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Sid Meier is considered one of the innovators of computer strategy games. He is responsible for classics such as Pirates, Civilization, Colonization, Alpha Centauri and Railroad Tycoon.
Billed as the sequel to Railroad Tycoon 3, Railroads is the first, since the original, to actually have an input from Sid Meier himself. The now deceased Gathering of Developers, produced Railroad Tycoon 2 and 3, after Microprose bought the name from Sid Meier.
The idea for the game stems from a childhood imagination of building and running your own Railway.
Although steam trains are predominant amonst those available, there are also some diesel and some electric trains also. The models of train available are dependant on the time period in which you are playing. Playing in 1830, you only have one model available, but as the years progress, more become available. Each model of train has a mainenance cost, and as they get older the maintenance cost rises, time to replace. Also, there are some trains which passengers prefer, and others they don't, so there are Passenger models and Freight models, although in practice, I have found that it doesn't really matter too much which you choose.
Track building is a case of clicking on some of your own track and extending to another town, or to an industry. Bridges and tunnels are automatically built if required, and each stretch of track created has a cost. Routing your track to avoid the need for a tunnel could save you money, but a train is slower over hills. You can also lay track alongside your own so that trains can pass one-another easier. This does require you to create switching points along the way to allow trains to use different tracks.
You have to decide what cargo is picked up from what stations, and define a consist for each of your trains. Some towns may not want new residents, so to start they won't demand passengers. Because there is no demand for a particular cargo, then the carriage will be empty, causing the train to be slower without any income for the carriage. Keeping on top of what cargo lies in each of your stations, and what needs to be transported to where is the key to staying in profit.
Across the map there are production entities, eg. a corn farm or oil company, and some of your towns will have industries to process that produce. The resulting cargo can then be transported to other towns that demand it. You can buy or build industries in the towns you are connected to in order that some of that profit comes your way. Industry purchases are made through auctions, where competing Tycoons can place rival bids for the industry.
Every few year or so, a patent will be made available, with an auction for a 10 year exclusivity right. Some are train specific, eg. turbine technology, and some are track specific, eg. steel bridges. Winning an exclusivity over your competitors could mean your success, and there demise.
A good use of colour, and detailed objects (zoom in for full effect) make these a pleasing game to the eye. My only concern is that the game can slow to a crawl if there is too much going on, on screen. Although my machine is showing it's age a little, it still manages to run the latest games quite merrily so I must put this down to poor programming more than anything else.
Atmospheric sound is nice, zoom into a town and you hear the announcer shout "All Aboard" as the train is ready to leave, zoom into the coast and you hear the sound of waves and seagulls. Music is OK, but gets repettitive.
Unfortunately having played Railroad Tycoon 2 and 3, this game doesn't cut the mustard. The game is, in my opinion, very flawed. Trains get stuck for months on end trying to pass another coming toward it. Also, if the track that a train wants to pass down is blocked, then it will take another route, which would be good if it worked, but unfortunately I have had trains go in completely the wrong direction only for it to then have to pass through the station it has just left. Also you may find that a train will pass part way down the track, and then the engine will do a 360 spin on the spot before the whole train then goes down the track in the opposite direction.
Something else that is really infuriating is that in Railroad Tycoon 3, you could connect your track to that of your opponents and pay a usage fee to them if your train needs to use it. This feature is absent from Railroads meaning that you need to build huge viaducts over their track, or lay miles of track to go around theirs. As most of the scenarios sees all of the Tycoons needing to connect to certain towns, there can be a really jumbled mess of track across the map.
Yes the game looks nice. Yes, it is quite easy to get in to. And yes, it has input from a gaming great. But it just has too many flaws to be a good game. I do, however, have an inkling that it could be developed into a really good sequel if they could look back at the earlier games. I can not recommend it to anyone though because it is a big disappointment compared to Railroad Tycoon 3.
Railroad Tycoon returns in all but name as Sid Meier reinvents the series and business sims in general with completely real-time gameplay and surprisingly impressive graphics. As complex as the game may sound what makes it popular with ordinary gamers is that itÆs actually extremely easy to play. Despite the influence you have on cities and factories you only ever actually lay down tracks and stations and the computer handles the rest automatically. It also helps that the graphics are really good for what initially sounds like a dull strategy game.