by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
One of my favourite games growing up was Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon. Building a train empire across either America, Europe or England during different eras was heaps of fun. Part of this fun was building, whilst the other was from watching money roll in. Railroad Corporation follows a similar pattern of building trains and stations and managing finances, whilst adding a host of other features that make becoming a train baron more challenging.
Railroad Corporation begins with a tutorial mission and this does a decent job of showing you the basics of laying a track from one station to another, building new trains, setting their cargo and upgrading your stations. From there however, the game generally leaves you to work out other mechanics on your own. Campaign missions add them gradually in the form of Mission goals but with limited knowledge on how to complete its goals, I often missed the time bonus because I was spending time and money working out how to complete them without any direction. There were also issues earlier on with train carriage configurations. After deciding which goods to load at each station, I'd move onto something else, only to find that my trains weren’t switching the carriages I had just assigned. This was partly my fault, as the game requires you to click the Apply button to make any changes to the configuration.
Controls are intuitive though, especially if you've previously played any train simulators or other business simulators for that matter. As mentioned previously, its tutorial does a good job of showing you the controls for the basic game mechanics. Laying tracks is a simple process of selecting the start and end points, though if you're selecting two stations as your points (The game doesn’t mention that you can select points in between and build connections in steps), it gives two or three possible options depending on which side of the station is connected and can produce some strange track configurations, often not where you'd like your tracks to go. After completing the track, you'll then confirm the placement but unfortunately, this confirmation doesn't happen when you want to remove a track. On one occasion early in the game, I accidentally deleted the one track I had and didn't have enough money to rebuild one, forcing me to restart.
Throughout Railroad Corporation you'll be introduced to several features that add complexity. You can upgrade your stations so that they can repair, maintain your network of trains or provide cheaper and quicker fuelling. You can also create a HR department which can hire specialty staff with numerous skills that'll help your network. Some staff can provide cheaper track purchases, whilst others can speed up carriage loading at stations. These staff have a monthly fee, so there are elements of cost benefit analysis required to see if they’re value for money. It's no use hiring someone who makes trains cheaper to purchase if you purchased all necessary trains a couple of months ago. Many of their skills can become obsolete depending on what skills you select for your avatar after completing each mission.
Once you've built an R&D department in each mission, you can conduct research into several areas that'll improve your trains, allowing them to run faster, pull more weight or cost less to repair. You have 10 scientists that can be spread across however many research projects you want. The more scientists that work on a project, the quicker it will be completed. The great thing about the R&D is that any effort placed into research flows from one campaign scenario to the next, so if you have excess cash nearing the end of a mission, it pays to use it on researching as much as possible before you finish that mission. Completing all research projects for one train unlocks the option to research the next available train too, becoming an important aspect of the game. Each campaign mission has several goals to complete but also has extended goals for completing these missions within a certain time. Each goal is allocated XP points that can be spent on improving your avatar’s expertise on railway knowledge. The quicker you complete these mission goals, the more points you gain. Many of the skills are comparable to those of the staff you can hire, which reduces the need to hire anyone.
From an audio standpoint, Railroad Corporation comes complete with the usual bells and whistles, quite literally. Trains announce their departure with a toot and then chug along with the sound of steam emanating from the locomotives. The terrain they journey through is quite picturesque, filled with lush forests, shimmering streams and white capped mountains. Towns aren’t really bustling but as you service them, their size increases. The different trains and their features are easily discernible from each other as they speed over tracks when zoomed in, but as you zoom out this becomes less so and throughout the game, there is a looping cycle of railroad tunes to relax to as time passes.
Although I had some issues with the track laying nuances in Railroad Corporation, I was able to overlook them and enjoy the game for what it is – a relaxing train simulation in the mould of the classic Railroad Tycoon. Small map campaigns allow for reasonably short playthroughs, each with different goals that help gamers gradually familiarise themselves with its gameplay mechanics. The lack of proper instructions or guidance for anything outside the basic mechanics was disappointing but having said that, there is a sense of achievement when your little railroad empire is running like clockwork though, knowing that you’ve done so with minimal assistance.
Relaxing atmosphere, nice visuals
Track laying mechanics, steep learning curve