Game Review: Railroad Tycoon
By: Kirk Hiner
- Format: CD
Software, Westlake Interactive
- Publisher: Gathering of Developers
- Minimum Requirements: 132 MHz PowerPC,
System 7.5.3, 16MB RAM, 130MB hard disk space, 4X CD ROM,
- Network Feature: Yes
- 3Dfx Support: No
- Retail Price: $49.99
- Availability: Out now
"Everyone loves the sound of a train in the distance.
Everybody thinks it's true."
Or so sang Paul Simon. Of course, Paul also sang, "Doot'n
doo doo, feelin' groovy," so can he really be trusted?
But in the case of the trains, I'm with Paul. I love the
sound of trains; the horn, the wheels, the engine. There's
something romantic about it in that melancholy
Coleridge/Wanger way. For me, perhaps it's because it
kindles memories of spending the night at my grandparents'
in Geneva, Ohio. Or maybe it's because my brother Matt is
writing his doctoral thesis on...well...it's called
"Regulations Twilight: The Interstate Commerce Commission
and the American Railroad - 1973 to 1996." I assume that has
something to do with trains.
Whatever the reason, even at my age I still get excited
when I'm stuck behind a crossing guard and a train thunders
by. That's why I was so eager to give PopTop Software's
"Railroad Tycoon II" a try.
Railroad Tycoon II is a sim game in which you build and
finance a railroad company. You lay track, construct
buildings, select your consist, learn cool railroad terms
such as "consist," purchase trains, and even play the stock
market to grow your revenue. There are so many facets to
Railroad Tycoon II that it's almost intimidating. The first
few times I played it I succeeded only in annoying my
company's board of directors.
What I'm saying here is that unless you'd rather work on
the railroad (all the live-long day) than own it, you'd
better read the manual. There is an in-game tutorial, but it
tells you just enough to get you started. It's tempting to
jump right into this game because the graphics are so
invitingly bright and colorful. The buildings and trains are
rich in detail, and the rolling landscapes are richly
populated with everything from rivers and forests to cow
pastures and canneries. The minimum system requirements call
for an 800x600 resolution, but that's about as pretty as
a...well, a train wreck. At that size, the graphics have to
be shrunk to fit the screen--causing some obnoxious
blurring). You can select to leave the graphics at 1024x768
even if your maximum resolution is only 800x600, but you
have to scroll to view the entire screen...even the
The sound effects are also top notch. The clanging of
metal, the bleating of sheep, the chugging of steam
engines...all are incredibly authentic. My favorite, though,
is easily the ambiant sounds of people working on railraods
in the background as some blues band plays softly in the
distance. I half expected John Henry to break through a
mountain at any moment.
The gameplay in Railroad Tycoon II is set up in
scenarios, eighteen of which are part of the main campaign
and fifteen which are standalone. In the campaign, you must
at least try each game before advancing to the next. The
first few generally serve as a tutorial to prepare you for
the harder games to come. It was in these that my brother's
knowledge of train history helped, as he was able to tell me
who my competitors were (their tactics are based on the
their real life business methods and are touched upon
briefly in the manual) and what products made the most money
during that era. Matt even recommneded which train I should
use, and his suggestions always matched the train specs in
the game. Having access to this knowledge isn't necessary,
but it sure does help. Sadly, Matt declined to let me post
his phone number in this review.
If you're just getting started or would rather make your
own history, than you should probably play out a stand alone
scenario. These allow you to choose your difficulty, select
in which area of the world you want to build, and even
dictate how many competitors you have. Once you've set up a
company and picked your scenario (anywhere from England to
South Korea to Milwaukee) the computer will tell you what
your goals are and let you start exploiting your workers
like the robber barons of years gone by!
Your first task is to lay track between two towns, of
course, then build stations in both. It's best to pick two
cities that compliment each other in the goods that they
produce. In other words, know your industries before
starting the game. Having the best trains will do you no
good if you're trying to ship iron ore to a cattle yard.
It's all about supply and demand...and hills. Oh, those
Different trains have different strengths and weaknesses,
you see, so you'll want to chose the train that's best
suited for the terrain and cargo. Most scenarios start out
with only a couple from which to chose, but you can upgrade
as time progresses.
After that, it's all about management. You have to decide
to what other towns you should connect, in what order the
trains should stop at the various stations, what buildings
to develop near your stations, and so on. It's not too hard
to do at first, but if you want to make the big bucks, you
can never stop developing. At one point I had seven
different trains running on three different tracks
throughout northern England, Scotland and Ireland, and I was
barely able to keep track of who was hauling what where.
That probably seems like a county fair ride to some of you,
but to a guy who never even managed the local Taco Bell,
it's a pain in the caboose.
Ethics even come in to play, as you get to decide what
kind of businessman you are. You can undertake wonderfully
corrupt actions such as short selling the stock of your
competitors. Get good enough at this game, and a wonderfully
successful career on Wall Street is just around the bend.
"And what experience do you have Mr. Hiner?"
"Well, none, really, but I did bankrupt Jay Gould in
Railroad Tycoon II."
To be honest, I was never much a fan of sim games. I have
a hard enough time managing my own life, let alone that of
the Roman Empire or some skyscraper. Sim Ant from Maxis is
the only sim I ever owned, and I only played through it once
before packaging it up forever. Railroad Tycoon II may
change my attitude. The difficulty level is higher, but
that's part of what makes the game so addictive. After
losing a campaign, I'd spend the next day thinking of new
ways to increase revenues and contemplate connecting
different cities. Railroad Tycoon II is the type of game
that you spend far too much time thinking about when you
should be doing real work.
It also makes an excellent educational device, and should
be loaded on at least one computer in every business and
history classroom. Aside from building management skills,
the game is rich in American and world history. With the
accurately depicted competition and the newspapers that pop
up detailing the economy and various technolgical advances,
you can't help but learn how the "iron horse" affected the
expansion of the business world and changed the way we look
That's not to say that Railroad Tycoon II is without
annoyances. Moving around the maps is quite cumbersome at
times (especially at 800x600 as mentioned above), and the
various game options icons clutter up the screen more than I
would have liked. The interface is not very intuitive at
first, but you do become used to it. There are also some
graphics quirks, such as lost pixels under the cursor and a
few minor irregularities in train movement.
Still, Railroad Tycoon II succeeds in its goal of
capturing the romance of trains and the lure of building
your own financial empire. It's a difficult game to master,
but that only expands it entertainment value. The tutorials
do an adequate job of getting you started right away, and
there's even a "sandbox" mode which gives you unlimited
finances and no competitions if you want to just build track
and watch your trains go. For the more adventurous, Railroad
Tycoon II does come with both network multiplayer
capabilities (and you thought the computer generated
opponents were ruthless) and the option to build your own
If you're a lover of the railroad, sims, big business or
history, then Railroad Tycoon II is sure to provide you with
countless hours of sweaty, dusty, rivet pounding enjoyment.
Even if this isn't your idea of an enjoyable afternoon, the
game still may be worth a look. Just make sure you've got
plenty of time on your hands. After all, the B&O wasn't
built in a day.
It's true. Just ask Paul Simon.
Raised on Intellivision and "Tron,"
Hiner has been an avid gamer ever
since he was tall enough to look through the viewfinder on
the Battlezone upright. Although he makes a living using a
PC (not by choice) to design websites for Dynamics
Online, Inc., Kirk never strays
from his 9600/200 or 3400c for computer gaming. When he's
not playing the latest Logicware release, he can either be
found working on his next "never to be published" novel,
rereading anything by Kurt Vonnegut or watching RAW is
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