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Railroad Pioneer PC CD-ROM Official Website

Published by JoWooD Productions
Distributed by Bigben Interactive
Developed by
Kritzelkratz
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

Playing a railroad simulation is not one of first thoughts that pop into your head when you want to spend a bit of time playing a PC game, yet they’ve been around, and popular for quite a while now. Since Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon originally appeared on PC in 1990, the Tycoon series (now up to a third incarnation) has been a popular one among simulation/strategy fans. Now developer Kritzelkratz and publisher JoWooD are trying to enter this market with their new game, Railroad Pioneer.

The basic premise of Railroad Pioneer is similar to that of the Tycoon games. You start off as a small Railroad company, and have to expand to become the biggest in the country, while putting your competitors out of business, or beating them to objectives. The differences between Pioneer, and the Tycoon games, is how these objectives are carried out.

Pioneer offers players three different modes of gameplay - Campaign, Single Player, and Multi-player. The Campaign mode is the main part of the game, and detailed below. Single Player mode gives you 5 different missions to complete, over various parts of the US, while Multi-player is just that, allowing you to play against 4 other players, via LAN or the Internet.

The core of the gameplay is the Campaign mode. In this mode, you have to become the first business to build a trans-continental railroad. Starting in the North-East in New York, you have 10 missions to finish before you end up in the West Coast in California. Each mission will present you with various challenges, from delivering cargo to towns in desperate need of it, or just linking your railroad to a specific city. There may also be additional sub-missions available within each mission. Completing this will affect your overall score, and may also make your current mission easier as you unearth resources. You are also timed on each mission, and have to complete each by a certain time, which adds a bit more pressure to each mission.

Speaking of the gameplay, Pioneer offers some new features which haven’t been seen in a Railroad game before. Firstly, there is a fog-of-war, which will be very familiar to RTS players. This means that players are limited to only laying tracks in areas they can actually see. This in turns links to a 2nd new feature, which are explorers. Explorers are used as the name suggests, to explore the areas blacked out by the fog-of-war. There are several different types of explorers, all of which will be required depending on the dangers they encounter. Types include Trappers, Balloonist, Indians, Gun-Slinger and more. You’ll need to make sure you have the right explorers in your party, as meeting a certain danger will require a certain explorer. For example, if you meet a Bear, you’ll be wanting a trapper in your party to deal with it. Failure to have the right explorers will mean death for your party. And you’ll need multiple parties to explore as much as the landscape as you can, to uncover all the resources and locations you need to complete the missions.

The real point to the game though, is still laying down tracks and connecting towns. This is done quite easily, by clicking on the end of an open bit of track, and then just clicking where you’d like it to end. If the end is to be connected to a town or resource, a station will also appear (which will need to be built separately). The track then takes a certain amount of time to be built (indicated in a dialogue box), as well as a certain amount of cash. When the tracks are all in place, you can then start moving trains between locations, transferring resources between cities and starting to earn some money. Obviously the key to making money is to take resources from high supply areas, to high demand areas. There are certain types of carriages that can be built (10 different types), each of which can only be used to transfer certain resources. This brings up a challenge again, as you need to make sure you have the right carriages in place to transfer the right resources, and this will change throughout the mission. For example, one early mission will require you to send a certain amount of lumber to a city which is in need of it. However, when you start up, you can only find wood, which needs to be transferred to a city which can turn the wood into lumber. However, the carriage used for wood cannot be used for lumber, so you’ll need to set up different trains to transfer the cargo around.

Setting up the train routes themselves is easy as well. Clicking on the start destination will let you select the train and carriage(s), cargo, and then destination. You can then click on the destination, and repeat from there. When the route is complete (preferably a complete circuit, so you finish where you started), you can turn it into a continuous route, so you don’t need to keep doing it yourself, freeing up the time to complete other objectives.

The game has an in-game tutorial which guides you through the first mission, letting you know what you should be doing. This does throw up a problem for our hearing-impaired players. The tutorial does have an on-screen description, but it is nowhere near as in-depth as the voice-over. Not only that, but even with the voiceover, you’re often left guessing what a lot of the buttons do. This isn’t ideal at all for a simulation, as everything should be quite clear. It does all become clear with a little bit of trial and error, but really, everything should be clear from the start. They could have improved this immensely by just including a pop-up dialogue box if you left your mouse over a button, but unfortunately this feature was left out.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned so far are the graphics. The game uses an isometric 3D interface that will be familiar to anyone that has played a strategy game before. This allows you to zoom in nicely to see the trains moving along, and zoom right out to get a much wider overview of the playing area. The graphics are very nice, quite detailed even close up, and the game moves along with no slowdown in sight (though I would expect nothing less in a game like this). The one graphical problem I do feel needs a mention though, is that all the cities look the same, with only the city’s name above it distinguishing it from the others.

So, after all this, would I recommend the game? Yes, certainly, if you’re a strategy game fan. I don’t feel the game grabs you by the throat enough if you’re a non-strategy fan, but for fans of the genre, there is enough to keep you occupied, with lots of subtle touches that I’ve not gone into here (for fear of making the review novel-like in it’s size).

Overall Game Rating: 7.7/10
A nice alternative to the Tycoon series of games, which offers enough differences to make it a worthwhile purchase for Tycoon fans, and strategy fans alike.

Deaf Gamers comments:
The tutorial is a bit harder to understand without the voiceover, but the onscreen instructions, as well as a little bit of trial and error, makes the game perfectly playable for deaf gamers.

Reviewed by David Pitchforth