Chris Sawyer's Locomotion Hands-On Impressions

The creator of RollerCoaster Tycoon has a new game in the works, and we take it out for a spin.

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Your job in Locomotion is to connect people and goods. Double-click the video window for a full-screen view.

Years before he created the critically acclaimed and best-selling RollerCoaster Tycoon, designer Chris Sawyer made Transport Tycoon, a sublime strategy/simulation game, published by MicroProse, which tasked you with building a vast transportation empire that linked cities and industries together. Though not related to Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, an earlier MicroProse hit, Transport Tycoon expanded on that game's themes by adding trucks, ships, buses, and planes to the mix. Now, a decade later, Sawyer looks to revisit Transport Tycoon with his newest game, the aptly named Chris Sawyer's Locomotion. We had the chance to play around with a preview version of the game to get a feel for what Locomotion is about.

Locomotion is billed as the spiritual sequel to Transport Tycoon, and it most definitely shows. If you've ever played Transport Tycoon, you'll instantly recognize Locomotion, as Sawyer isn't straying far from his original design. The goal in Locomotion is to establish a transportation empire that moves people and goods from different points all over the map. But the beauty of the game is that how you complete this goal is up to you, as Locomotion is entirely open ended. You can build mass transit, freight networks, shipping lines, airlines, air cargo services, and more in order to meet your objectives, which can range from moving X number of passengers by a certain time limit to growing your company to a certain size.

Locomotion uses the familiar interface from RollerCoaster Tycoon, so it's easy to keep an eye on the action.
Locomotion uses the familiar interface from RollerCoaster Tycoon, so it's easy to keep an eye on the action.

Thanks to the in-game tutorial, it won't take you long before you're building bus networks between various towns and cities. You'll also have to build roads to connect various hamlets. In addition to towns and cities, there are different industries scattered throughout the map. The trick is to connect related industries together--for example, you may build a railroad linking a coal mine with a power plant--that's a simple route that will generate substantial revenue over time. However, if you want to really make money, you can build a railroad to deliver coal and iron to a steel factory, and then have trucks deliver the steel to a factory where it can be turned into goods, which can then be shipped to a city. Since trains are the most economic and efficient means of hauling raw materials around, they'll usually serve as the backbone of your network, but you can also use trains to move large numbers of people quickly.

Airplanes and airports are expensive, but they can be lucrative as well.
Airplanes and airports are expensive, but they can be lucrative as well.

As transportation provides the sinews for economic growth, your success will be shown by the urbanization of society. For example, connect a cluster of small villages together with a good road and rail network, and they'll start to move goods and people between them and their economies will grow. As the villages grow, they'll automatically upgrade their dusty country roads to pavement, and they'll also start putting up more houses and industries that will provide more people and goods for you to haul around. Basically, the theme in Locomotion is if you build the transportation infrastructure, they will come.

Many of the gameplay mechanics remain virtually unchanged from Transport Tycoon. For instance, all vehicles that you purchase are going to age over time. The older the vehicle, the less reliable it becomes; the less reliable it is, the more often it breaks down. If you have a complex and interconnected transportation network, even the slightest breakdown can cause a chain reaction to ripple through the network and create delays. Eventually you'll need to replace an obsolete vehicle, preferably with a newer model with more speed, capacity, and reliability. While you could repair and maintain vehicles in Transport Tycoon, it appears that Sawyer removed this functionality in Locomotion, probably in an attempt to reduce micromanagement. The good news is that for those of you who remember the constant airplane crashes in Transport Tycoon, planes no longer crash in Locomotion. Or, if they do happen to crash, it's nowhere near the frequency with which they used to.

While Locomotion feels similar to Transport Tycoon, it does have some differences. Locomotion uses the familiar, two-dimensional RollerCoaster Tycoon graphics engine. Though not cutting edge in any sense of the word, the engine does an adequate job. Besides, Sawyer's games have always emphasized gameplay over eye candy. More importantly, Locomotion should run well on a wide range of machines, including those on the low end of the spectrum.

There's a wide variety of settings in the game, including the daunting Swiss Alps.
There's a wide variety of settings in the game, including the daunting Swiss Alps.

Sawyer also incorporates the user interface from RollerCoaster Tycoon, which is an improvement over the original Transport Tycoon interface. Or, perhaps it's because many of us have spent countless hours playing RollerCoaster Tycoon, so we're familiar and comfortable with that interface. In either case, Locomotion's system of windows and tabs is fairly intuitive; creating roads and tracks takes a little getting used to at first, but it becomes second nature after a while. If you've ever built a coaster in RollerCoaster Tycoon, then you can build roads and tracks in Locomotion. Perhaps the most intriguing new feature in Locomotion is the ability for two players to compete against each other online, though we didn't get a chance to do that.

It's clear that Locomotion should appeal to both Transport Tycoon fans and the legions of RollerCoaster Tycoon fans unfamiliar with Transport Tycoon. Though the gameplay has hardly changed over the past 10 years, it remains as engrossing as ever. Locomotion is in the final stages of development, and it should ship early this fall.

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