I must admit, upon reading "This game is about trains for people who love trains" on the official Railroad Tycoon 2 website, I was a tad worried that I was about to witness digital trainspotting!
Visions of grown men in Anoraks sprung to mind, their notepads flapping in the wind, pens poised, huddled together in delirium as another train whooshes past Bethnal Green station. Yes, dear readers, I did start to worry!
I needn't have fretted. Though RT2 could be deemed as directed at train enthusiasts, it is just as easy to get into for any strategy fan. RT2 is a build and manage type of game. Think of Sim City, you get the idea; build from nothing into a thriving empire.
In RT2 you are put in charge of a railroad empire in the 1800's. You can choose to be any one of the famous industry tycoons from around that time. Typically you begin each map with just one station, a little bit of track, and some spare money. You are given a briefing before each scenario, which can be joining two towns together, or maybe supplying a certain amount of food to a place in a given time frame.
One of the games frustrating aspects is getting part of a task done, having taken ages to do it, only for the time limit to expire! Certainly in the early levels where one is green to it all, a little room for forgiveness would have been nice.
How you complete these maps is further varied by bronze, silver and gold medals. To get a bronze medal you simply have to carry out the basic requirements of the mission. To get the silver you would have to do all that, plus make a certain amount of money, for example. The Gold medal might take all this, and reduce the time you have to do it all in.
Building It Up
With limited resources, you have to be frugal with your money. The temptation to simply slap segments of rail-track down any old how is hard to resist. It pays to make sure you read the mission briefing thoroughly beforehand, so you know exactly when and where you have got to lay track to.
As you place each segment, the game will inform you how much it will cost to lay, and the track's gradient. If the gradient is above five then your train is going to have a steep hill climb to negotiate! In early maps the terrain isn't too varied, and it is easy to lay a zero gradient track, but on later levels things get a lot more difficult. Flat is good, steep isn't. You may even need to bulldoze certain areas to clear yourself a path.
I found the track placement to be a very frustrating experience, as it is extremely picky as to where you have your mouse cursor. The direction you wanted your track to go can be changed irritatingly by the slightest of mouse movements. If I had hair, it would have been torn out by now!
The key to financial success is to ensure you are catering for each station's needs. Clicking on any of your stations will bring up its own lists of supply and demand. If the station needs passengers, then check to see if the next station along is supplying. Similarly, if one has a plethora of mail to offload somewhere, find a station that is demanding it.
For every new station you build, you need to provide certain services also. The main pre-requisites I found were to build a water tower and a sanding tower at the same time as the station, as steam engines need lots of sand and water to operate. Also advisable is to have a Roundhouse situated at every other station, so that trains can be maintained and repaired.
As your station draws in more passengers and/or more goods intake, you will also be able to add additional buildings. These can include small or large restaurants, warehouses, saloon bars, and a whole host of other buildings. Be careful of overkill, as using too much money on buildings may well put your finances in the red, and either leave you bankrupt or without any money for improvements. Much like real life there!
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are really quite nice in RT2. The game can be viewed from a N.S.E.W. perspective, and is displayed in an isometric fashion. The maps can be zoomed in and out, and are extremely well presented, looking like proper geographical prints.
The actual trains and surroundings are also very neatly done. It's frightening how impressed one can be as you set your first train running! It's like watching a little Hornby world in action - little plumes of smoke bilge from the train's funnel, seaside port cranes swivel, loggers can be seen carrying their timber from one building to the next, and lots of other subtle animations besides.
One word of warning though - you may find that the lack of variation in landscape from one scenario to the next is a tad laborious.
The video clips range from the really good to the completely bad. Unfortunately this is where the graphics side of things is let down. I firmly believe if you are going to provide video footage, it should at least be displayed to you in the best resolution your PC can muster.
The initial introductory video is perhaps the worst. Watching an already ropy piece of black and white footage in 640x480 is not exactly good viewing. The pre-scenario videos are generally of excellent quality though.
Where the game really has personality is in the sound department. Each scenario is preceded by the voice of an old man with an American Southern dust bowl accent, who informs you of the task ahead. If you fail to begin the mission, he will pipe up with a sarcastic comment or two to gee you up! His knack for insulting you after a failed scenario is hilarious at times too.
The in-game sounds are quite sparse, but used to good effect. The bleating of lambs can be heard in farm fields, the sawing in the woodsheds, and of course the chug of the steam engines themselves.
The game comes with an appropriate CD audio track of slide guitar style bluegrass. Personally I love this type of music, but I think a lot of people don't! You will be glad to hear it can be disabled.
The Second Century
Not only do you get the full RT2 with the Gold Edition, but you also get the expansion pack, "The Second Century", which takes you into the 20th century .. and beyond.
The scenarios included with the pack cover 1939 to 1950 (including war orientated missions), 1950 to 2005 (resolve modern day transporting headaches), and 2005 to 2030, where the majority of land is flooded from the melting ice caps, and it is your task as an expert railroad tycoon to devise a workable rail network!
The difficulty increase in the pack is evident right from the first mission, where you are tasked with linking a choice of three sets of two cities together. The only problem with this is that you have a huge great mountain range to negotiate! If this is your first outing into RT2, then I suggest you complete the tutorial provided before attempting even the easiest of levels. This pack is aimed at the expert Tycoon, and is not a good starting point for beginners I assure you!
There are new buildings to cater for more modern times, like distilleries and army barracks, and of course there are new trains too, including the Eurostar! In all there are over twenty new scenarios, which should keep even the most ardent of RT2 fans at their PC for a few hours.
I've not been this relaxed playing a game in ages! It's funny how sitting with beer in hand, watching my little trains going about their business, can be so relaxing and rewarding. Managing to escape certain bankruptcy and then pulling in stupid amounts of money is extremely satisfying.
I did find the picky nature of the track placement to be infuriating at times, often threatening to upset my calm. The unforgiving nature of some of the scenarios is also annoying, especially if you have just spent the last hour getting to first base only for your time limit to expire on you. The inconsistency in video quality, and the repetition of in-game graphics from scenario to scenario may disappoint some as well.
On the whole though, "Railroad Tycoon 2 Gold Edition" is a fun gaming experience which will appeal to most strategy fans, not just train fanatics. With the existing maps you have a challenge on your hands, but the extra maps in the expansion pack will ensure the game doesn't gather dust on the shelf just yet.
Notepads at the ready! See you at Bethnal Green station. :) Release Date - available now
Download The Demo
Try before you buy! Check out the Railroad Tycoon II demo (45Mb).