IGN Review of Sid Meier's Railroads!
What is it about railroads that's so transfixing? I'm not going to claim to be a train aficionado or that I know any personally, but there's something wonderful about setting up a toy train set on a PC screen. Sid Meier's Railroads! provides the perfect tool for creating these train sets in a safe and fun environment. Players looking for the complex economic cycles of Railroad Tycoon 3 will find this particular game juvenile by comparison. Those without the calculus degree that just want a colorful and entertaining railroad game with a working supply chain should find Railroads! a happy game.
Firaxis created Sid Meier's Railroads! with the thought of putting the fun and creation back into a railroad simulation after the heavily mathematical Railroad Tycoon 3. They did what they set out to do. Economics are definitely an issue here, but complex isn't the right word. Players will mostly have to worry about supply chains and supply and demand. Raw material A goes to City B to be transformed into manufactured goods C which need to be transported to City D. Every delivery makes money so unless your logic is completely screwed up, there's very little chance to abjectly fail in this game.
That's not to say that losing isn't an option. Any competitive match against good AI or human opponents will see a winner. These skirmish modes don't have scenario objectives but do have a challenge involved. A winner is crowned when he or she manages to eliminate another player by purchasing all of that player's stock. Each player starts with some stock owned but will have to purchase the rest of their own. At the same time, anyone can purchase a rival's stock at any time. Once all of the available stock is purchased, it's a race to see who can generate the most cash in order to purchase all the remaining stock owned by other players in one lump sum. It actually creates a pretty fun atmosphere and can generate some real competitiveness.
Anyone looking for less of a challenge can simply set the difficulty lower or choose not to add any rivals at the beginning of the game or scenario. However, scenarios are definitely more fun and more of a challenge with rivals. They'll create havoc by laying track in the world as well at which point you will have to construct overpasses or longer tracks to get to scenario objective locations. Scenario objectives are pretty simple and really mange to push players towards becoming more skilled to compete against better AI or human opponents.
Figuring out the best routes for delivery is a different matter and where Railroads! real strength sits. Planning out a perfect railway system is near impossible, especially with competition in the area, but it's definitely fun to try. Natural resources and towns are scattered about the map (resources are random and city placement and terrain can also be random) so planning out routes is new every time. The trick is in planning the shortest route between stops while taking into account inclines and turns both of which will slow a train down.
The great part about all of this is that Firaxis has made laying track down easy and fun so that anybody jumping into the game for the first time will be able to do it without having to think too much about it. Track always begins at each player's starting city. From there, it's just a matter of hitting the lay track button and then adding on to the end of the existing track, dragging in the direction the track needs to go, and dropping it off. The game will automatically adjust the terrain, create bridges and tunnels, and adjust the price depending on what structures or inclines are along the way. The game will let players know when a piece of track is impossible to lay because of the lack of funds or because it's too steep. It makes creating a railway system quick and fun.
The challenge comes from creating routes for tracks and trains that intersect with each other on a regular basis. Only one train can be on one piece of track at the same time so plenty of switches and double track lines will need to be created along the way to make sure trains can pass each other and don't get held up.
Any trains that get held up are just going to cost more money. Each engine out on the playing field has an upgrade cost. Every so often, that cost will be deducted from the bank. Costs aren't incredibly high, but making sure your trains are functioning efficiently will create a healthy and happy pocketbook. It's also wise for players to keep their engines updated. The longer they're out on the track, the higher the upkeep. New engines cost more upkeep from the beginning but deliver goods more efficiently as well.
At the high end of economic diversity are the industries that can be auctioned and/or created outright. Each city will have a number of industry plots depending on its size. Some cities will begin with industries already functioning allowing players to deliver raw materials right off the bat. At some point, players will want to begin purchasing these industries as well. The issue is that they cost a lot and only make money when raw materials are delivered to them. Therefore, buying a refinery in a town surrounded by ore deposits will probably be worth the time. Industries don't have upkeep so after the initial cost of purchase they'll be pure profit collecting a percentage of the value of goods delivered to that city depending on the size of the industry. The size of the industry is governed by how many raw materials that industry uses are delivered. Players will be able to take special advantage of wood deliveries by purchasing both a furniture factory and paper mill. They'll both provide the bonus cash for one delivery making wood a hot commodity for those looking to invest in industry.
All of this is definitely fun to do online though anyone looking to play with others should be prepared to sit down for a long match. Unfortunately, the length of these matches seems to drive many players to quit early leaving their empires in the hands of less capable computer opponents. Some players are also having problems with crashes which means they could drop out whether they want to or not. Either way, it would have been nice to have the option for shorter games by making stock prices cost half the amount they normally do or something like that.
There are actually a number of bugs in the game, most of them visual, but the worst is definitely the crash to desktop. Unfortunately, it's not an uncommon occurrence. Thankfully there's an autosave feature that will keep your single player games up to date so if there is a crash, progress won't be lost. Multiplayer can be more of a problem. There's no Civilization IV feature where players can drop out and jump back into a game here.
Thankfully, most of the other visual bugs are an uncommon occurrence and won't be continuous because the game is wonderful to look at. The world is colorful and bright and trains and industries bring a lot of life to what many might consider a pretty dull idea at first look. Once there are bustling cities and trains going every which way, the map becomes a very lively place indeed. Sadly all of this comes at a price. The game is a serious system hog and framerates can drop dramatically on lower end computers. Unless you have a top of the line machine with an SLI set-up, we'd recommend lowering the resolution and dropping anti-aliasing.
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