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ScreamRide review: Build, ride, and break roller coasters in this Xbox exclusive game

If there's one game developer that knows roller coasters and theme parks, it's UK-based Frontier Developments. From 2003-2005 they made a name for themselves with three Roller Coaster Tycoon games and several expansions before switching publishers to develop a pair of Thrillville games. Eventually Frontier produced Kinect Disneyland Adventures and 2013's Zoo Tycoon for Microsoft, perhaps to less player acclaim.

Now Microsoft and Frontier team up once more for the Xbox One and 360 exclusive ScreamRide. Billed as a spiritual successor to Roller Coaster Tycoon, ScreamRide is a roller coaster building and riding game with a focus on destruction. With three campaign modes and a full sandbox mode with coaster sharing, ScreamRide is surprisingly robust for a game about coasters. But those gameplay pieces don't always fit together as well as they should, threatening to derail the fun.

A reason to ride

Before you dive into ScreamRide's sandbox mode, you'll want to give the career mode a go. Besides introducing gameplay elements at a gradual pace, career milestones will unlock a variety of pieces and environments for sandbox mode. Nobody wants to ride a basic vanilla coaster; they want to try exciting ones.

ScreamRide's campaign actually has a light story to it. Each time you reach a new area of the campaign, you're treated to a fly-by video of the area while a blatantly GLaDOS-like robotic voice talks about the area. You'll also see short in-game cinematics featuring the uber-bland coaster riders/test subjects before and after every level. These can be skipped, but I wish they could be turned off entirely.

The cinematics are overly sterile and devoid of personality, at least early on. But in later areas, the game hints at the larger history of its world and an ongoing story. Nothing too surprising, but it at least made me curious to see the conclusion. Sadly, the difficulty spikes to such unfair levels that I might never get to see that ending. But we're getting ahead of ourselves!

Career structure

The career offers three separate game types to choose from: ScreamRider, Demolition Expert, and Engineer. Progress in each game type is separate from the others, so you can focus on the one(s) you like and save the rest for later.

The game is divided into six unique areas, each with multiple levels per game type. You'll receive a score-based star rating for each level you clear. Just clearing all of the levels in an area won't unlock the next area. Instead, you must achieve a specific cumulative star rating for that game type in order to move on to the next area. I had to backtrack and improve my scores/star ratings for several levels before I could unlock the sixth area in ScreamRider, for instance.

Further adding replay value, each level also has two or more optional objectives. Sometimes they're gimmes that you would do anyway, but often they require playing skillfully or differently than normal. The optional objectives can be a lot of fun, but they also get pretty hard (and beyond my abilities) in some levels… Trying not to derail the car in later ScreamRider levels especially inspires frustration since you have to restart if you make even one mistake.

ScreamRider

As the name implies, this game type is all about riding roller coasters. That ends up being more interactive than you'd think. ScreamRide's coasters aren't bound by current scientific knowledge or even the laws of safety. They're sci-fi coasters and they knock the riders around like crazy (though regrettably, they always survive).

At the start of the track, timing your acceleration perfectly (quite easy) will net you bonus points. Tracks have turbo sections in which a correctly timed button press will add to your turbo meter. Hold the turbo button to empty the meter and activate a big speed boost.

To stay on the track, you'll have to manage your speed as well as where your rides lean. Using the analog stick you can make them lean left or right, causing the car to go onto two wheels. Later tracks have one-railed sections or obstacles that require lots of two wheeling it.

Tracks also have jumps that would never fly in today's safety-concerned world. Sometimes you need to accelerate to clear a jump, but other times you'll want to watch your speed to avoid striking objects above the landing zone. Tap a button just before your car lands for bonus points.

The ScreamRider levels start out fun, but by the fifth area or so they give way to intense challenge. Once you reach the sixth area, you might as well not have a turbo meter because it's more likely to derail the car than to help score points. And in fact, I reached a turn in 6-2 (pictured above) that seems impossible to pass safely. I retried more than 30 times with no success.

Demolitions Expert

ScreamRide's odd-mode out is Demolitions Expert. These levels charge players with firing a vehicle at islands filled with buildings in order to destroy as much of them as possible.

Most levels involve aiming a pitching machine that throws a spherical projectile at your targets. Think of it as a 3D version of Angry Birds, only with unintuitive aiming. After adjusting the throw strength with the trigger buttons, you have to hold A to aim. The arm just keeps spinning in a circle, but the guide line that appears will help you know when to let go. The behind-the-back camera angle causes the aiming line to be obscured for much of the arm's rotation. Throwing this way is doable, but it never feels good.

Other destruction levels let players launch an actual roller coaster car and then pilot it to varying extents through the air. One of the car types can actually fly with precision until it strikes a target, which feels a bit like hang gliding in Nintendo's Pilotwings series. I love the increased precision of the roller coaster levels; shame we can't choose between roller coasters and ball pitching for every level.

The actual destruction is extremely well done, by the way. Once you figure out a level's gimmicks (like where the chain-reaction explosives are stored), you'll be able to knock down one or more buildings per throw. It's good fun watching the buildings shatter and fall to the ground.

Engineer

This puzzle mode is my least favorite, and the most challenging from the outset. Each level starts with a partially completed track. You have to complete the track while also accomplishing a checklist of goals. The game limits how many pieces can be laid, so the constraints often prove fairly tight.

Once you complete the track, you have to test it by sending a fully automated coaster through the track. If the coaster derails, you fail and must return to the editor. The game points out areas of the track that caused you trouble, at least. But every time you fix something you have to watch and wait as the coaster goes through the track again, which proves tedious. The testing phase should be skippable.

Sandbox mode – Make your own coaster and try the Windows Central track!

Career mode might have its ups and downs, but it's really just an appetizer for the main course: creating and sharing your own levels. You can create levels for all three game types, in fact.

The process starts with creating an island on which to build your level. Next you'll decide what type of level it will be and build the actual track and other elements. Then fill it out with objects and decorations, and you have a basic track.

The actual editor is fairly complex, mapping a lot of functions to the Xbox controller's buttons and sticks. But the functions are always labeled on-screen, so at worst you have to scan around to figure out how to do something while you're still learning. Constructing buildings from scratch is not very intuitive, but placing other types of objects and track pieces proves much easier.

After completing the basic level layout, master builders must set the scores for star ratings and assign optional objectives. You can save the track at any time, but it won't become shareable until you complete the level and complete all objectives. The idea is to prevent people from creating impossible goals.

Even if you're not the creative type, browsing and downloading other players' levels can provide nearly limitless entertainment. We happen to have a track titled Windows Central demo track for you to try. Just head to the Level Center, press Left Trigger to search by name, and search for Windows Central to find it! Be sure to give the track a high rating after you complete it.

Achievements

ScreamRide has 49 Achievements worth 1,000 GamerScore. The career Achievements involve beating every level, five-starring every level, and completing all optional objectives. As I said earlier, career gets really hard – many players won't be able to accomplish some of those things. On the other hand, each game type has some fun ones to go after such as building a really steep drop in Engineer mode.

Sandbox mode also has several Achievements, including basic ones like sharing a track and downloading and rating someone else's track. The Achievement for having your level downloaded more than 30 times might require some boosting.

A rough and uneven ride

ScreamRide is a unique but uneven package. The three game types in career mode are so different, some people won't enjoy one or more of them. Then you have the steep difficulty that works against the inherent casual appeal of a roller coaster game. In fact, that punishing difficulty had me doubting that I really liked the game... until I I tried Sandbox mode.

Building levels and coasters has a learning curve, but once you get into the groove it really clicks. I'm not one to dedicate a lot of time to creativity modes in games, but I still had a blast making my own track. And even more fun was trying out the different coasters that other players have made. Player created tracks can vary wildly in quality, but the rating system and download indicator make it easy to find the good stuff. Whether you want a relaxing track, a challenging one, or just an insanely fast ride, the community has already got you covered.

A roller coaster game is an odd choice for a console exclusive game in this age of AAA shooters and action games. But Microsoft bet on creativity and uniqueness with ScreamRide, and it has largely paid off. I do hope for a patch to smooth out the difficulty, though.

  • ScreamRide – Xbox One – 4.5 GB – $39.99 – Xbox Link (opens in new tab)Amazon Link (opens in new tab)
  • ScreamRide – Xbox 360 – $29.99 – Xbox Link (opens in new tab)Amazon Link (opens in new tab)

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

24 Comments
  • Love this
  • Is there anything like roller coaster tycoon for windows phone? Love the park management aspect of it as much as the ride creation.
  • Sadly only 3ds/ios got a terrible rct game
  • And when they make one it'll be F2P riddled with IAP..
  • Agreed. I played a lot of RT in my teenage years. It is still a fun game to play today.
  • Sweet review. I like it. Might end up picking this up sooner than later. Sandbox sounds a lot of fun
  • Good to see unique games like this published by Microsoft Studios.
  • Great review. It helped to get your overall take on the game. I'll likely pick this up now, but might wait for a sale a couple months from now.
  • I might have issues. All I do is see how much destruction I can cause in sandbox games like this, lol.
  • As long as the destruction stays in the game :)
  • Good review but still not sure about this one.  Wasn't able to make the stream, so I'll likely wait for a sale.  I think if this game was priced between $20 and $30 it would sell a lot more than it will. 
  • Technically only rct3 was made by frontier
  • .
  • That looks like a wonderful game! A friend pointed it out to me a few weeks ago and said it would be right up my alley. I have been known to sit and watch roller coaster videos for hours after hours, reviews, etc on the best ones around. Love me some roller coasters. I started riding them when I was 4 or 5.. (I was tall for my age so I gradually made it past the man cutout that you have to be "as tall as"... sign " The crazier the coasters, the wilder and more different, yes! Those are the ones I like! Specially those creaky old wooden ones.. ya know they sway back and forth.. the track does.. as the cars zip on by.. eeekk careful! I did not get much into the roller coaster tycoon series.. but this I will enjoy!  Thanks for streaming it. Now I know for sure I want it. 
  • This game looks pretty good. The stream of it was very interesting.
  • Excellent, detailed review. Another great exclusive for Xbox One!
  • Great, detailed review, Paul. I'm admittedly disappointed, as I'd rather see a real RCT successor, though. I might grab this if it hits $20 or so. I want that park-managing simulator though, with the freedom to REALLY make coasters and such as you please. I played the demo a bit, just demolition, and didn't really like it. I agree that the camera angle makes aiming rather cumbersome. Engineer would probably interest me more than any other mode, as the coaster-building stuff is the closest we seem to get to RCT. Thanks for the hard work, looking forward to the next write-up (hopefully for XenoVerse!).
  • Appreciate the kind words, Keith! I hope to fully review Xenoverse as well, but Dead or Alive 5 Last Round is next on the agenda. That one should be ready soon. I too would prefer a full-on park sim to the destruction and puzzle modes here (though a park sim would likely have puzzle scenarios as well). But the game is $40 instead of $60, so I guess a smaller scale makes sense.
  • Great article! It may not be an RCT4 that so many fans would love to see, but I still found it to be a different direction for a rollercoaster game and has a lot of unique features that I find interesting. Definitely will be worth a try.
  • Screamride is $29.99 for the 360, not $39.99
  • Thanks! Fixed.
  • It makes me wonder how well the tycoon type games actually sell. Zoo Tycoon didnt appear to be that big of a success. Maybe that is why they went with this kind of different take on the game. Great review Paul. We always appreciate the time you spend researching and writing these kinds of articles.  
  • Enjoyed the write up.  I do like the SIM building aspect of the game. But my favorite is the destruction part, your comparison to Angry Bird is accurate.  Looking forward to adding it to my game collection.
  • Hi Paul I am stuck on Series 1 the Populus labs map on Engineer - I cannot figure how to get the coaster speed up to 130mph for the bonus challenge. Any suggestions? Thanks! Erica