Railroad Tycoon II Preview

Not just a port of the PC or the PlayStation version, the Dreamcast edition of Railroad Tycoon II looks as if it will actually give the PC version a serious run for its money.

Pop Top Software's Railroad Tycoon II for the PC is the quintessential game for train lovers. When it came out in 1998, the title breathed new life into the "god game" genre, combining great SimCity-style gameplay with the thrill of building and observing your own railroad. Later, Take 2 Interactive let console gamers climb aboard by releasing a PlayStation version of the game. This home version of Railroad Tycoon II was met with criticism because of its low resolution and poor save feature. But in general, it captured some of the spirit of the original. Now, Gathering of Developers and Tremor Entertainment are working on a version for the Dreamcast. With the improvements Tremor is adding, the DC version looks as if it will actually give the PC version a serious run for its money. And yes, you can save the game at any point.

The most striking difference in the Dreamcast version of Railroad Tycoon II is that Tremor is bringing the game into a fully 3D environment. According to the developers, the new graphics engine won't mean a compromise in detail. For example, you'll be able to zoom in on subtleties like individual cattle standing in stockyards. While the two-dimensional PC version was limited to an isometric view of the map, the DC version will let you rotate and move the camera wherever you please. One thing that gamers liked so much about the original was the downtime - after you've traded stocks, allocated funds, and built new rails - you could just relax and watch the trains go by and your empire flourish The added 3D element should make watching the trains even more of a treat. But will the addition of 3D change the gameplay?

"It gives the player more freedom when navigating around the map, but we were careful not to change the fundamental gameplay," says senior designer Jeffrey Vaughn. "The biggest changes have been made in the interface, to make the game easy to play on the Dreamcast." Tremor has streamlined the menu system to make it easily navigable with both the Dreamcast controller and the upcoming Dreamcast mouse.

Like the PC's Railroad Tycoon II, the Dreamcast version will boast some sixty different train engines and thirty or so different cargo types. Industries ranging from dairy farms to nuclear power plants can be built up around your stations to boost your income. You can also boost your income by investing in stocks. If you're a trading fanatic, this part of the game might seem like another game in itself. As an added bonus, the game will include scenarios from the expansion pack, Railroad Tycoon II: The Second Century. In the Battle of Britain scenario, you'll have to deal with German troops bombing your track. To solve the problem, you'll need to route your trains around the destroyed sections to get arms and ammunition to your port cities. The game's timeline begins in 1804 spans well past 2000, so historic events occasionally come into play. Finally, Tremor says that it is including hidden maps, a few of which are for the Dreamcast only.

To take advantage of the Dreamcast's Internet capability, Tremor has included multiplayer options to let up to four players play over the Internet. Tremor is hoping to break new ground in Dreamcast Internet play with Railroad Tycoon II. If the PC version's Internet following is any indication, this might be the game to bring the Dreamcast online. Because of the maps' relatively large file size, Tremor wasn't able to include a map editor like the one in the PC version. But the 30 or so multiplayer scenarios should give 'Net players something to keep them busy for a while.

If you would rather not worry about money management and stock trading, Railroad Tycoon II features a mode where you can turn off the economic side of the game and just build up a large network of trains and tracks for fun. This mode is tailored to those who simply want to build the model train set of their dreams without being responsible for accumulating profits.

Railroad Tycoon II looks like it's shaping up to be one of the best strategy games for a home system. If you used to own Lionel model trains, or if you ever wanted to build your own miniature railroad track, this is about as close as you'll get to that experience without a trip to the hobby store. Train hobbyists and gamers waiting for a great strategy game to come out on the Dreamcast should definitely check this one out.

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