Because the road network in this part of England is an absolute joke and roadworks on the Roman routes that make up the main arteries are an almost constant fixture (and last for months/years at a time), I have been forced to use rail travel for the past five weeks. I initially thought it would be quite good to get the train to and from work because it would give me time I would have otherwise spent stuck in a traffic jam to do other stuff - read a book, play on my Vita or listen to/edit podcasts.
|The original Reservoir Dogs.|
I should start this little mini review/essay with an admission - I'm actually fairly au fait with the history of the railways in the UK, being well versed in the exploits and endeavours of great engineers such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel and George Stephenson. I know what standard and narrow gauge tracks are, and I know potted histories of the Beeching Axe, the London Underground, and the origins of the Channel Tunnel. I also spend more time than is healthy reading up on oddities such as Parliamentary 'ghost' trains, and disused lines and stations. That's not to say I'm a train nerd or anything - I know sweet FA about types and models of train engines or anything like that. It's the actual history of the infrastructure that interests me for some reason. And for these reasons alone, you'd probably think a game like Railroad Tycoon II would be right up my district line (street). Well, yes and no.
But let us have a look at the good stuff contained here before laying in to this oft overlooked train 'em up. First off, it looks pretty damn good. The whole game world is modelled in 3D and features undulating hills, polygonal buildings, trees and little trains that chug along billowing smoke (in the early part of the game anyway - more on this later). The whole view can be spun around and zoomed in and out to your heart's content and this makes Tycoon somewhat easy on the eye. Likewise, the blues style music is very fitting for the frontier-era time frame that the game begins in, and the menus are all suitably 'industrial revolution' in aesthetic - indeed, the various FMVs and sound effects really do instill an air of the 1800s when you fire up the game.
|Ploughing through the New Forest...at 12 mph.|
Unfortunately, Railroad Tycoon does have quite a few negative points that mar the experience somewhat. The control system is pretty horrendous and the way the cursor moves around the screen like it's been dipped in treacle will frustrate, and yet the lack of accuracy with which you can lay tracks will see you placing stuff in the wrong place almost constantly. Which doesn't sound like too much of a pain in the arse...until you realise that to correct any errors means bulldozing whatever you built, and that costs precious capital. Sometimes just placing a station, Command & Conquer style in the vicinity of a local town, will leave you wanting to throw the controller out the window because it simple will not line up on the invisible grid where you want it too. View controls too are stupidly confusing - you have to hold down the left trigger which activates the view menu, but the 'spin' and 'zoom' controls aren't mapped to the analogue stick as you'd expect - no, they're on the X, Y, A and B buttons. Unwieldy in the extreme, especially if one of your lines in another part of the map is in trouble and you have to get to it quickly.
|Somewhere down south.|
|Sega City. Twinned with Hell.|
Railroad Tycoon 2 for the Dreamcast, then. A totally capable simulation but a few platforms short of being something I can wholeheartedly recommend to any but the staunchest completist collector.