At times it feels like Railroad Corporation isn’t sure what kind of game it is and it leaves some things to be desired, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.
Tycoon games are very hit and miss, and there weren’t many in the last few years, even less of those that focus on railroad management. Railroad Corporation was a breath of fresh air and allowed me to try a genre that I usually don’t play. The problem is, Railroad Corporation isn’t sure what genre it wants to be.
Something Railroad Corporation really has going for it are the graphics. The game looks amazing, especially compared to some other tycoon games out there.
There is a bit of everything, but there isn’t much depth in any of it. The focus is split straight down the line between running your company and managing the many trains. Because of this, both sides of gameplay feel like something is missing—like you don’t have enough control.
Starting from train management, the track placement can be a bit finicky, due to things snapping in places where you don’t want them usually. But if you pay a bit more attention and are precise, you get used to it quickly.
You actually have to plan a bit when it comes to the railway network, a straight line from A to B sometimes isn’t the best solution, be it due to logistics or budget restraints. It might be smarter to build a track around the mountain instead of flattening terrain and building tunnels. Instead of building a bridge and going straight across the river, you should try to calculate the difference in cost and time if you avoid the river.
As it is commonly known, trains aren’t very good at turning, so a 90-degree turn is a no-no. To really optimize everything, you have to hit the sweet spot where the trail doesn’t have to slow down to turn, but still gets to where it needs to be without taking the scenic route across the country. The finicky placement is most noticeable when trying to get the perfect angle, because at times it will try to build ridiculously wide turns. Still, such attention to detail is what makes management games really fun and enjoyable, you feel in control and your choices are what makes the difference between running a successful corporation and filing for bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, one thing will very easily ruin all that effort you put into building a perfect railway network, pathing. Waiting for a train to pass its route for another to go the other way takes time, so you will obviously build double tracks with switches. Problem solved, right? Nope. The pathing system messes up from time to time and trains will still just sit there and wait for the track they already decided they want to clear up.
Another thing that’s a bit disappointing to see is that there is no thought in station placement. You just build the track into a town and a station is dropped right in. On one side, that makes gameplay smoother, on the other, it takes away some depth that comes with planning the station’s location and direction.
Now we can get to running your company. This part mostly consists of you upgrading trains, stations, and lobbying. Upgrading stations lets them fix and refuel trains faster and at a smaller cost. But it’s a no brainer really, just upgrade everything when you have the money for it, there are no downsides. Instead of maybe being able to push engines further for greater speeds, but increasing the risk of breakdowns and fuel consumption, you just upgrade this things separately with no drawbacks.
The same goes for upgrading stations and having your lawyers work getting you tax breaks or increasing taxes on what your opponent is selling. The entire upgrade system lacks depth.
Buying industries that produce the things you transport is a very nice addition. You could buy a cattle farm that produces the leather used by the clothing industry. But you have to keep in mind that even though you’re now being payed for the leather that the cattle farm creates you’re also not being paid for transporting it now.
When it comes to gamemodes, you have the campaign—which is really the focus—freeplay, challenge maps, and multiplayer.
The campaign has 12 missions that you get dropped into and then it’s up to you to make it work. Railroad Corporation doesn’t hold your hand. In some of them and you will actually have a tough time, but there’s also a few that are disappointingly easy.
The missions have you moving specific cargo from one point to another and building up your corporation through the R&D department upgrading the trains, HR hiring people that save some money, and the previously mentioned lawyers who are there to keep things smooth for you with the government while making life hell for your opponent.
Also, you’ll need to keep a bunch of routes that don’t really have anything to do with your mission just so you have enough funds to do the actual mission. So instead of just focusing on one objective, you’ll have to keep in mind everything that’s happening.
Your opponent is an AI that more of a hassle than a difficult experience. You’ll find that the AI is incredibly annoying when you decide to buy an industry and you get into a bidding war with it. Now you’re either going to pay a lot more or just give up.
When it comes to the freeplay, you get two maps that can be static or randomized, one small, the other middle-sized. The rest are campaign maps that are unlocked by finishing the missions.
The multiplayer...it’s there. The maps are even more limited and customization options are near nonexistent. That’s pretty much it.
In the end, Railroad Tycoon is a game that isn’t sure what it wants to be. The gameplay is for the most part fun, even if it’s limited at times. The graphics are great. The modes are ok-ish.
We can’t end this without mentioning the developers. Railroad Tycoon is made by a small team, so it’s a bit easier to understand some of the shortcomings. The huge plus is that even though it’s a small team, they are dedicated and working hard on the game. Realistically, most of the problems can be fixed with a couple of updates. The core game is really good, but a lack of direction hinders it.
I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who is a hardcore fan of tycoon games, but if you’re more of a casual player I think you’d enjoy Railroad Corporation. Taking everything into account, I’d call it a 6/10, but based on the potential it has and a dedicated team working on it, I’m ready to bump it up to 7/10.