|If SIMs are your bag, then
pack up and take a ride on the Railroad Tycoon II, the PlayStation offspring of the PC
bestseller. You are the chairman of your own railroad and connecting the world is your
manifest destiny. By linking cities and manipulating supply and demand, you forge an
empire made of steel. But the market is sometimes cruel, so a good head for business is
There are 18 consecutive campaign levels, as well as a scenario setting that lets you tailor your game maps and scenarios, and a sandbox version which allows you to build a dream empire with no financial or industrial constraints. The game has three difficulty settings (which actually make a difference!!), the ability to design a custom setting for the financial and industrial models and revenue modifiers, and a tutorial mode which gets you prepped for gameplay. Even if youre an old hat at simulations, its pretty important to check out the manual on this one. Even then you may still not be prepared to be immediately successful with this game.
The campaign mode requires you to play through its individual scenarios in order, yet allows you to move on even if you fail your objectives. You can come back and tackle them later, but keep in mind that each escalates in difficulty, so sometimes persistence pays off. One negative of the game pops up at this point, as you cant save mid-level. If youve got lots of time this isnt a problem (an obsessive sim-ster will make time, of course), but for those of us with limited playtime, this is a downer.
The cinema screens on this game were excellent and set a great tone for the game. Many of these were black and white film clips, with a smaller number being animated. The maps used during gameplay were well rendered and quasi-three dimensional (achieved mostly through color rather than perspective), and it was easy to distinguish the topographical features of the land. Each of the different types of buildings were unique and easily recognizable as were the train compartments/cars and equipment.
The beginning screens had accompanying music (banjo?), but during actual play only the sound effects were present. I would have liked to have a lilting backdrop to help convey mood and to alleviate some of the heaviness that silence can bring after hours of gaming. It also might have helped to keep things interesting to spectators who are not as wrapped up in the game as the players.
The translation from PC to console was handled fairly well as far as the set-up for the control and navigation menus went. They functioned just as well as pull-down menus, only causing confusion initially while navigating the sub-menus. The icons were fairly recognizable concerning their function, and most of the screen was left for landscape. The two things that I felt didnt really work well for the console was the movement in the main window view and the visual clarity of the text. A satellite map could be used to move quickly from place to place if specific locations were known, but since many times a person needed to discover these, the main window view had to be utilized for the search. I found the movement hard to controlboth jerky and runaway. As for the text, the font and color that was used would have been fine for the PC situation where most people are no more than three feet away from their monitor, but when a television set can be across the room from the comfy control couch, it makes even the keenest eye have to strain.
As with all games of this nature, there is an incredible amount of data to keep track of. Not only do you build railways, you have to keep track of the stock market, community goodwill (just to name a few), and always keep and eye on the bottom line. All SIMs have a pretty high learning curve, but this one takes quite a while to get a handle on. Most others are immediately engaging and allow you to do enough alternative actions that you dont get frustrated by your limitations. They also take pains to make the gameplay more easily understandable for beginners.
Railroad Tycoon II doesnt seem to be thinking about beginning level players in these respects. Perhaps this is because they suspect that the majority of people picking up this title have played the PC version, are experts in the field of simulation, or are railroad fanatics. They may be right, but it seems to me that this is shutting out a broader audience that could enjoy this game. All it would take is a more step-by-step tutorial which would illustrate the most simple elements of the game and give hints on what actions are effective/necessary for a player to reach his or her objectives. They could then scaffold the more difficult elements upon that information. It would create a how-to rather than merely a near replica of the campaign mode. There are some actions a person can take without really knowing what theyre doing (although those actions still have repercussions in the game), but others leave beginning players feeling stymied, ineptand very frustrated. There are plenty of things they could do at these points, but they may have no idea that alternative options exist, let alone how to accomplish them. The only option then is to go play in the sandbox, which is fun for a while, but doesnt really make for a challenging or interactive game.
Although there are some downers about Railroad Tycoon II, there are also some heavy hitters on the positive side. One of this games most amazing strengths is its depth of detail and its adherence to reality. It follows a historical model which affects the stock market, geographic detail and product/equipment availability in regard to the time in which your scenario is taking place. It also factors in sources outside your sphere of influence which would affect you and the economy. With as much information as you learn about history and business in this game, you could probably get away with calling it educational. With all the choices, details, and variations in game play, no scenario will play the same twice. This allows the game an unbelievable longevity.
So how did I come to the three star rating and what the heck does that mean to you, the gamer? Well, if you like SIMs and have lots of patience to learn the ins and outs of this world, this game is for you. Also, if you have a love for history in general and trains in particular, you would love the realism that this game brings home. You are the intrepid tycoon (with everything that entails), taking on the world to form a transportation monopoly. However, if we look at the star rating as how many people in five who played this game would really enjoy it, Id have to say only three out of five. Its too selective in its difficulty level and its learning curve to be easily accessible to the novice, and not all sim-sters would enjoy this specific set-up. Its not really flashy or full of surface excitement. So although this is fairly solid in its construction and translation from the PC, it isnt a game for everyone.