Railroad Tycoon 2
The era of the locomotive is perhaps one of the fascinating as man straddled steam power by lobbing it in a tube with wheels underneath and driving it up and down the country to great effect. Those long trips by horse and cart and the earliest of motor vehicles were shrunk into mere hours which had a big impact on the economy, with mail and goods transported quicker over large distances. The industrial age defined society as we know it and made countries into global powerhouses with an infrastructure built on steam engines, but more importantly it made the men behind these companies into multi millionaires. There’s money to be made in haulage, and Railroad Tycoon 2 is built right around this aspect.
Separated by scenarios, players can expect to dabble in many different countries some decades apart, starting with the very early engines through to legends like the Mallard and up to today’s glistening electric-powered Goliath’s. No matter the needs of the map and your lust for a fully functioning network, the main aim is to always be worth more than your competitors. From the same team that gave us Tropico, you yourself have a personal profile and a bank account, but instead of slyly taking a cut from profits you instead have a salary decided by the board of directors at your company. The better your performance, the bigger your rise at the end of the year, and the swines will even cut your pay to reflect their despair with your progress. This money can then be used to play the stock market, buying shares in your own business or your competitors and enjoying the benefits that come with a split at the end of the year.
Many people may be unaware that the tycoon genre actually had some depth before the slurry of budget titles tarnished the brand, but if Prison Tycoon is ideally at your level of gaming then Railroad Tycoon 2 can be scaled back somewhat to the simplest of options to where it’s practically impossible to lose. The more advanced gameplay however is already geared towards failure and often enough you’ll need to keep zipping around screens to keep the company striding forward. This encounters several problems with the interface as some screens can only be viewed by clicking through several others, and if like me you purchased through Steam then there’s no immediate manual to hand, leading to several frustrated hours. It’s also not the easiest game to find what each settlement demands and supplies. The more recent yet inferior Sid Meier’s Railroads gives a clear indication of what to expect before plopping down a station in a town whereas Railroad Tycoon 2 requires some investigative clicking around several menus to uncover the same information.
Perhaps the most frustrating trait of your AI competitors is that often enough they don’t actually compete with you. Whilst you’re out in the fields laying down miles upon miles of track and supplying companies and places of residence with goods, the computer will link together a handful of towns and then sit back to play the stock market. Many times I found most of my company already bought up by my nearest and dearest whilst their company paled in comparison to mine, and as much as I know this is a game about amassing wealth it takes the piss that you end up battling to do the least work to profit from. What doesn’t help is you have to go through three menus to keep an eye on the stocks in your company - there’s no visual representation or a news ticker notifying you of these underhanded tactics and often enough you’ll only ever find out towards the end of the game. There are ways to limit the computers chances of winning such as buying back stock, but that requires a lot of company resources that simply aren’t available until later on in the game.
For something well over a decade old, Railroad Tycoon 2 is expectedly showing its age visually although strategy fans that haven’t stumbled over this little gem yet won’t be put off. There’s instances of track not lining up properly and properties have jaggy edges, the scenery leaves a lot to be desired and the trains themselves lack any sort of detail. The many menu screens to root around in have gameplay indicators in the background that aren’t immediately obvious until you’ve read the non existent manual, but there are some nice touches such as the desolate area around your station being filled with other sources of income like post offices, saloons and hotels. Sound effects are the usual chug-chuggings of engines and toots of horns as well as some upbeat if repetitive music playing in the background, although all these can be turned off.
Railroad Tycoon 2 is perhaps the best example of the tycoon genre before it all went crazy with prisons, cruise ships and shopping malls featuring in budget cash-ins. There’s online play if you can find someone else to play with (a bit tricky this long on from release) and an expansion pack that adds new flavour campaigns and scenarios with which to contend with should you exhaust the original options. It’s ten years old, but like a fine wine it has aged incredibly well.
Eight out of ten