Thy piercing, madly-whistled laughter! Thy echoes, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all!
When gamers think of Tycoon games they probably envision shovelware and perhaps the Rollercoaster Tycoon juggernaut, but itÃ‚'s Railroad Tycoon that is in many ways the granddaddy of the subgenre. Under that kind of weight, PopTop has had considerable expectations to live up to for fans of the Meier classic, and PopTopÃ‚'s own 1999 Railroad Tycoon II which shocked a lot of people with its surprising credibility. Setting up the foundation of a solid business simulation married to the almost Zen tranquility of a virtual railroad simulator, PopTop found the right balance once before, and with RT3 look to streamline and tweak only where necessary, maintaining what made their game work before while improving where possible.
One need not have played Railroad Tycoon 2 to enjoy the sequel, but fans of the former will feel right at home in this new landscape. Right down to the sounds of the menu, the bluesy music, and the whistle of a steam engine leaving some anonymous Midwest station, the general feel of this game is an exact copy of RT2. It is at times almost surprising how much RT3 emulates its predecessor, not simply in its sounds, but format, economic reports, and even its single player campaign. From monopolizing the newly discovered fields of mid-nineteenth century Texas, to connecting England to Scotland in the dawn of the steel age, many of the tasks laid before you are not just reminiscent but identical to ones delivered in Ã‚'99. At first taste, Railroad Tycoon 3 feels exactly like Railroad Tycoon 2 with a face lift.
Fortunately, itÃ‚'s not. Its real identity comes not from the nuances of the tasks laid before you, as ultimately the differences between any one map and another can be whittled down to a question of height maps and time allotted, but from the underlying business simulation that drives your track laying plans, and Railroad Tycoon 3Ã‚'s simulation is a complete overhaul. First, the bulk of information can be found without abandoning the game interface and flipping through pages of out-of-context information. Now information about where freight can be found, who wants that freight, and how much theyÃ‚'re willing to pay is delivered through handy colored overlays of the main game playspace. Want to find out how much theyÃ‚'re willing to pay for produce in Topeka, a quick click delivers that information and shows you how that price relates to surrounding towns. Further, you can click on any station and see both how much of any given cargo that station has, and where you can send that cargo to build a tidy profit without ever leaving the context of the game.
Once youÃ‚'ve got some track laid and stations built Ã‚– a simple and intuitive procedure - managing your trains and loads becomes as automatic or manual as you wish. The consist manager can quickly be set to load up the best cargo for a trainÃ‚'s next station, allowing you the flexibility of determining if that cargo is express (passengers and mail), freight, or both. You also can set minimum and maximum numbers of loads to pull to adjust for the strength of your locomotive and the inclines involved in the route. Or, if you need specific cargo delivered you can designate manually the load to be hauled. The cargo management allows for micro or macro management, or any number of levels in between.
Imagine for a moment that youÃ‚'re in a busy train station in nineteenth century Chicago with the whole of the American frontier stretched before you. It could probably be assumed that, having brought yourself to this station you had a destination in mind, and yet Railroad Tycoon 2 never addressed this issue. If you were a passenger and the next train in the station was steaming off to a town that demanded passengers, then thereÃ‚'s a good chance you were shuffled aboard regardless of whether that train was heading to Madison, Dubuque, or somewhere really god-awful like Gary, Indiana. Not so in Railroad Tycoon 3, as express cargo like passengers and mail donÃ‚'t act like freight. It is not simply a matter of supply and demand, but desired destination as well, adding a new layer to setting up train routes. Where, before, one could simply make a killing off of transporting large loads of passengers between distant cities, now if more passengers want to commute between close cities than want to ride your meandering mountain train to Spokane then the better route can actually be the shorter one.
Additionally, the economy is never completely dependent on the rail system, as Railroad Tycoon 3 more accurately simulates the movement of freight both across ground and along rivers. No longer does a given cargo have to show up within your sphere of influence to be available or profitable, but it now moves more realistically toward centers of commerce in reasonable ways. This means it can now be profitable to purchase the deed to an isolated ore mine or lumber mill as long as it has access to a nearby river where it can send its goods down stream without your rail line Ã‚– or others for that matter Ã‚– ever being involved.
But, the selling point hallmark of Railroad Tycoon 3 is its new graphics engine, ultimately one of the least notable features. Sure, the engine has its moments where your Atlantic 4-4-2 is crossing a trickling creek against the backdrop of an ocean sunrise, hauling clearly distinguishable loads, but ultimately itÃ‚'s just window dressing, and sometimes a shabby one at that. Rarely breathtaking, the engine is adequate with occasional graphical glitches most often associated with steep inclines. The camera flexibility, however, is quite useful as full control is intuitively implemented with the opportunity to scroll smoothly from tight close-up to GodÃ‚'s eye view a la Black and White. The graphic engine is fine, but is probably most praiseworthy because it never gets in the way.
Railroad Tycoon 3 does include multiplayer options, though itÃ‚'s really not the kind of game where you could wander online and just pickup a quick game. Additionally, the game comes packed with a map editor and plenty of tools for map makers to craft theyÃ‚'re own fully fleshed scenarios. Railroad Tycoon 2Ã‚'s map making community proved quite healthy, so thereÃ‚'s every reason to believe that these tools will generate legitimate replayability. Additionally, RT3 includes a sandbox mode which gives you unlimited resources to play and enjoy your rail network.
The question could be, and has been, asked: who could possibly care about this kind of game? Try as you might, thereÃ‚'s no real opportunity here for wanton destruction, and isnÃ‚'t that what gaming is really all about? Well, no. Finding its niche in the complexity of its business simulation, the rather tranquil strategy of fine tuning your rail network, and managing the flow of freight, RT3 is not a game that will pump adrenaline but is one you can lose hours to. Railroad Tycoon 3 wonÃ‚'t sell action gamers on the business simulation subgenre, but it will charm those already interested in that type of game. It is more than a copy of Railroad Tycoon 2, despite the sharp surface similarities, and adds where it really counts. With a fully fleshed economy and intuitive interface, Railroad Tycoon 3 is not simply a game for train enthusiasts, but one for those interested in a deep well implemented business simulation.
- E. Sean "Elysium" Sands