Graphically and aurally ground-breaking back in 1998, this game is still difficult, addictive, and a joy to play.
Sid Meier has a lot to answer for when it comes to the countless hours lost playing one of his marvellous “Tycoon” games. However, Railroad Tycoon II is one of the few examples where a company had taken his idea and made one of his games even better.
Having acquired the rights to the original Railroad Tycoon game from MicroProse, Gathering of Developers and PopTop Software went on to develop a then graphically exciting game, but also fine-tuned its economy and industry models to add further levels of complexity.
Now available on Steam, the game has been tinkered with to run smoothly on newer systems, bringing fans of the game back once more to lose days at a time.
In 1998, when the game was first released, the graphics were a big step-up from the first title in the franchise, and were generally pretty stunning. By using a four-point rotatable diametric map, the visuals suddenly had depth and were (almost) 3D. But that’s not to say that any of these graphics were actually necessary; the simulation model and strategy behind the actual gameplay didn’t need any of this. But it made the game really enjoyable to play because it looked so pretty.
Although by today’s standards it’s far from the top end of what’s graphically possible, they still looks pretty decent. Though they’re noticeably old they’re thankfully not distracting, neither do they get in the way of playing the game.
One of the other key points people praised the game for was its soundtrack. A collection of over 50 “railroad” blues tracks, the game broke ground at the time for using high-quality studio recordings, some with vocals, rather than the midi-files which were the standard at the time.
But what’s great about the music is that it really blend into the game very well. You might not notice the music outright, but it adds to the whole atmosphere of a smokey old railroad for which you’re the mogul over.
One of the many high-quality recorded “railroad” blues tracks featured in the game.
Railroad Tycoon II is a complex strategy game, and not just the video game equivalent of a model railway. Not only do you have to connect cities and ferry passengers, you also have to compete against other companies, sometimes even buying them out rather than just out-doing them, and work on creating industrial supply chains.
The campaign mode is great in that it forced you’re to play across all the different gameplay possibilities, from simply creating connections to conquering the stock market. For rail enthusiasts too, there was a wide collect of historically accurate locomotives you could use to run your trains to keep them happy.
The only criticism of the game though is that it’s a little too difficult at times, as the AI can do some wild and unpredictable things in any given play through of a scenario. Even the later stages of the campaign on “Easy Difficulty” can be incredibly challenging to the point of sometimes being impossible to complete earning gold medal level or even at all! Specifically, the advantages that AI competitors are given and how wily the stock market and economy can be, shifting from boom to bust in just a matter of turns without warning, can completely wreck any best laid plans and progress towards your goal all too often.
The fallout from this was either being too determined and noticing that seven hours have passed by without you even realising, or ragequitting what is otherwise a well-thought out strategy game because of a few maddening foibles.
But nonetheless, even by today’s strategy standards this game provides hours of play, and tough challenges that many other newer games don’t quite offer despite trying. It’s still an incredibly addictive title, and if you just happen to also be a trains enthusiast, you’re golden.
Railroad Tycoon II is available to purchase on Steam.