said without the presence of subtitles.
Feedback without purpose...
Other mechanics, such as the park visitor feedback system, which allows you to gain insights into what visitors thought of the park experience, tend to be very superficial. Visitors will say vague things like "rides weren't very interesting" without specifying what rides they went on, or "park was dirty", when nearly all of the park is clean of litter, save for one single spot in-between two rides. While this vague feedback is often seen in real life in many retail business surveys, it doesn't contribute anything meaningful from a gameplay perspective. Knowing something isn't working isn't useful information unless you know what and where said thing is. Management is difficult enough without the game effectively forcing you to search your park under a microscope in order to try to guess what the feedback might be trying to tell you.
Item placement will make the player want to place this game on their uninstall list...
You'll probably barely go a few minutes without having to place down at least one or two new items, whether they be new attractions, new shops, new decorative items, etc. Function and aesthetic should go hand-in-hand with any decent user-created park, no? However, because this is the case, you'll often need to rely on tools like item rotation in order to make said item fit in just the way you like it, which requires rotational mouse movement, and you'll be shocked and increasingly infuriated to find the item spazzing out of control faster than a Logitech game controller.
Park Beyond was on my list for most anticipated games of this year. Its potential to shake up the theme park management genre with its fresh, silly, and highly-unconventional style strikes as highly similar to how Two Point Hospital revitalized the brick-and-mortar building management genre. However, Park Beyond's half-baked mechanics and rampant immersion-breaking bugs makes it feel like an Early Access game from a small indie team with few resources, rather than a fully-finished game greenlit by one of the biggest publishers in the gaming industry.
It's unfortunate, because this game absolutely has the potential to turn itself around, as its core foundation is sound, but there are few redemption stories in the gaming industry, and not many publishers allow developers the time or resources to attempt such. Park Beyond isn't by any means a terrible game, but even post-launch, it's been left in such a terrible state that most players probably won't have the patience to distinguish the latter from the former.
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Vivid visual aesthetic,
Inconsistent click registration, overlapping audio, broken objectives, finnicky controls