Thursday, January 19, 2017

Railroad Tycoon 3 (2003)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I don’t usually buy video games, and when I do, it’s usually one of the GTA games or something along those lines. I also have this interest in railroads and trains. I came across Railroad Tycoon, which is a railroad simulation. It looked interesting. You lay track, plan routes, buy farms and stuff. Being that it was something like $10, I decided to give it a try.

Ok, it’s not really that simple. There are all sorts of different scenarios you can play. Each scenario has three sets of stated goals. It might be to connect a certain number of cities or to connect two particular cities within a given time frame. You can get bronze, silver or gold, each representing one of the sets of goals. (As you might expect, bronze will be the easiest where gold will require the most skill and/or effort.)

Laying track is pretty easy. You select either single or double track and put it where you want it. Sometimes, you can’t always get it exactly where you want it to go. It may have to be done in several stretches or you simply can’t get it to go through a dip in the land. I’ve also noticed that if you’re in a scenario where you’re using electric track, it will randomly switch back to non-electric. I haven’t been able to figure this out, but it’s not that hard to make it electric later on.

You also have to connect cities, which is officially done with a train station. Stations come in three sizes, each being able to cover a different amount of surrounding area. When you have two connected cities on the same track, you can run a train between those two cities. You even get to choose between several different models that vary in cost. You do have to accommodate mountains, rivers and other land features, which isn’t that hard once you start playing.

Some scenarios have restrictions. It might be that you can only lay track that’s connected to existing track or maybe you can only lay a certain number of miles every year. (A year in game time can pass in a few minutes, depending on which speed you have it on.) In some cases, these restrictions make it kind of difficult. I generally avoid certain scenarios based on the restrictions.

You start with some money, which varies based on the scenario you’re playing, but you can add to that by selling stock in your company or floating a bond. (Some scenarios don’t allow for one or both features.) You’re probably going to fail altogether pretty quickly if you run out of money, since you do need money to maintain tracks and trains, so be sure not to spend everything. It’s also easy to spend a lot of money on tracks only to realize that you need to buy stations or put up maintenance depots.

If you don’t like the scenarios, there are also campaigns, which is nothing more than a different set of scenarios that can be strung together. I’ve never been able to get the campaigns to save properly, meaning that when I reload, the scenarios that I’ve beaten don’t seem to have been saved. I don’t know if I’m doing something wrong or if I’m just missing something. Again, there are campaign scenarios that I avoid based on the restrictions and I don’t usually play the campaign because I feel no need to.

If you can’t get used to game play during one of the campaigns or scenarios, there’s even a sandbox mode that just lets you lay track and build stuff without having to worry about money or any restrictions. I recommend playing this just to get used to the game.

The one big complaint that I have is that there are only a certain number of maps, which can get boring. There are user-generated maps, but I can’t seem to get those to work with my version. I used to have the retail version, but I lost the discs and I think that’s the version that I need. I’ve since replaced it with a different version, which doesn’t seem to support the user-generated maps. Again, maybe I’m missing something. You can make your own maps, but I don’t have the patience for that.

The physics can also seem a little unrealistic. I’ve laid track that’s had an unusual grade, almost going straight up at times, and the trains will still make it. I’ve never had a train not make it up any grade. It is sometimes hard to lay the track, though, and this doesn’t seem to be based on grade or anything else. Sometimes, it’s something obvious like a house. Other times, I just have to keep moving the mouse around to find a position that’s agreeable with the computer. It’s frustrating when you want to have a track go a certain way.

It is a somewhat addictive game. I’ll play for a while and love it, then get bored with it only to come back to it a few weeks later. One of my favorite things to do is to have computer players start companies and eventually acquire them. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s having the computer do some of the work or maybe it’s the challenge of acquiring enough capital to actually acquire them. There are still a few aspects I haven’t tried, like the Internet and LAN play. (Being that I only have the one version currently, it doesn’t look like I’ll be doing LAN any time soon.)

I give the game four stars. The controls are easy to use, but like I said, it would probably be best to play the sandbox mode, even for a few minutes. You can change your view from close up to far away, and this might be distracting at first. The only thing I’d really add to the game is a random scenario generator. I know it may get a bit distracting to have Berlin, Tokyo and Houston close together, but it can get boring playing the same set of maps over and over again. 

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