Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, which made its debut in 1991, instantly became a hit with strategy fans. Although the concept of the game was simple, its in-depth economics and super deep railroad building ushered in a new era of complex yet fun strategy games.
In 1998, a little-known software company with a funny name, PopTop, secured the rights to Railroad Tycoon and released a tremendously popular sequel. Now six years later, MacSoft is on the verge of releasing the third installment, Railroad Tycoon 3.
1, 2, 3DThe first thing you'll immediately notice about Railroad Tycoon 3 is the brand spanking new 3D graphics engine. While I was skeptical at first that PopTop would be able to pull it off, adding 3D to the game was a stroke of genius. Gone are the 2D sprites and in its place is an endless mirage of eye candy to whet your senses. The game features beautiful pixel-shaded water that reflects and undulates as well as full day and night cycles, weather effects including rain and snow, and a modeled starscape taken directly from NASA's star charts.
The most impressive thing you'll be able to do with the graphics engine is smoothly zoom in and out. I found myself doing this over and over in amazement at how good the game looked.
All Aboard!Graphics aside, the meat of the game is its gameplay and Railroad Tycoon 3 doesn't disappoint. While the goals in the game remain the same, PopTop has overhauled some of the more important mechanics.
For those who have never played Railroad Tycoon, here's some of the basics. You start a railroad company that has limited funds. Your job is to make money by connecting towns and cities to each other. Lay down tracks from City A to City B, build the stations, buy a train, assign it its cargo, and off it goes to make some cash. Of course this is not monopoly; there are computer opponents that will also race to grab primo routes and cut in on your profits. The competition is, of course, the main fun factor in this game. You fight back not only on the tracks but in the stock market if you wish. To make matters more difficult, you'll also have to deal with a dynamic economy that has boom and depression cycles.
Although laying tracks is pretty intuitive, there are some factors you'll have to deal with in order to make your operation a successful and efficient one. For example, you'll have to decide whether to go around a mountain or build an expensive tunnel through it? Its these kind of interesting decisions that will either spell doom or bloom for your company early on. Of course, if you're in a cash cow position, building a mile long bridge over water is no problem. The hard part, of course, is becoming a cash cow.
Complexity is also another key element that makes Railroad Tycoon 3 such a cool game. In addition to laying single tracks, you can opt for double tracks, electric tracks, and more. There is, however, an undo button so if you make a mistake laying down expensive track or change you mind, you can hit the undo button.
Deciding where to go and what to haul is another important factor of the game. In the game you'll spend time deciding routes based on what cargo you want to haul. In addition to hauling people, you'll also make some bread hauling 35 different types of cargo such as food, oil, and wheat. There are seven different colored overlays that indicate supply and demand for your cargo as well as populations for each town or city. Let's say Chicago pays a premium for livestock. You can set am express train from Nashville to deliver just that type of cargo to Chicago.
Railroad Tycoon 3 isn't limited to who can haul stuff the fastest. New in RRT 3 is a passenger appeal rating for each train. In previous RT games, you could easily win by just building the largest and fastest train network. In RRT 3 you'll be able to steal away business from a competitor by using, for example, a luxury train. You will also be able to buy out key trade stations from your rivals' routes and allows your competitors to drop off valuable goods at your stations.
The game ships with a campaign mode with 16 missions and a number of stand-alone scenarios. There's also a sandbox mode for those of you who don't want to deal with the financial aspects of the game.
Next Stop, The StoreOne of the things that will keep you going in Railroad Tycoon 3 is that over time, everything is in a constant mode of change. Cities grow bigger as your railroad station gets bigger. Newer and faster trains become available over time. Your rivals try different tactics to out profit you.
Railroad Tycoon 3 is visually impressive and PopTop has done a fantastic job in minimizing the micromanagement that made the first two games a bit on the high end of the learning curve scale.
MacSoft will be shipping Railroad Tycoon 3 next week. If you're into strategy games, or just like building stuff, be sure to check this game out.