Railroad Corporation Review18 Nov 2019 0
Railroad Corporation Review
Released 18 Nov 2019
While we haven’t drowned in business tycoon games over the last several years, there is a particular offshoot of the genre which hasn't seen a whole lot of examples coming up – the railroad tycoon game. Lots of business builders and resource management games, but not a lot of focus on the business of running a railroad specifically. If that is what you wanted, I have some bad news for you…
Railroad Corporation from Corbie Games and distributed by Iceberg Interactive, publishers of Starport Gemini 2 and Starship Corporation, haven't knocked it out of the park, instead providing a very visually attractive entry into the world of railroad management games which can't really decide whether it wants to be part of that genre or not. This indecision is a problem for the player, not because it introduces complexity but because it causes the designers to cut what are normally thought of as important features for 'railway management games' in order to spread their development attention to less successful portions of the design.
Tricky Tracks Ahead
I'm not a newcomer to management games in general or railroad games in specific, all the way back to Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon. Innovations in modeling minimum turn radius, gradient handling, and the other intricacies of putting down flexible track were added on to games along the way, letting you have greater control over how your trains could run.
There is one part of this game which doesn't hold up in the face of what we have become used to in the railroad tycoon genre: the lack of flexibility when it comes to track placement. This is the biggest complaint you'll find in online discussions about Railroad Corporation which has been in Early Access for a year.
In short, "track placement is fiddly." Sometimes it won't attach to the section you want it to for reasons which are unclear, sometimes it will try to make an extremely and ridiculously broad turn, even though with fiddly placement you can get it to simply move a little bit and make a much smaller radius turn. The one thing it allows you to juggle a little bit is increasing the height or depth of a given piece of track but don't think that it's going to let you actually build a trestle or a tunnel under track that you already have in place or help you to do such -- because it won't.
There is a tutorial, and that's all you can say about it. It shows you the very basics of laying down tracks. It tells you to connect up to stations and doesn't talk about signaling, sidings, or anything else (mainly because it doesn't handle them well when it does at all), it gets you to move cargo from a place that's selling it to a place that's buying it, and along the way you buy a train – then it just steps out of the room, handing over control to the first mission in the campaign without even a supportive nod.
The campaign is just a set of missions which instruct you to:
- Move cargo of specific types to specific places.
- Build up your HQ building with an R&D department in order to research and improve trains.
- An HR department to hire people that give you minor percentage cost breaks or research bonuses.
- And a Law department to grease palms in order to get tax breaks and incentives or increase taxes on goods your opponents are selling.
Not that you will see an opponent in the first four rather sprawling chapters of the campaign.
The campaign is what the developers intend you to spend most of your time with, at least for many, many hours, because while there is a sandbox mode in which you play a given map, build your own empire, and compete with some AI-driven opponents, those maps are not unlocked until you beat the associated campaign chapter. Getting to play in a very traditional railroad tycoon-style way is gated behind actually playing all the way through the campaign to get all of the maps.
This is as big a problem as a railroad tycoon game with bad track laying mechanics. It's as if they want to get in the way of you playing the game.
The missions themselves are bland – though they do force you forward through gameplay. It does throw you into the deep end and force you to flail around to try and figure out what it wants you to do. There is a mission to run clothing to Atlanta with the suggestion that you should buy the material suppliers to make clothes along the way. What it doesn’t tell you is that if you buy the intermediate product manufacturer, while you no longer have to spend money to buy the output product, you also don’t make money from putting the product in. This is a big deal when it comes to relatively high ticket cargoes that you use to pay for your network. Suddenly you will find yourself working at a deficit, even though you’ve just purchased most of the supply chain.
You are forced to learn what things need to be left alone and what things need to be scooped up by repeated failure of the whole mission, requiring you to start over from your last save or autosave. Since the mistakes that you made that led to your current bankruptcy might have happened 15 minutes before and the game only keeps one autosave which gets written quarterly during the year, restarting the entire chapter is going to happen, unless you save manually religiously.
You will need to keep a steady supply of trains running which have very little to do with your given mission in order to keep money coming in for gameplay. Here’s where you discover the game really wants to be an empire builder that just happens to include rail as the only means of transportation. Towns and cities have resources they wish to buy and as you sell them those resources, their population increases. At certain population breakpoints, they stop desiring lower tier resources and prefer more processed ones, adding empty plots in the city which you can purchase and build production sites or warehouses to hold goods. Having a town suddenly stop wanting wheat when you have a train full of the stuff on the way is marginally annoying but that they don't give you any warning that it's about to happen is very annoying.
Shipping from a farm without an attached village for long enough will cause one to spring up, giving you the option of sending them basic resources for good money or selling them that resource directly if you happen to own the farm. It won't let you automatically sell goods that you produce in town to that town. This is a common theme with the design of Railroad Corporation; things that are trivially able to be automated must be manually clicked.
When you finish a campaign chapter, don't expect to be told that you've succeeded and then turned loose on the map to play around for a while. You get the heads up you're done and the last mission has been completed, and then you go on to spend some experience points on your character which allows you to slightly change some costs or gains in your next play.
Bad track mechanics. Bad tutorial. Inconsistent mission design. A character advancement system that feels tacked on. I haven't said anything about the HR and Law departments, because neither of them make enough contribution to gameplay to be other than a distraction. They really represent a money sink that take forever to be worth it.
There is multiplayer! You only have a selection of four different maps, and at least two of the game modes at the time of this review had no options that you could actually select to customize the experience, while the other two at least allow you to set the initial money in the bank, how much debt you can accrue before you're out of the game, and the color of your buildings. Unless a lot of work goes into the multiplayer design after release, I don't think it's going to be a compelling experience – not least because it’s one versus one and doesn't allow for even multiple AI to compete against human players.
The best thing about Railroad Corporation is that it is very attractive. The graphics are not stunning but certainly a lot better than we've seen in some of the retro styled business tycoon games of late. Is that enough to save the game? Not really, no.
- It’s very pretty
- Interesting choices of places to set the maps
- Terrible track management and interface
- Mission system is repetitive and uninteresting
- Maps are static, not procedurally generated
- Both character XP and Law system seem tacked on and ineffective