At first glance, ScreamRide — by Frontier Developments — is like giving the animals the keys to the zoo. Rollercoasters set in a futuristic city where cars grab air time by flying off the tracks? Check. Massive-scale “destruction” mode? Yep. Build your own adrenaline-pumping, physics-warping ride? You betcha. The question is: can a game with so few boundaries and so little narrative actually keep your attention for the long haul?
The Controls are well laid out and responsive. The only drawback is when you move from gameplay to open-ended sandbox mode. There are so many options available for creating (and destroying) your own futuristic rollercoaster theme park that it gets a bit confusing.
Graphics are sharp, detailed and hold up well throughout the game. The water has some nice waves and cool ripples, the blimps glide gracefully across the sky, and buildings are sleek and cast authentic shadows on the water that surrounds them. It’s the details of a slo-mo catapult arm, flying shards of buildings and palm trees, grid overlays on the screen for detailed engineering analysis, mist-covered waterfalls, and detailed facial expressions from other riders that really let the graphics shine.
On the downside, the sky doesn’t change to indicate a passage of time within each series. Text can be hard to read, too, such as when you’re trying to check the track angles in engineering mode. Also, the statistics (speed, extra points, lateral G-force) on runs scroll by really fast and small, both while the car is in motion and at the end of the ride. However, there are visuals that give you a clear idea of your progress at the end.
The sound is nondescript – just a basic poppy computer beat – but adequate. Heavy metal rock chords help you celebrate the smashing and destruction of buildings when you are a Demolition Expert. The screams of the riders as they fly through the sky (and sometimes as they smash into buildings) can be devilishly delightful and eerily unnerving (you can turn them off if you’d like). A friendly, calm female voice tells you how you did/ are doing on levels, provides occasional instructions and mumbles incoherent information softly in the background.
The main two options in ScreamRide are Career and Sandbox. In Career, there are six series, starting with a tutorial and basic levels, that present themselves in various parts of the world. Within each series, there are three modes: Screamrider, Demolition Expert, and Engineer.
As a Screamrider, you control one out of two segments of a rollercoaster that is gliding around a futuristic city set on a bay. Like a car, you can steer, give yourself a boost, or brake. Demolition Expert is a little more challenging role. Use a swinging arm to launch two-person cabins into buildings you want to destroy. You control the power and aim of the arm as well as the thrusters of the cabin when it is tossed into the air.
The buildings are pretty easy to destroy – just a tap in the right place will do it – but you have to know where to find the weaknesses. Watching buildings collapse is one of those moments when the graphics really shine because the shards come blasting out at you from the screen.
As an Engineer, you’ll be completing track and testing it. When the riders are testing the track, the computer will measure success by monitoring screams, intensity, and nausea in the lower right corner. Of the three roles, Engineer is definitely the most difficult to master.
Part of the problem is that you are adjusting multiple variables at the same time: height, direction, and twist in the track. It’s hard to get a good sense of how the ride will go, and you have to run the complete ride each time to test it. This can be frustrating for players who are used to facing fewer logic/physics problems while gaming.
Succeed at Screenrider, Demolition Expert, or Engineer, and you move forward to the next series in that career. Series 2: Falls Research Station looks like it’s supposed to be in the Caribbean on the world map, but the mist-covered waterfalls and rocky islands look like they are far from the sea-level, white sandy beaches of the tropics.
Series 3: Beldurraren Laku is a lake surrounded by snowy mountains set in some kind of perma-sunset. When you get to this level, the ground rules start to change. For example, instead of launching people from the immense robotic arm (seen in levels 1 and 2), they’ll be in a rollercoaster car and you’ll launch them from a track.
Series 4: The Caldera Complex presents an awesome looking volcano. As a Demolition Expert, this phase takes you back to the robotic arm that launches cabins, but this time the buildings are coated with some kind of invincible plating. Series 5 & 6 continue to present new challenges.
Remember, you can always check out your stats and the leaderboard to see how others are doing, too. There is no narrative, no overall goal of collecting, building or conquering, but the pieces presented are fun to toy with just as they are.
ScreamRide has found the sweet spot. It grabs your attention and keeps you going for hours. This game brings out the joy found in terror. The thrill of going up, up… and possibly flying out of the car of a rollercoaster has never been cooler. Destroying buildings and cities with one carefully timed launch of humans trapped inside a large plastic ball is the dream of the 10-year-old that lurks inside us all. Excellent graphics, unobtrusive sound and actual fun gameplay come together for a complete package.