Sid Meier's Railroads Review (PC)

I was never a major Railway Tycoon fan, primarily because I thought Chris Sawyer’s Transport Tycoon surpassed it in many ways – game-play, versatility, more trains, etc. But I had to get excited upon hearing ole’ Sid was throwing his own train-related tycoon game into the mix; it’s not often Sid has disappointed me. However, in this instance he has. What we have here is indeed an enjoyable title, but it falls far short of my expectations; to name a few flaws – lack of depth, little originality, no single-player campaign for god sake, and an over-demanding graphics engine which looks inferior to Civilization IV.

The graphics are pretty sweet. You can customise your trains, of course.

There’s something about building railways which makes a much better tycoon game than any of the horrid spin-offs; the laying of track, setting routes, delivering cargo, circumventing old routes with new routes, laying double lines on congested track etc. Railroads! Captures these elements perfectly, but the problem is it does nothing new, and actually falls short to Transport Tycoon because there’s no usage of other vehicles – buses, trucks, boats, planes, etc.

The only champion element of the game has to be the graphics, which easily out-do any previous games of this type. But even then, the engine seems far more demanding on system requirements than it really should be. I mean, I’m playing FEAR on high spec and having no problems, then I crank up Railroads and once there are a dozen trains flying around the map things start to get a little jerky: that’s crazy! Especially when you consider that Civ IV, made by the same company, looks better and runs better.

Railroads! is a very easy game to play, the interface is built around simplicity. There’s no manual adjustment of land or selecting of track inclination. You just click the start and end point for a section of track, and all the details – bridges, tunnels, relocation of residential buildings getting in the way – are worked out for you to create the most speed effective track joining those two points. Although this may be a good thing for the game’s accessibility, I think it’s a bad thing for any experienced tycoon player because the little choices add to the depth of a game of this type. The next step up would be for the player to just be able to type in two town names and have an automated line built between them, would anyone find that fun?

If only the stock-market was really this simple. Notice my magic track soaring into the hills without any visible support.

As with previous railway tycoon incarnations the game features two types of goods available for transportation – passengers and freight. While the money made from freight is fixed and corresponds only to the number of carriages delivered, the money made from passengers is based on a distance over time equation. Put simply, passenger trains make more money the faster they are – so much of the challenge of the game revolves around keeping your speedy passenger trains on track uninterrupted by slow lumbering cattle freight.

As goods are delivered to the various towns, they, like your company, begin to prosper and grow. This allows the development of industries within the town which you can use to convert the cheap low-gain goods into expensive worthwhile goods; for example, your coal freight delivery from the coal mine to the steel mill won’t make much money on it’s own, but it’s part of a larger process which eventually ends in one of your trains making $$$ taking goods from the steel supplied automobile factory to a big city. Ultimately more money can be made by attempting to buy the ownership of these factories. The process can be started by any player, and then after a rather tedious bidding war one player (or computer AI) emerges as the owner. The profit of owned factories is determined by the amount of goods delivered to them.

Finally the game features a rather crude representation of the stock market which allows you to buy and sell stock in your own company, and your oppositions’ railway companies. This allows you to buy out your competitors, or even be treated with an early “game over” by being bought out yourself. Now this is where I really begin to wonder just how well this game was tested. Shouldn’t it be that when you buy shares, the fact of your buying it doesn’t cause the stock to rise by such an amount that you actually make money by selling it! And vice versa, selling shares seems to result in them being cheaper to buy back. Ultimately this means the most thoroughly obvious money cheat in the game has been missed, although it’s not very productive compared to the income from your trains it’s annoying enough that it exists at all.

Undoubtedly something like this will be patched away and it’d be fine, if it wasn’t for all the other minor bugs I experienced while playing this game for a mere week – the appearance of impossibly high track, trains which occasionally fly off the rails and sail through the air to their destination, steeped track which once went over a hill but now has no visible means of support. I mean… come on Sid!

Oh and did I mention there’s no single player campaign? The game relies entirely on scenarios – which admittedly do have objectives to complete at least – and multiplayer/custom maps.

Did I mention the graphics being decent. If I was a steam-train buff I might enjoy this more.

This is an enjoyable game. But frankly even if it wasn’t for the bugs, the simplicity, the lack of a campaign, and the other minor short-fallings, I’d still be disappointed because when someone like Sid Meier copies a classic genre, I at least expect him to add something new and innovative to the game-play. Forget about it unless you must, in the mean time I’ll be playing Transport Tycoon and wishing it had use of Civ IV’s graphics.

Top Game Moment:
Realising you’re the king of the rails!!! For this scenario at least...

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