My love of trains is boundless. Two of my greatest regrets stem from this fact. Firstly, one of my dreams is to have been around in the days when steam giants like the 6-4-4-6 S1, 4-4-4-4 or the colossal, famous 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” plied the steel arteries of the world. Second, my immigration to Canada as a 6-year-old has removed me from the fantastic railroads of Europe, whose memory still lingers.
Thus, the Railroad Tycoon games have always held a special place in my heart. The first was a classic that I thought could not be surpassed, and it was with great trepidation that I bought the second, only to discover that PopTop got the formula down pat. Thus, imagine my consternation when I heard that they dared mess with the delectable mix of trains, stock markets and tycoon goonery. A new economic model? Custom scenario rules? This new-fangled ‘3D’? Bloody murder fermented in my mind, O my brothers and only friends.
Not to worry
First of all, unlike previous games that suffered a terrible collapse in the transition to 3D, Railroad Tycoon 3 has only benefited from it. The 3D engine allows players to lay track in natural curves, rather than angles of 1/8th or 1/16th of a circle, as was true in the previous games. This also means that it’s possible to wind your way through the valleys among hills, rather than brute-forcing over, or paying for an expensive tunnel. Most importantly, the transition to 3D allows players to get up close to the locomotives and enjoy some fantastic scenery.
The new economic model is a stroke of genius. Its flexibility is mind-boggling, allowing players to simply connect cities to each other, with one train running between any two connections, or creating specific routes for maximum profit. Of course, none of this is new. What is new are alternate modes of transport.
Coal and iron mines tend to be in mountainous areas, far from civilization. Long before trains, these goods had to make their way across the land to the cities. The most expedient route available was water, be it rivers or oceans. However, given enough demand, goods will make their way by land to a city, over short distances. Thus, the need to connect directly to resource production areas is alleviated. Free market economics will decide what gets shipped where on your trains. If a lumber mill really wants its wood but iron and coal are taking up your cars because a steel mill pays more, then the lumber mill is out of luck.
Of course, you’re also presented with the opportunity to own industries. Why not buy the lumber mill for a dirt cheap price, and force your trains to carry logs to the city, in order to make a profit off the mill. Then you can buy a furniture factory and use the supply of lumber to make a further profit. That, however, is not even a beginning to the deviousness you’ll see in multiplayer, especially on the stock market.