(Employing Others To Be) Working On The Railroad, All the Live Long Day…
Railroad Tycoon 3 was a gleaming steam train rolling into the placid station of my life, its loud whistle heralding countless hours that would be spent on its brilliant blend of rolling stock micromanagement and cutthroat corporate macromanagement. Since that train left the station, after having played and replayed its various levels to maximum completion, I’ve been left with a choo-choo-less void in my life that’s never been fully filled. However, Railroad Corporation, with its markedly similar name and focus, seems determined to get the great Railway-baron-em-up back on track again.
AmTraking Across America Like Joe Biden
Like RT3, Railroad Corporation’s central focus is on a “campaign” of missions. Unlike RT3 which spanned the entire history of rail travel (resulting in jarring occasions where you’d hear twangy bluegrass music while building bullet trains in Japan) the focus is entirely on 19th century America, where railroads were in the process of criss-crossing the land. You get a persistent character throughout the campaign who you can level up and gain perks with experience gained from completing in-mission objectives. These perks range from being able to build cheaper tracks to getting more profit from delivering mail. The complexities of loading trains up with a mix of cargo to deliver to various stations can seem a little daunting at first, but the gentle curve of the opening missions do a good job at introducing you to the fundaments.
Laying tracks is the first stop to constructing your Railroad Empire. It requires precision and forward planning to have an effective rail network. Sometimes the most straightforward route to a destination may not be the best as it may require building expensive tunnels through mountains, bridges over rivers or leveling uneven terrain. Likewise, your beautiful steam engines can’t exactly turn on a dime as they speed through the American frontiers and heartlands, so it behooves you to create more gently curving junctions so the trains will not have to slow down too much. Fortunately, your trains won’t set out on a line where there is another train speeding towards it from the opposite direction, and will lag behind other trains moving to the same place. It’s up to you to build double tracks in the right places to allow trains to move around each other without getting stuck at the station for days waiting for an empty line. I really enjoyed the complexity and subtleties of creating the most optimally functional rail network.
The Train Is Entering The Station
Stations can be upgraded to repair/refuel trains faster and more cheaply, or even service two or three engines at the same time, which is especially handy for big cities where many trains will be stopping off.
Expanding corporate HQ will allow you to trade commodities you need (or need to get rid of), hire staff to provide you with various statistical bonuses in exchange for a monthly wage or research new trains and improvements for them. Of course, the trains themselves are the star of the show and countless historical engines are included.
Though I was very pleased with the engines on offer, it was a little unfortunate how the “tech tree” encourages you to only use a few of them. Since each train needs to have each of its upgrades researched individually, I only ended up using two or three different engines.
Buying industries is another method to gain an edge on the competition. Later in the campaign (and in multiplayer) you’ll encounter opposing railroad corporations, who will build their own networks and generally make your life difficult when it comes to making moolah. One way to fatten your profit margin is to purchase various stages in a production line. For example: buying a wheat farm will save you having to purchase the grain, so you’ll make more money when transporting it to a cattle farm; purchase the cattle farm and you’ll save some extra scratch when selling the leather to a clothing factory; buy the clothing factory too and you’ll be raking in every penny of profit from the consumer when shipping them to cosmopolitan cities looking for the finest top hats and bonnets. This kind of maniacally monopolistic maneuvering is a really fun addition to the core shipping gameplay and it gives you the opportunity to really screw over the competition. Sometimes you’ll get into auctions when you and an opponent are trying to buy the same thing. For example, if your rival wants to buy a coal mine, you can outbid him and purchase it for himself, which means he’ll have to pay you for every ton he ships elsewhere. It’s so enjoyably diabolical.
One niggle with industry is that you can’t automate it so well as you’d like. Let’s say you have a furniture factory in a city. You’d think if there was a spare plot of land available it’d be ideal to build a sawmill to feed the lumber produced there directly into making joy-sparking household items. Though it is possible to transfer lumber into the furniture factory, you’ll have to manually click for each unit to make the transfer. It makes setting up a transport/production line this way too much of a hassle since there is no obvious option to automate the process. It’s the lack of seemingly no-brainer quality-of-life features like this that undermine the joy of setting up money-making routes.
A big problem with the campaign is the balancing. It’s a good thing that the campaign provides for a good challenge but at times it can feel nightmarishly, unfairly hard. One level later in the campaign requires you to constantly store up supplies of water and grain to keep a struggling ranch going, but supplies of water spawn in random towns on the map. This leads to it being entirely down to luck whether you can easily transport the required H20 or whether you need to literally mortgage the family farm to build rails to the other side of the map. Likewise, some levels end up far too easy, letting you hoard research and experience while you casually complete objectives at a leisurely pace. It’s an uneven experience, which could have used a bit more testing.
End Of The Line
Railroad Corporation arrives at its destination as a solid successor for the Railroad Tycoon series even if it’s a bumpy ride that is lacking in some amenities. Still, if you hear that whistle blowing and the roar of a coal-driven engine as a siren call for you to make a pile of cash in America’s Gilded age, you definitely need to buy a ticket to play Railroad Corporation.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Iceberg Interactive; Developer: Corby Games, Players: 1-4; Released: November 18th, 2019
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Railroad Corporation provided by the publisher.