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Review: Railroad Tycoon 3
Developer: PopTop Software, Publisher: Take 2 Games / Gathering of Developers
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 14 November 2003


For review purposes, we start the Britain scenario in Easy mode!  Here's our briefing, or at least the first page of it. Starting zoomed out we can get a good view of the map Zooming in... Zooming in... More ground details becoming apparent

Railroad Tycoon 3 is the third in the series of very well known railway management games. Railroad Tycoon 1 revolutionised the management game genre and at the same time let us all play with big train sets, Railroad Tycoon 2 polished things up modernising the graphics but didn't change the underlying business model very much and if anything its handling of the railways themselves was reduced - no tunnels or bridges being a major drawback. Railroad Tycoon has always been more 'Tycoon' than 'Railroad, trains pull in to stations having taken possibly half a month to get from A to B but at the same time they earn tens of thousands of dollars per journey. There were no big multi-platform stations, no signalling - there was very little about the real railways present other than the tracks, trains and the stations.

So what does Railroad Tycoon 3 promise us? As I see it, there are two main improvements over previous offerings. The first and most obvious is the radical new graphics engine which allows us to see the Railroad Tycoon world in glorious 3D rather than the 2D of the two previous versions. The second is a fairly sizeable upgrade to the business model allowing for more possibilities than was present previously.

The dotted line in the foreground is a border, in some scenarios you have to purchase the right to build in certain territories. Zoomed in right down we can see trees, buildings, reflections in the water and so forth Swinging the camera around, we get a rather nice view from the docks at Liverpool Switching to Track Laying mode, the first thing we are going to do is lay some track between Manchester and Liverpool.  Connecting to ports is always a good idea, it boosts the production at factories.

Before we move on, let's focus on the dull bits first!

The product is shipped in a thicker than usual DVD box which contains 2 CD's on one side - though they seem to be mounted in such a way that they shouldn't be able to scratch each other. Also contained in the box is a 100 page manual and a double sided poster that has a complete supply and demand map for the industries on one side and a detailed list of all the locomotives on the other. I want to give full credit for the documentation at this point, printed manuals are a big plus and the poster of industry supply and demand is enormously helpful - we'll get on to how that works later.

When you slot the disc in you are presented with a menu allowing you to install the game, a map builder application or a completely free extra game called Loco Commotion - I'll put some comments about that at the end of the review!

When the game is installed and runs you will be greeted with a CG rendered movie which runs for a while and gives you a whirlwind introduction, not to Railroad Tycoon, but how a young boy is interested in the railways and grows up to become one of these tycoons. I feel that I must re-iterate the criticisms raised about this movie by Vern Moorhouse - showing someone putting a coin on the tracks is irresponsible, showing them running around and/or hiding under wagons is irresponsible, in fact there's so much that's irresponsible about this movie it's a real shame because it's production quality is fantastic. Folks, please be very careful on the railways, they are not toys and they are extremely dangerous places to be.

Having laid some track, put in some stations etc, now we choose a train (not much to pick from at this point) and set up a route. One of our trains departs, we're now linked with Birmingham as well (the spur off to the left).  On the train list on the bottom right you can see an overview of your trains (which can be expanded to fill the height of the screen), where they are (the green/red line), any incidents like breaking down or running out of water, how much their load is worth (the stack of coins) and so forth. Using the tracking camera we follow a train to Birmingham Our first train arrived at Liverpool according to the message in the top left, the first train usually is a fairly bumper load so don't expect that to continue :)

From the front menu we can choose to run a Campaign (a sequence of scenarios effectively), a single scenario or create a 'sandbox'. Let's look at the simplest mode first - Sandbox. This is like your virtual train set, there's no money coming in or going out, everything is free so you can go ahead and go mad, do whatever you like. You can even reshape the terrain, add more tree's down and so forth. This held my interest for all of about 5 minutes I have to say - as I have said before, Railroad Tycoon has always been lots of Tycoon and a bit of Railroad, Sandbox takes the Tycoon bit out so all you're left with is a bit of Railroad...

The included scenarios are quite varied in task and some have events during the course that can force you to alter how you do things, for example one scenario has you make a decision as to whether to give your railway up for the duration of a war or whether you will agree to make sure certain shipments happen - failing to do so means a whopping great fine but scenarios only last a limited time (25 or 30 years) so do you really want to give up your railway for even 1 of them?

Time periods in the game start from around 1830 and run until you run out of game time - although the game only presents new loco's up to about 2020 or thereabouts. There is a very large variety of loco's in the stock list from all over US and Europe, from our own country you will find the Mallard, HST 125 and the Deltic. American loco's include the BigBoy, GG1 and F3A/B. There is also a funky looking 'Euro Train' which looks remarkably like a Eurostar but with a big yellow aerofoil wrapped around it, it looks quite bizarre :) Once you get to the Euro Train and beyond, it's all fictional. The only thing I'd say here is that while the locomotives have been modelled very well, their colour schemes are nothing short of bizarre. The BigBoy has an awful lot of bright yellow on it and the Deltic is in Red - thank heaven that Mallard is present and correct in her Blue. I posed this question to Take Two some months ago after seeing a first screenshot and their response was that it was down to copyright on logos and so forth, I guess I can understand that - but it's a shame they had to come up with such whacky colour schemes (The Deltic isn't so bad but a bright yellow Big Boy??).

Here we are focused on a lumber mill at Birmingham, we can see its profit and loss report and a 'buy' button will allow us to purchase the business (funds permitting of course) if we desire.  We will come back here later, in the mean time, we have a railway to build. You can't see the mouse pointer in this shot, but it was hovering over one of the coin stacks, the status message at the bottom then changes to show you in dollars what the load is worth, useful for planning if you can quickly get an idea for how much money is on the rails and will be coming in soon... Taking a step back for a moment we can observe our railway, it needs work. Here we've expanded the railway a little bit more, including a new bridge.  However the real humour of this screenshot I am sure the veterans from the forums will be able to spot in a heartbeat :) :)

One limitation that has been present since the first and is still present is that multiple units are not supported, and locomotives that are double ended such as the TGV, Eurostar (sorry, Euro Train) and HST125 are still only treated as single loco's - having a HST hurtling down a line with it only on one end looks very odd - even if you discount the fact that it's hauling American freight wagons too... :)

One of the major improvements to Railroad Tycoon 3 is the graphics engine. Where we have previously been stuck in either a top down 2D (RRT1) or an isometric 3D view using 2D sprites (RRT2), Railroad Tycoon 3 now sports a full 3D graphics engine that takes advantage of lots of modern graphics features. You'll see a very lovely water effect much like the one in the latest Trainz installment, you'll see pantograph sparkle, they've also used particle technology for steam smoke and for smoke coming out of building chimneys which looks very nice indeed. By holding down the right mouse button you can spin around and the camera slopes a little as it moves which actually looks quite cool and less 'fixed' than it might have otherwise. Keep holding the right mouse button down and move the mouse forwards and backwards and you can zoom right out to a global map view or right in to see the leaves on the trees. The graphics engine really looks the part and they've done a fantastic job on it.

Woohoo, stock splits 2 for 1! It's the end of year party, one of the pages in the report shows how you are doing against your goals, a very handy reminder to keep your mind focused on what you are doing. The company overview tells you a few stats such as track mileage, revenue and profit etc, along with whether the board of directors are slapping your salary down or kicking it up... Since bridges are new to Railroad Tycoon 3, having been absent in Railroad Tycoon 2, I thought i'd take a screenshot of one...

What else is new, well now you don't have to micro manage the consists at each station anymore. In previous versions you had to pay close attention to supply and demand at each station to make sure that you weren't wasting weight on the train with empty wagons and that all the loads that could be shipped were. Railroad Tycoon 3 now has an automatic consist manager to take the strain - whatever there is that can move will be moved and the train will adjust appropriately. Of course, if you want to take over and do it yourself then you can switch it off on a per station basis. One of the other very nice new features is that cargo (including passengers) will find a route to its destination automatically - you no longer have to have a rail network that goes from every station to every station, if a passenger or cargo item needs to go from A to B then to C and then to D to get where they need to, then they will. There is also non-rail cargo transport going on, usually this is down the rivers and viewing where this is happening can lead you to see where potentially very profitable rail routes can be dropped down to replace their current very slow means of travel with some thing nice and high speed. Coupled with the automatic consist management you no longer have to worry about how cargo moves around your network - you just have to make sure that all the producers and consumers are connected.

Of course there are now bridges and tunnels, expensive but they can solve a problem for you quickly and keep trains able to run at a good speed.

This dark shot shows a loco filling up with water. This is a very sad train, note on the bottom there is a rain drop with the red slash, that means you're out of water.  Looking at the three gauges you can see coal isn't doing bad, water is completely out and sand isn't doing bad.  I guess I forgot to put a water tank somewhere...  Trains will continue on even without water or coal, but at a vastly reduced speed, their risk of breaking down goes through the roof and the red bar which marks the overall health of the loco (less on the bar is good) starts going up rapidly... We need to decide where to expand to next, so let's take this warehouse and find out what it needs.  Goods and Clothes.  Railroad Tycoon 3 can tell us where they are supplied from... Looking in to the supply and demand mode, we can see that this warehouse has a big demand for goods and the only real supply comes from Manchester - which we're already connected to, so let's look at clothes.

Track laying has been vastly improved from previous versions, there's no hexagonal system anymore so track can be laid at any angle you like where ever you like - it's only when it comes to tight curves, points and obstacles that you have to start working your way around a little more carefully. It will let you lay track over some utterly bizarre gradients, which looks really silly when you have your camera set to follow a train and it goes from horizontal to a 150 degree climb instantly - however as I've said before, this game isn't about the railroad, it's about the tycoon. I would however have preferred it if you the game specified vertical angle maximums as well as the horizontal angle maximums so that you either had to take an alternate route or you had some ability to flatten the terrain out and perhaps create a valley or build a support for your line.

The game provides for a priority system that allows you to flag trains as either stopped, low priority, normal or high priority. One thing that hasn't changed about Railroad Tycoon is that when two trains meet on a single stretch of track, one of them will stop and go semi transparent, the other train will proceed through it and then it once gone, the one that stopped will become normal and then carry on with its journey. The priority system allows you to specify which one should yield in this instance. I did try to use a short double track section and see if the engine would be smart enough to wait on that and use it as a passing loop, but it didn't - I guess I wasn't too surprised :)

Looking at clothes we can see there is a supply in Oxford and London.  That pretty much makes the decision, it's dead easy to get to Oxford and we know there will be a freight demand for that route.  Also note that you can see little wagons all over even where I don't have rails.  This is showing you existing non-rail routes for freight, you will see it going along rivers and over the countryside - if there's an area that's travelled a lot then you know it's well worth putting some rails down! Our new line in to Oxford. London is another good place to expand to.  Those stars near city names tell you how big it is, the more the better.  Here's another bridge shot, this time going over the Thames. The track sticks religiously to the ground, it would have been nicer if it levelled things out just a little bit to try and get the gradients a little less silly (and this is a very tame example)

In previous versions of Railroad Tycoon it was possible to extend your stations by adding restaurants, communications systems and so forth to try and improve various stats such as how long things could be held for, an extra few percent on passenger or mail transport income and so forth. This is now done by adding a set of external buildings such as a Tavern, Hotel, Restaurant and so forth. Each one has optimal places to put it - Taverns help people prepare for their long journey, Hotels are places to stop during a journey and so forth. You can even create your own industries if you feel that the area doesn't support enough of one thing or another, create your own and boost the supply of some material for example.

A last couple of points about the 'railroad' bit before we move on to looking at the 'tycoon' bit. In previous versions of Railroad Tycoon, if memory serves, when you had a section of track in a 'Y' formation, let's say stations A and B are top left and right respectively, and they meet somewhere and then head on a single piece of track to station C at the bottom, in order for a train to go from A to B you had to run it through C so it would turn around. This is no longer true, you can schedule it from A to B and the train will go to the joint and simply look bizarre as it turns back on itself :) Electrification is possible and a good selection of electric locomotives are provided. Finally, sounds are on all the loco's but it's just one steam set, one diesel set and one electric set - so your mallard has a nice US whistle for example.

Waiting to place our station in London - not quite enough cash yet :) End of year report, this time we can see that we're the only company in operation at this time and not doing too bad. Crossing the Thames at night, the nice thing about night time is that all the extra lighting effects switch on including the light on the front of the loco. End of year report again, and i'm the board of directors favourite person! :)

Ok on to the Tycoon part of the game...

You start each scenario with an amount of money and a set of three goals - Bronze will be an easy one to reach, Silver will be tricky and Gold will be a total nightmare to achieve. The general flow of a scenario tends to be the same, you start with not enough money and build a small network, you then gradually grow it as money comes in or as you get impatient and issue bonds to get a loan. If you plan well and get a new train running fairly frequently you will soon have a pretty good cash flow coming in and things start to get easier. Your goals will include linking cities together, achieving revenue targets, achieving industry revenue targets, meeting minimum speed requirements on certain cargos and achieving personal net worth targets. Each medal will have one or more and may add new ones, for example, one scenario had a Bronze medal for linking two cities, silver if I linked a third and achieved certain personal wealth and gold if I achieved a lot more personal wealth and linked a 4th city.

We have now expanded in to Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich. It's the London Brighton Express! Tweaking the dividend.. Remember one of your goals is to get a certain level of net worth! Possibly hard to see, but here we have expanded across all of the south coast of the UK.

So how can you achieve your goals?

Linking cities is straight forward enough - just put track between them and stations at either end, or at least that's the over simplified view - generally the cities have obstacles between them and might be clear across different sides of the map meaning you've got a lot of work to do building the railway over to the other cities.

Achieving revenue targets, again, simple enough - just be profitable and have lots of trains running so that you are making enough money.

Industry revenue targets - that's an interesting wrinkle.. Suddenly you're not just having to be concerned about your railway, you have to actually buy one or more industries and capitalise on their profits (or cry at their losses of course). This tends to give you a new enthusiasm to check their supply and demand requirements so that you make sure you are supplying your industry with all it needs and shipping out everything that it produces. You'll probably also find yourself wanting to buy the entire vertical chain :)

A new loco type has been invented! Putting in alternate routes is a good idea - rather than making your network effectively one big long line, if you can provide alternate routes then passengers and freight can find quicker ways to their destination.  This is important - if it takes a passenger too long they won't travel again for a while so you aren't maximising your passenger revenue!  Here we have linked Oxford and Portsmouth, plus put the London-Ipswich-Norwich line in. Here's one of the new locos that we upgraded to Having built a lot of rail network, it's time to look at other opportunities for revenue so here we are buying a Lumber Mill.

Personal Net worth is attained through your salary and through dividend payments from your shares. You can own shares in your own railway or even any of the other railways. You can fiddle things a bit with your own railway, once you get later on in the game when you are not needing to spend much and you are earning a fortune, you can turn up the dividend payout to line your pockets and buy more shares in your railway - winding up your personal net worth. Of course, don't take my word for it.. I've yet to win a gold with this strategy but it gives me silvers every time so far :)

Conclusion

Railroad Tycoon has never been about accurate depiction of railways, I am not sure that's possible in such a 'small' package given that it tries to cover such a wide time span let alone the many nations that it deals with. Instead, it's primary focus is a management game with a railway focus. It's not about setting down accurate signalling (because you can't), it's not about accurate railway operations, it's about running services between various points and making sure that supply lines are open so that you can make a profit.

Here we are zoomed in on the Lumber Mill we just bought.  A little icon of your company logo appears (the arrow just means it's what i'm looking at).  You can of course sell the business, or you can upgrade it - it costs quite a bit of money but means that you can boost your production levels. End of year report and once again I'm the boards favourite person. Here you can see a textile mill has been purchased, it was already upgraded (as shown) so we are benefiting from its increased outputs. End of year report, it's always the personal net worth that I don't do so well on :)

If you are looking for a realistic railway simulation you won't find anything even close here as you have probably already surmised.

As a management game with a railway theme, I personally found it to be immensely enjoyable however - I've enjoyed testing this for the review very much indeed, more so than I did playing Railroad Tycoon 2. They have not over complicated things, if you know the series then you can easily move in to this one and if you don't then it's not going to be a huge mountain to climb to figure it out at all.

The manual is very good and the supplied poster with the industry supply and demand chart is fantastic, I've consulted it many times to try and improve profits :)

A4 Mallard, let's hope nobody notices the mirrored texture on the cab... oops.  Otherwise, she looks rather nice. A European electric loco The Deltic in red :) HST 125, as I said in the review, it's not used double ended as in the prototype and it carries whatever any other loco would, which looks bizarre.

The new 3D engine looks very swish although I wish they'd done something about those gradients, they just look plain odd. I also noticed that wheels on loco's and wagons don't go around at the right speed, they appear to be moving too slowly - surely something that could have been picked up and fixed very easily.

I came in to this review having been a massive fan of Railroad Tycoon 1, skipping Railroad Tycoon 2 until 3 was announced and then I got hold of the Platinum edition as a refresher to find out where the series was at ready for 3 coming out. I damn near got addicted to Railroad Tycoon 2, some times i'm almost glad that time pressures from elsewhere prevent that sort of thing happening :)

Is Railroad Tycoon 3 all it could have been? Absolutely not, you can still very much see Railroad Tycoon 1 there but in a new outfit - but is that a bad thing? It means it is instantly identifiable to current fans and most fans of games like this probably aren't rail enthusiasts which means they don't want to know about signalling and so forth. I know several Train Sim Widows who have turned to the Railroad Tycoon series, it's a fun game that's no more difficult to get in to than any management sim - the only annoying bit i'm sure is when the husband looks over the shoulder and comments... "A deltic?, in red?, pulling freight? tsk tsk", to which the only response can be "a what? doing what? eh? oh shut up and get back to what you were doing" :)

The X88, a futuristic (and very fast, 300mph) electric loco. Here we have spanned a bridge across the English Channel (the game does do tunnels, but only through hills). The Eurostar... uhm, no, i mean Euro Train. American DD40X, plenty of muscle included in the box :)

Finally, a closing command about the music. It'll hit with some people and miss wildly with others :) It's the same kind of music that was in Railroad Tycoon 2, old style Americana. It's very well put together but if it's not your cup of tea you'll be reaching for the sound-off switch :) As for me, I've been playing Railroad Tycoon 3 so much that i've got the tunes stuck in my head now, argh! :)

Final Score:

85%

A European Diesel loco The American BigBoy 4-8-8-4 in utterly bizarre yellow. BigBoy heads for the Channel Bridge :)

Loco Commotion

Previously released as a full price product I was surprised to see it included as a freebie on Railroad Tycoon 3 - especially as there is not one mention of it anywhere on the box.

LocoCommotion is a puzzle game using trains. You start with some trains in set positions, perhaps some obstacles like boulders on some tracks, tunnels missing, bridges that might only allow a certain number of trains over before they disappear and bits of track missing. You control the switches yourself and you can choose service trains and given them a function (build or repair) and set them moving. In this instance crashing a service train in to a boulder obstacle will destroy the obstacle and the service train - so you can already see you are going to have to think carefully. You also don't have the ability to shunt things around so the loco's are in the order that they start in and that's it - so it's important you carefully consider each move you are going to make.

Running a service train in to a hill builds a tunnel through it, running it in to a bit of missing track replaces the track - both also destroy the train in question.

Running a train over a bridge might reduce its capability to haul more trains, if it hits zero the bridge disappears and you must then use another service train to replace the missing bridge or perhaps repair it back to full strength before it even disappears.

The aim is to repair the track so that one or more 'real' trains can get to their destination(s).

It's an interesting puzzle game with lots of included puzzles including a large selection that will teach you all the different ways things work so that you get a good grounding in the tools at your disposal.

It's a novel freebie item and it will keep you amused, though you might get frustrated at some of the puzzles - I am not sure I'd actually shell out any extra for this however.


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