Railroad Tycoon II gives you the responsibility of running your own railroad and charges you with the task of turning a tiny company into a powerful empire. Although it is a somewhat simplified version of its PC brother, the objective of the PlayStation version can be just as daunting. Not only must you worry about laying track, managing stations, hauling cargo, and keeping your trains running, but you must also keep an eye on the stock market and maintain the country's economy. All of this translates into one immersive experience, as Railroad Tycoon II successfully re-creates the burdened feeling the owners of actual railroads must have felt.
There are three game modes - a campaign mode, which places you in a preset scenario and gives you certain objectives to complete within an established time limit; a scenario mode, which lets you pick a map, a date, and a difficulty level then simply lets you build a railroad; and a sandbox mode, where you're given an unlimited supply of resources so you can build the railroad of your dreams without having to worry about profits or reality. But the true flexibility of Railroad Tycoon II comes with the different configurations for each mode - the campaign mode lets you decide what advantage your company starts with, and the scenario mode lets you set several different variables - from profit multiplier, to economic model, to AI difficulty. In addition, while the towns and landmasses of the maps never change, different plants and town demands are randomized in the scenario mode, keeping you from playing the same game twice.
Unfortunately, Railroad Tycoon II doesn't let you save in the middle of your game - the save function is missing from the scenario game, and the campaign mode only saves information on the campaigns you've completed. This makes truly getting into Railroad Tycoon II a time-consuming process, as you must set aside plenty of time to play or risk leaving your PlayStation on for extended periods of time.Most of the game progresses in the actual map window - this is where you can see your railroad's layout and watch your trains move from one station to the next. Lining the sides of the map window are different submenus, where you can manage other areas of your railroad - from purchasing trains, to assigning routes and cargo, to upgrading stations and playing with the stock market. All of these screens have buttons that lead into each other, making moving through screens and managing several different aspects quick and easy. Once you've made your run through the different menus you can return to the map window to watch your empire grow. While the PlayStation's controller usually doesn't lend itself to a game so dependent on a cursor, Railroad Tycoon II overcomes this problem by making great use of the analog control. You use the analog function to move the cursor exactly as a mouse would, while the D-pad is used to quickly move between different options. In addition, Railroad Tycoon II is full of controller shortcuts. You can move between options with lightning speed once you're used to the shortcuts. All of this makes Railroad Tycoon II's detailed menu system extremely bearable.
Railroad Tycoon II takes place in actual global locations, including the British Isles, Korea, and the Midwestern United States. Each map is realistically detailed, giving Railroad Tycoon II a refreshingly realistic feel to it. In addition, inventions and scientific progress happen according to real-life dates. New engines are introduced into the game in exactly the same year they were in real history, events occur on their actual dates, and managers who apply to your railroad are actual historic figures, each with advantages and disadvantages that are based on that person's historic accomplishments.
While graphics may not be all that important in a game like this, Railroad Tycoon II still sports some fairly nice ones. The various buildings and plants have their own distinctive look, and once you learn which building produces what, it's easy to tell what cargo should go where. In addition, your trains look different, depending on the engine and the kind of cargo you're running. This makes managing cargo that much easier, as you can easily identify what needs to be shipped by looking at the cars instead of the cargo names. Instead, it's the sound that disappoints in this game. While the game features a nice bluegrass tune over the main menus, the actual gameplay is devoid of any background music, leaving you to go slowly insane listening to the chug-a-lug sounds of your trains and the cash register noise whenever they deliver to a station.
Solid gameplay, numerous options, and attention to detail make Railroad Tycoon II an excellent simulation. While the premise of running a virtual railroad might not be as exciting as other sim games, Railroad Tycoon II keeps things interesting with a complex game mechanic that hides behind a simple layout. While the lack of a save feature could have made this game that much more bearable, Railroad Tycoon II still lets the child inside you build the railroad of your dreams while the adult inside you keeps it running.