One day, while I was still a tiny tyke, my dad told me to follow him downstairs to our dank and fairly dreary basement. Confused but curious, I did as asked. As I rounded the corner past our laundry room, there it was, in all its mini-mechanical glory – an absolutely HUGE model train set. The amount of track space alone was mesmerizing, and while I was too young to truly appreciate the amount of work that it must have taken for my father to craft such an amazing toy for his son, I wasn’t too young to be giddy with excitement at the prospect of driving (and crashing) my new model train.
Cue the present day and the inestimable Sid Meier, one of the world’s best game designers and his company Firaxis Games. Firaxis had already revisited such timeless gaming classics as Civilization and Pirates, and they decided to use a fresh brush on their venerable Railroad Tycoon franchise in the form of Sid Meier’s Railroads! for the PC. Results were mostly positive though a wee bit messy in a few places.
For those who have never played the original or ANY train tycoon type of game, the basics are this: you lay track, build stations, and transfer goods between needy cities to make extra scratch that you can then use for further upgrades and to lay more tracks. Along the way various random events can affect the in-game economy or provide side-missions for you, the aspiring railroad mogul, to complete for extra bonuses. Further depth is provided by routine auctions for newly created patents that can help your trains run faster or carry more or even lower the cost of bridge-building.
Both of the preceding Firaxis remakes sport eyeball-peeling graphics that really add some fresh life to those older titles, and Railroads is no exception. Trains chug out realistic puffy smoke, tiny people wander around each train station, clouds meander across the colorful landscape, and the trains themselves are appropriately shiny and well-detailed – plus you can paint them with any kind of color scheme and decals that you’d like. It’s those little graphical details, the kind that designers occasionally overlook, that are really appreciated in a game of this nature.
Sound design isn’t really noteworthy but it’s acceptable. The music is enjoyable and appropriate for each time period, and you’ll find yourself humming Railroads’ jaunty main theme long after you turn off the game.
Curiously, despite all these refinements, the game itself doesn’t feel as complex as it probably should. Once you get a grip on how the whole economic system works – one city needs something that another city has and you deliver it – there’s not a whole lot else going on. Though the built-in scenarios do their best to provide sub-missions like A