At its heart, Park Beyond evokes memories of the Theme Park games from a couple of decades ago, and it's perhaps due to our nostalgia for those titles that we enjoyed our time with this as much as we did. There's something to be said for the simplified theme park builder, in which you don't need to worry about navigating a dozen overwhelming menus or whether your rollercoasters adhere to the laws of conventional physics.
Park Beyond has that appeal, and while we do like the relative complexity of something like Planet Coaster, sometimes you just want to make a rollercoaster that can go underwater or shoots the train across a ravine using a giant cannon. That said, there's too many problems here to ignore, and while patches and future updates might remedy the most egregious issues that plague the game in its current state, we can only review what's in front of us, and what's in front of us is a mess.
When it comes to actually building your park, it's mostly a simple process. You have access to a few rides at the beginning like the classic pirate ship, and once you've set one down you plan out where your visitors will queue up to get on it, and where they'll exit. You've got a couple of shops and other amenities, and you connect the whole thing up with paths that you draw out.
Building rollercoasters is a little more involved, but it's quite forgiving. You connect various pieces of track together and some special pieces like loops or corkscrews. As you build, a simulation runs showing a phantom train travelling the track you've built and it will highlight any issues like if your track is at a sharp angle that will cause the train to derail, or if the track is colliding with anything like a wall or the sea.
Once you've built some attractions it's time to open the doors. Visitors arrive, spend money on rides and snacks, and, of course, use the toilets, too. You hire staff to hold the fort, like janitors to keep the place clean and mechanics to maintain the rides and fix any that break down. Strangely, you can't actually instruct your staff to go and fix a ride or clean up a mess, and you just have to hope that they'll get around to it at some point, which feels like a massive oversight.
When you've got a thriving park you unlock research options which allows you to build more rides, more shops, and make more money. As you play an Impossification meter will also start charging, and once it fills up you can choose to improve a ride, shop, or staff member in an impossible way. You can give your mechanic a jetpack to get to a breakdown faster, or make your humble pirate ship a more elaborate construction in which the ship splits into three pieces that spin and loop independently, raising the profile of the ride considerably.
There's a campaign that is eight missions long and it should take you around 10 to 15 hours to see them off. However, we don't know for sure because we had to restart most missions multiple times due to bugs or crashes or thanks to some of the peculiarities of how the game works, but all told we played for nearly thirty hours across the campaign and the freeform do-whatever-you-want sandbox mode, and we had an intermittently enjoyable time.
Unfortunately, Park Beyond has numerous systemic problems which can lead to frustration, but once you understand them you can use some of them to your advantage in bizarre ways. For example, each ride and shop in your park has an upkeep value. Shops and basic rides like merry-go-rounds have low upkeeps, while elaborate rollercoasters will require a lot more funding to keep the lights on.
What this means is that rollercoasters need to generate a lot more money than shops or smaller rides in order to earn their keep but the kicker is that they actually don't. In fact, the best way to make money in the game is by building a few smaller rides to get customers through the door, and then to fill your park with various eateries, drinks shops, and merchandise stores, and then bump up the prices.
Visitors to your park may complain that a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch costs five or six dollars, but they'll still buy them in droves, and since it takes seconds to complete a transaction versus the minute or more some rollercoasters will take to complete their journey, you actually have a much higher return by selling tat than you do by building something wonderful. Creativity is actively punished here, while ruthless capitalism paves the way to success which is a sad commentary in and of itself.
Expanding your park is similarly borked. When you've filled up your real estate you can buy adjacent land and start building there. The problem is that when you do this a massive portion of your visitors will migrate to the new area leaving the main park looking like a modern British high street. The new, smaller addition won't have as many ways for your customers to spend money as your existing park by virtue of the fact that it's a smaller space, meaning that more often than not, when you expand your profits will immediately nosedive.
The easiest way to actually progress in Park Beyond is to set up a small, profitable park focusing on fleecing visitors using massively overpriced shops, and then just leave the game running while you go to Tesco, buy some treats for your cat, come home, and when you get back you'll have loads of money in the bank to help you weather whatever storms are coming later in the mission. It shouldn't be this way.
The game also shouldn't have as many bugs as it does but it's 2023 so that's life, we suppose. Sometimes, you'll complete criteria to pass a mission and the game will just not recognise it. If you've got a save from minutes earlier you can quit the game, reload, and this seems to fix it most of the time, but unless you know that, like we didn't initially, you'll end up redoing a lot of stuff. There are also graphical glitches, some UI problems, issues with queues for rides randomly disconnecting so you start losing money while they stand idle, and we experienced multiple blue screens of death.
In a harrowing incident during a late game mission we discovered that hundreds of people had fused together, wobbling and vibrating, unable to move, stuck at the entrance to one of our rides. And then there was the time that the jolly background music suddenly stopped and then an unholy, eldritch buzzing sound started blasting through our headphones completely out of the blue. It sounded like a Reaper had come for us, we jumped out of fright, the cat got scared, and now we've got scratches on our thighs. On the plus side, the Season Pass and day one DLC is ready to go.
Park Beyond will probably be pretty good one day, but it is not this day. Currently, it's a theme park building sim that doesn't include features that we'd consider to be a basic requirement of the genre, it's poorly balanced with systems that feel wildly misjudged, and it's also riddled with bugs and glitches that range from comical to pad-tossingly infuriating. Avoid it like Alton Towers during the school holidays.