|Publisher: MacSoft Genre: Simulation
|Min OS X: 10.2.8 RAM: 256 MB Hard Disk: 1200 MB Graphics: 32 MB VRAM
Editing HistoryWith a total of over forty scenarios provided with the game, each of which is likely to take at least a couple of hours to play, there's plenty of interest in the officially supplied maps. However, the huge bonus is that there's also a very comprehensive editor built into the game. A flavor of this is provided in Sandbox mode (which lets you fiddle with the terrain while you build your track), but that's as nothing next to the comprehensive inbuilt editor, which allows you to create new scenarios from scratch and edit all aspects of the game.
There's a handy bonus utility, too, which is separate from the main game. You'll usually want to start off with a piece of ground which already has mountains and rivers defined, rather than the entirely flat plane that the editor gives you, and the supplied MapBuilder utility allows you to do this by displaying a map of Earth and letting you select a rectangular chunk from it. This can then be exported as a height-map and loaded into the editor.
The editing tools are comprehensive and powerful, and of course there are already numerous user-created maps just waiting to be downloaded from the Web. In other words, the game is completely open-ended. It's great that the editing tools have made it across to the Mac, as it's all too common for such components to be omitted from conversions.
The Whole CabooseIt's nice to see a game with a proper manual, and Railroad Tycoon 3 certainly falls into this category. The box it comes in is of moderate but not excessive size, and houses, apart from the two CDs, a 36-page Beginners' Guide, a 72-page Reference Guide and an attractive color poster which opens out to show the 58 locomotives in the game, with all their attributes on one side and an industry summary on the other. These are all interesting and useful items, and it's good to have them in high-quality printed form rather than as PDFs.
The manuals both feature fascinating little boxes at the foot of nearly every page, giving an interesting nugget of railroad lore. My only gripe relates to a certain carelessness. In both the manual and the game itself, there are various spelling mistakes and examples of bad grammar, which is particularly annoying in a product which has clearly, in other ways, been created so carefully. An obvious factual error that caught my eye is the claim that "the Middleton Railroad in Leeds [established 1758] has the distinction of being the oldest railway in the world." That's true, but the name is wrong! It's called the Middleton Railway; it still operates, and it's only about half an hour's drive from where I live! Such errors ought to have been picked up during proofreading. These comments may seem pedantic, but as Railroad Tycoon 3 actually has a great deal of educational potential, it really ought to have been checked very carefully.
My other small gripe is the game's focus on Americana. The game does have a strong American flavor, and whilst there's nothing wrong with that, given its origins and primary audience, I'd have preferred greater acknowledgment of other parts of the world.
Conclusion: A Magic RailroadI actually enjoyed Railroad Tycoon 3 far more than I expected to! That isn't to say that I wasn't expecting to like it, but I did worry that it might be rather dry, or too concerned with the minutiae of either train management or financial planning.
Not so; whilst you can manage the contents of your trains and pore over balance sheets to your heart's content if you wish, you're rarely obliged to do more than a little of either activity. There's a great deal of depth to the game, and if you really plumb it you'll get more from the experience of playing, but a lot of the "boring stuff" can actually be left to the game itself. I found it far quicker and easier to get into the game than I expected, and I also found it very enjoyable to play. Having said that, and despite having played through several of the campaign scenarios, I feel that I've only really scratched the surface, and it'll be a long time before I've mastered it.
Aside from its sheer interest and good design as a game, it's also worth pointing out that Railroad Tycoon has a good deal of educational value. Although it should have loads of appeal to anyone who likes trains (child or adult), it could actually be used as a useful educational tool. There's a lot of interesting information about railways and how they work (using real, historical locomotives). There's a lot about the basic financial functioning of a company, with bonds, stocks and shares, and you can even play the stock market to some extent in the game. There's plenty of genuine history, too, and a similar amount of real-world geography (at least in outline). Parents who are wanting "a suitable game" for their kids need look no further than this, because it has a great many very positive elements and no negative ones that I can find. It's a game that's genuinely educational (which is fun), rather than an educational game (which would probably be boring).
If you're not interested in the educational aspects, forget the previous paragraph! (I only wrote it because I felt I ought to.) The bottom line is that this game is tremendous fun. It's entertaining, interesting, engrossing, attractive and open-ended. Buy it.
A final tip: The PopTop Web site has a nice desktop wallpaper image for Railroad Tycoon 3: go to www.poptop.com, click on Railroad Tycoon 3 in the menu at the left, and find it in the Images section. Also available is a cute little Flash-based mini-game.
Pros• Much like Railroad Tycoon II, but refined and improved
• Excellent new graphics engine
• Good performance and fast load times, even on slower systems
• A preference lets you disable the intro movie
• Engrossing and open-ended gameplay
• Full set of editing tools supplied
• Authentic-looking locomotives
• Not too much micromanagement necessary
• Educational: learn about history, geography, business affairs and trains
• Lots of variety and great fun
Cons• Lack of support for certain native screen resolutions
• Music is totally inappropriate for all but a few scenarios
• Voiceovers are a bit irritating
• Track-laying can be fiddly at times
• The amount of information presented can be slightly overwhelming
• Various typos appear in the game and manual
• Computer AI isn't very impressive
• Occasional minor graphical glitches and shortcomings
• The way in which trains pass through each other can look really messy