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Railroad Tycoon 3 PC CD-ROM

Published by Gathering
Developed by PopTop Software
Released: Out Now
Price: £29.99

Few could have predicted that the sequel to Railroad Tycoon would have been just as addictive as the original game. Originally designed by the legendary Sid Meier, the game was a firm favourite of strategy fans and train enthusiasts alike. PopTop surprised everyone though in the late nineties when they released the sequel, Railroad Tycoon 2, because they had managed to retain the same addictive gameplay and in some ways actually take the game forward. The expansion pack for the sequel improved things even further and corrected a few niggles, such as track placement, that some gamers had with Railroad Tycoon 2. Now at long last we have the third in the series.

In case you haven't played a Railroad Tycoon game before a little description is in order. Basically you run a railway company and you have to run it as efficiently as possible. Obviously the scenario you are playing will determine what needs to be done but in short you play in a given location and are concerned with delivering passengers and good to relevant industries. There are various towns and cities on the map that you play and you constantly have to run routes that are profitable. It doesn't stop there though because the game also includes a working economic model. You can buy and sell shares in your company and buy industries if you think it's going to make you more profit and you are always answerable to your shareholders. This is a very basic description of the game and there are many complications and intricacies that have to learned in order to fully appreciate the game. In short then it's an addictive railway building, money making strategy game that once you are familiar with, will keep you busy for months, maybe even years.

The game offers four distinct single player campaigns that cover America, Europe, World and future scenarios. In total there are 28 campaign scenarios to play. You don't have to play them in order either. As with Railroad Tycoon 2 you have the choice of earning a bronze, silver or gold award for each scenario and the requirements for each are very different. There are also plenty of stand-alone scenarios that can be undertaken and these are equally as challenging. There are 3 difficulty levels (4 for the stand-alone scenarios) to both accommodate beginners and experts alike. If you want to take it easy though you can play in Sandbox mode where there no limits on what you can do. Multiplayer games, identical in nature to the single player games, can be played over a LAN or the Internet and you'll be pleased to know that chat is via text.

Fans of the series will not need me to tell them that the big difference between Railroad Tycoon 3 and it's prequels is that now we have a full 3D game engine (which we'll talk more about later on). Other key additions include the ability to build tunnels and bridges, the ability to build your own industries (and upgrade existing ones too) more buildings, longer trains (which can now be 8 coaches long) and generally a greater ease of use. The interface has been streamlined somewhat to make things simpler and can even be removed completely to give you that full screen experience. Track laying is now very easy and is just a case of click and drag. Your consists can operate automatically and there is no need to specify exactly what a train consist will contain. The game includes an editor that is both wonderful and easy to use. I'm usually terrible with such things but even I was creating my own maps in no time at all. The manual does give full information on how to use the editor should you need any help. Essentially then Railroad Tycoon 3 is more accessible than RailRoad Tycoon 2 and yet it doesn't feel like it's been dumbed down at all.

3D strategy games have been about for years now but instead of simply rushing a basic 3D Railroad Tycoon game into the shops, PopTop have taken their time and crafted a superb 3D engine that quite simply has to be the best ever used in a strategy game. Most 3D strategy games have camera issues that simply can't be resolved. PopTop give you several camera options that allow you to lock the camera to behave in a certain way. It can take a small amount of time to find which mode suits you best but the way you can manipulate the camera is very impressive. The quality of the graphics are excellent. Whether you are amazed by the detail of the water or the impressive zoomed in detail of the locomotives themselves, you have to admit this is a real visual treat. Of course to run the game in high resolutions with full detail and anti-aliasing enabled you are going to need a high specification graphics card but even our decrepit Ti4200 seemed to cope remarkably well at a resolution of 1024x768. In short it's a superb game engine and I hope PopTop do another Tropico with this game engine.

Railroad Tycoon 3, for the most part, is fine for deaf gamers. The tutorials are delivered exclusively in text and they are rather useful for those of you who haven't played a Railroad Tycoon title before as they explain the basic functions of the game. The small cutscenes that are played before a campaign scenario are not subtitled. This is a shame but to be honest it's no great loss as the scenario will start by giving you a briefing that covers the important information. There is also some speech whilst you are choosing which scenario to play and this is not subtitled but the speech is just making polite conversation and offers nothing of importance except to say that you may be getting ahead of yourself if you choose a mission from the latter campaigns before completing the scenarios in the first campaign. All objectives and information, once you have begun a scenario, is shown in text.

I'd also like to give a special mention to the quality of the manual. The game comes with a 100 page manual that explains in jargon free terms how to play the game. Far too often these days a game comes with a poor excuse for a manual but this one is very good indeed and will help beginners no end. The game also comes with a double sided chart that on the one side gives a run down of the industries within the game and explains how they are all linked together. The need to fully understand the relationships between the industries is critical to succeed in the game, especially on higher difficulties so this chart is most welcome. On the other side of the chart all the locomotion details are shown. Once again this is an invaluable source of information as it allows you choose the correct locomotives to suit your current situation. All too often these days we are expected to buy the strategy guides to fully understand a game and it's great to see PopTop and Gathering have gone to the expense of providing all the documentation with the game itself.

It's been a long time coming but PopTop have done fans of the Railroad Tycoon series proud, once again, with Railroad Tycoon 3. Not only has it finally given fans a 3D version of the series but it has improved certain gameplay elements and added enough extras to make it an essential purchase. If you didn't like the first two game then you probably won't like this because PopTop have created a sequel to please fans of the series and that's exactly what a sequel should do especially when that series is as phenomenally popular as the Railroad Tycoon series.

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10
PopTop have really hit the mark here with an impressive upgrade of the series and what has to be the best ever 3D engine used in a strategy game. Fans of the series will simply love it.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Some omissions but none are important.