Railroad Tycoon 3 Updated Impressions

We take an updated look at PopTop's next railroad management game.


We recently had the opportunity to see an updated version of Railroad Tycoon 3 in action. The next game in PopTop's railway strategy series will feature well over 20 different missions, including both stand-alone scenarios and a full 16-mission campaign, which consists of 13 levels based on real-world historical challenges that rail companies faced, plus three fictitious scenarios that take place in the near future. For good measure, the game will ship with more than 50 different steam-powered, diesel, and electric trains, including a fictitious, futuristic engine or two that will be revealed in the final game.

To succeed in Railroad Tycoon 3, you'll need the right cargo, the right route, and, of course, the right train.
To succeed in Railroad Tycoon 3, you'll need the right cargo, the right route, and, of course, the right train.

Railroad Tycoon 3 is very far along in development at this point. Its single-player campaign is complete, so PopTop artist Brian Feldges was able to take us through a few of what the developer describes as the game's "puzzle missions." These require less in the way of acquiring piles of revenue by expanding your rail business and more in the way of intelligent routing and shipping under strict time deadlines or other challenging concerns. And at this point, most of the game's new features, such as the new luxury passenger cars, are implemented and working. Railroad Tycoon 3 lets you create a swanky passenger train by adding dining cars and a caboose car, which increases your train's desirability rating for passengers looking to ride in style--but it also increases a train's overall weight and thereby slows its progress, especially over steep hills. You can also choose to haul coal, steel, or other items, since the game has plenty of other types of cargo that you can load your trains with in various combinations (known in the game as "consists"), including one of the game's most lucrative commodities, the mail.

But as Feldges explained, all cargo in Railroad Tycoon 3 will have a "decay time" associated with it, and the mail--and passengers--will have extremely high decay times, as will perishables like groceries. Delivering the mail long past due, bringing passengers to their destinations late, or shipping spoiled groceries will result in a loss of money, so even though they can bring in the big bucks, shipping only these cargo types won't always be a guaranteed path to success. Neither will shipping only coal, which lasts a long time in a train but usually sells very cheaply and weighs down your cars enough to endanger your shipping deadline.

Since another key aspect of Railroad Tycoon 3 is laying tracks for trains to run on, you can speed up your progress by building Railroad Tycoon 3's new connective structures: bridges, overpasses, and tunnels. While these solutions can help you draw the shortest distance between two points, they can often be exorbitantly expensive, especially "chunnels," tunnels that run underwater, so you'll have to build them judiciously. As Feldges demonstrated, your limited funds may require you to do as the American settlers did: build tracks that snake around mountains and hills, rather than through them, which is expensive, or over them, which adds a very steep grade to your tracks and slows a train's progress considerably.

Not all routes will be over flatlands--you may find yourself faced with the decision to build over, around, or through a mountain range.
Not all routes will be over flatlands--you may find yourself faced with the decision to build over, around, or through a mountain range.

Feldges then went on to demonstrate the campaign game's fictitious scenarios, which take place on a near-future version of Earth in the wake of massive global warning, such that many continents are submerged under enlarged oceans. One mission requires you to guide a fictitious electric train across Greenland, which has become far more habitable but is devoid of vegetation. The train is equipped with a futuristic gadget that sprays plant seeds from its sides and creates plant life in its wake, so the object is to guide it across as much of the island as possible using smart routing. Another mission requires you to ship a certain quantity of radioactive uranium to a now mostly submerged England. However, England is in the market for plastic, a byproduct of petroleum. And while England doesn't process petroleum itself, it's the only source of it in this scenario, so you'll have to trade for petroleum, process it into plastic, and trade back the plastic for uranium. In other words, you'll definitely need to do some wheeling and dealing, not only to earn enough money to build an underwater tunnel between England and the new European landmasses, but also to get all the materials you need to create plastic and trade it for uranium.

Railroad Tycoon 3 looks like it could be a very worthwhile addition to the series. While the game has made the jump from 2D graphics to 3D graphics, just about all of Railroad Tycoon II's functionality seems to be intact in the new game--plus, the game's powerful 3D camera can be quickly rotated and zoomed without any kind of lag or graphical slowdown on a midrange machine. This promising game is scheduled for release later this year.

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