Railroad Tycoon 3

Thy piercing, madly-whistled laughter! Thy echoes, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all!

RT3

If we can assume there is a traditional video game, usually one filled with wild explosions of color, and probably robots of some kind, then Railroad Tycoon III can pretty well be called non-traditional. The sequel to 1999Â's surprisingly successful and quite good Railroad Tycoon II – itself, a sequel to Sid MeierÂ's classic – this third iteration is again brought to us by PopTop Software, with the atmosphere they so palpably crafted in Â'99 replicated, and sometimes flat-out copied in this newer version. In fact, at times Railroad Tycoon III is almost indistinguishable from its immediate predecessor. PopTop has chosen to evolve the game rather than reinvent the wheel, which always begs the question: is there enough new here to justify a complete sequel, or has PopTop simply slapped on a 3d engine and called it a sequel?

When gamers think of Tycoon games they probably envision shovelware and perhaps the Rollercoaster Tycoon juggernaut, but itÂ'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 PopTopÂ'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 Â'99. At first taste, Railroad Tycoon 3 feels exactly like Railroad Tycoon 2 with a face lift.

Fortunately, itÂ'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 3Â'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 theyÂ're willing to pay is delivered through handy colored overlays of the main game playspace. Want to find out how much theyÂ'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.

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Once youÂ've got some track laid and stations built – 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 trainÂ'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 youÂ'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 thereÂ'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 donÂ'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 – or others for that matter – ever being involved.

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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 itÂ'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 GodÂ'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 itÂ'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 theyÂ're own fully fleshed scenarios. Railroad Tycoon 2Â's map making community proved quite healthy, so thereÂ'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.

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The question could be, and has been, asked: who could possibly care about this kind of game? Try as you might, thereÂ's no real opportunity here for wanton destruction, and isnÂ'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 wonÂ'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

Comments

[Bonus Literature Points to anyone who can identify the quote opening this review without Googling it]

I believe Hoochie said that about Certis following a restless night after dining on stuffed peppers and coleslaw.

I told you to remove those hidden microphones from our room Sway!

Anyways, that quote sounds kind of like T.S Elliot but it could be Whitman. It's been a long time since I've looked at either of them.

Whitman - To a Locomotive in Winter

[Bonus Literature Points to anyone who can identify the quote opening this review without Googling it]

The original draft of Steamboat Willie by Walt Disney. The Mouse had mad angst going on.

Great review, it actually made me want to play the game despite my initial snobbery.

"PopTop has chosen to evolve the game rather than reinvent the wheel, which always begs the question: is there enough new here to justify a complete sequel, or has PopTop simply slapped on a 3d engine and called it a sequel?"

Note: strictly speaking, begging the question is not the same as prompting a question.  "Begging the question" refers to the act of arguing in a circle; it as an informal logical fallacy.  In order to beg the question, you must assume among your premises the very conclusion which the premises are supposed to prove.

Here's one website with more information.

My biggest gripe about this game, along with the previous one, is that it does NOT take 22 days for a train to go from Chicago to Milwaukee.

The entire system is based on the lamest reference of time Ive ever seen.

PAR

I've thought about this and perhaps what is really at work here is a representation of an entire year of trains running back and forth.  Rather than showing 250 trains (just a random number - I have no idea how many trains would make the trip in a year) whizzing back and forth (even at the slowest game speed) between Chicago and Wisconsin the developers chose to represent a year's running of the route with fewer trains so the player could enjoy seeing his/her trains running the tracks at a watchable speed.  

The same goes for money made on the route.  If I make 100k a year on my route, I might only see three or four trainloads coming into the station in a years time, each making 25k.  But what's really happening is a lot more trains are making the trip and making less per train load.  

Same thing with maintenance and breakdown.  My single train isn't sitting at the water tower for three days.  It's actually a formula.  So this particular engine is taking on water 12% of the time given the dynamics of the route.  But because the developers chose to represent the trains the way they did, it just looks like one train is sitting at the water tower for three days at a time, but what's actually happening is several trains are stopping there for a quick break - we just don't see them.

I agree FormerLawyer, and I think it's a necessary concession made in the interest of gameplay and logistics.  I think there has to be some understanding of the fact that a player can only do so much recreationally, and to overload the simulation would be detrimental to the fact that, in the end, it's a fun game.  There isn't a game made that doesn't sacrifice some minimal aspect of pure realism.

Lobo, it's been a while since someone has rightly called me on a matter of grammar.  My hat's off to you.  I've been misusing that one for some time.

- Elysium