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Rollercoaster Tycoon III

However charmingly retro its graphics may be, after playing the latest Command & Conquer it's unlikely you would ever need to revisit the original game, unless pressed to relieve a bout of annual nostalgia. The same will be true when the latest Rollercoaster Tycoon trundles onto the shelves this autumn, because, as with Age Of Mythology and C&C: Generals, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 belatedly sees the blockbusting series burst into the dynamically-lit 3D limelight, dressed top-to-toe in polygons and sporting pavement pizzas that can be appreciated from all angles.

Much more than kitting out the old game in a new engine however, we're assured there is more gameplay content in RT3 than the previous two games and their six expansion packs combined, and having spent the last few days tinkering with an early preview version of the game, we're inclined to believe the marketing guff.

Zoom

Of course, the switch to 3D has necessitated a change of interface - one that, you'd have thought, would be a hell of a lot more complicated than before. Not so - unobtrusive and powerful, the means to create and manage your park is easily done, in spite of the obscene amount of building options and park rides there are to contend with.

People Watching
But the problem with the Rollercoaster games (and Theme Park for that matter), wasn't that you'd couldn't build outlandish rides, but that after you'd built your perfect park, the realisation dawned that there actually wasn't much else to do apart from keeping things ticking over, balancing the books and making piles of stinking cash. Yes, there was a certain amount of satisfaction in watching minuscule sprites shuffle between the various attractions and occasionally spewing up afterwards, but generally the game was about making money and after the attractions faded, you realised that the ones having all the fun were the little computer people.

Now, like the hands-on park manager who likes to mingle with the customers, there is much more satisfaction in watching the game's 'peeps' mill about. Focus on some teenage adrenaline junkies for example, as one of their number stumbles from your gravity-defying ride, trying not to throw chunks - closely watched by a queue of customers waiting to board, some of whom may have second thoughts and move on to something more sedate.

Watching individuals and groups respond to the rides and to each other is almost a game in itself, and with the added bonus of being able to join them on the rides and hear their tortured screams as they hurtle at near-lightspeed past a roaring animatronic shark... well, it all adds immeasurably to the sense of fulfilment. After all, a healthy bank balance is all very nice, but what price for a smile? 34.99, sounds about right.

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