Sid Meier’s Railroads! PC Review

I don’t like trains – they don’t amuse me and I view them as extremely loud vehicles intent on making as much noise as possible hissing and clunking as much as they can. I also never owned a train set as a kid and I did not want one – Scalextric was always the way to go for me. I may have a problem and I am sure that if I ever went to a psychiatrist I think he would trace the problem back to when I was five years old and people thought it would be a great idea to use my first name to come up with the great nickname “Thomas The Tank Engine.” Now after all these years a game about trains is sitting in my disc-drive and for some reason I feel no anger. For once I like something about trains – I am cured – no psychiatrist is going to get my money now!

What stands out when first starting to play Railroads is the how well everything is laid out. Many strategy games have been let down by a poorly laid user interface that need click after click after click to get where you want to go, but thankfully in Railroads everything seems to be within easy reach right from the get go. Instead of offering a fully fledged single player campaign mode Railroads offers a collection of fifteen different scenarios to play through. The scenarios, although fictional all have some historical references in them and take place in many real world locations with Great Britain, France, Germany and many others on show. Each of the scenarios also take place at different times through history starting in the mid 19th century and working its way through to the middle of the 20th. Of course to keep things interesting all the scenarios have a set goal to achieve… one may set you the simple objective of connecting two cities together while others ask you to earn a set amount of money. Once complete the game then gives you a ranking; but rather interestingly the ranking comes from a collection of different people depending on which location your scenario is in.

Playing the game is really easy and more of a relaxing than challenging experience. One point which may annoy some is that the game offers little to no manual adjustments when laying tracks. You just click where you want the track to begin then click where you want it to end and the game moves anything in the way and adds tunnels and other items when needed… I personally like this option as it adds to the relaxing feel of the game. Once each track is laid it lets you move either passengers and freight which begins to let you earn you money – quick delivery means more money and one type moves quicker than the other but you need to keep both types moving between town for your company to start to grow. You can also purchase processing facilities via the cool addition of a bidding war to take full advantage of all of your resources. All in all the game makes the laying of the track really simple but thought is needed to make sure everything goes to plan. The game also has a four player online multiplayer mode which plays just like the single player scenarios but against human opponent instead of battling the computer AI. Once lots of money starts being earned your small towns will begin to get bigger and bigger and once you don’t spent too much, the town should keep growing at a good pace… of course some bad management (particularly overbidding) could lead to you falling into debt.

Visually the game looks superb but even on my relatively high-spec rig (which ran the recent Company of Heroes flawlessly) it had some annoying framerate problems. It seems that even though the game engine is able to produce some nice eye candy Firaxis did not have the time to iron out a few bugs which would probably have made the game run flawlessly. Other than the framerate there are really no other gamebreaking bugs on show other than a few graphical glitches but all in all most of the game looks fine with a nice amount of detail on screen at all times. The maps themselves are of an ok size – they could have been a small but bigger though. As is the norm with most sim/strategy games these days, Railroads lets you zoom in on anything you want to. It is here where you can check out all the work that has gone into the game and every little detail looks great close up. Even watching people board trains up close is interesting for some weird and in no way psychotic reason. Sadly, Audio is not quite as impressive as there is little background music in the game because the tunes only kick in when you are positioned over a town/city. While out in the country you only get to listen to the train noises which in all honesty start to grate after as little as 30 minutes.

While the game does not have huge spectacular moments you will remember weeks after playing and while it is not a game you will have chats with friends about it at work there is no denying Sid Meier’s Railroads! is an weirdly appealing game. The title it most reminded me of was the SI’s Football Manager series as it shares the same engrossing “oh my god it’s 3AM” appeal the could have you awake all night. Alas the biggest problems Railroads has is its release date… even though it is a entertaining game to play, there are far better games already out and coming on PC and consoles in the run up to the Christmas season. Maybe if you are interested in the title you would be best served to wait until the January sales to pick up Railroads to make sure it doesn’t get lost in your Crimbo backlog.

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could!

7.1 out of 10