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PC Review - 'Chris Sawyer's Locomotion'

by Alanix on Oct. 4, 2004 @ 1:14 a.m. PDT

Put together a profitable company by constructing transportation routes between growing cities and their industries. Race against other companies to make the most lucrative connections and rake in the cash, or just sit back and enjoy the detailed world in action as you build and play with moving vehicles such as trains, buses, ships, and aircraft.

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Atari
Developer: Chris Sawyer
Release Date: September 07, 2004

I know I keep waxing nostalgic about the grand old days of the Commodore Amiga. I know I still believe that the Amiga OS was Windows before there was Windows. I know I still believe the best of the old school titles were written for the Amiga. And now Chris Sawyer has attempted another modern upgrade of a great old Amiga Title.

You purists will probably complain that “Railroad Tycoon” was a PC title. But I didn’t own a PC until Commodore went teats up, so the version of “Railroad Tycoon” *I* played was on an Amiga.

Now the RT games have spanned the years, and I personally still love (and play) RT3. But this genre is not for everyone. My wife, for instance, could never get involved in a game where you simply had to move stuff from point A to point B (or some semblance thereof). Then she played “Rollercoaster Tycoon.” (RCT from here on) My entire family got hooked on this theme park sim, mostly for the great coaster building engine.

Now, with “Locomotion”, Chris Sawyer returns to his 1994 hit “Transport Tycoon” and takes it to the next logical level, with the help of the RCT engine. If you have played RCT, the interface here will be instantly familiar. You already know how to build tracks, level land, make lakes and bridges and everything else you needed to do in RCT. Now the IQ is added. It’s not merely enough to make your residents happy. Efficiency is the keyword in “Locomotion.”

As in RCT, your goals are many and varied throughout the many scenarios available. Some may require you to transport a set number of passengers, or goods, or whatever in a limited space of time. Some may wish of you a predetermined Skill Rating, and others may want you to improve on the existing cities and industries. You see, as your transportation network grows and becomes more efficient, the surrounding cities grow in population. More people mean more needs, and so, your citizens want more food, goods, services, and transportation. “Locomotion” doesn’t stop with mere train travel, either. You must build airports, docks, planes, trains, John Candy, Steve Martin, and automobiles not to mention a massive trucking network to accurately move all this stuff from point A to point B (with numerous stops in between). It can be a logistical nightmare! But that’s not necessarily a bad thing…

Without adversity, rewards are hollow. (Wow! That was pretty profound for a rambling 41-year-old mechanic/game critic! Maybe I can write after all. To hell with this schmaltz, I’m starting my novel about a rambling 41-year-old mechanic/game critic who unknowingly starts WWIII by giving a crap review to “The Political Machine” last time around…..no, then my wife would leave me because novel-writing pays about as much as game reviewing… but I, as usual, digress…) [Editor’s Note: This use of the run-on-stream-of-consciousness-sentence will not get you a great SAT score. You’ll probably end up as a 41-year-old mechanic/game critic.]

The scenarios are challenging right out of the gate, leading me to my first complaint about “Locomotion”: The tutorials are not hands-on enough, and they are far too brief. They were obviously designed to bring the non-RCT playing community up to speed, but they had nothing new to show us veterans. They mostly concentrate on the mechanics of the game, and it’s the theory that really matters.

Once you get into your first scenario, you are free to expand your empire in any order or direction you choose. Will you focus your efforts on busses, to get your people from place to place, or will you direct your empire in the direction of rail-based cargo? Are electric trams a viable alternative to a gasoline-engine bus? Do the profits justify the costs? These, and a multitude of other questions, must be answered if your Transportation Company is to succeed, thrive, and expand.

OK, enough high-falootin’ gumming on about high-minded concepts. Let’s take a look at the nuts and bolts of this sim.

Graphically, “Locomotion” hasn’t improved on RCT one iota. The animations are nearly identical to a game that was a bestseller five years ago. I don’t expect photorealism, but after this many years, I would at least expect something more than this. “Locomotion” feels looks and plays like an over-complicated version of RCT. If you want me to think and play harder and smarter, you should at least give me some modicum of advancement on your part. If this were an expansion pack for RCT, I would be giving it a rave review, but as a stand-alone title, it lacks the necessary luster my 40 bucks demands.

Sound-wise, “Locomotion” offers mediocre MIDI mixes of songs the developers’ feel represent the different generations represented in the game. By the time you leave the early 1900’s, you will never care if you ever hear another Scott Joplin ragtime piano riff again!

The bad news over with, let me now move forward to what I feel are some very positive advancements in this ongoing franchise.

Complaining about these minor issues is like complaining about the graphics and sound in the “Civilization” series of games. I guess I am saying, that if you are looking for bells and whistles, gee-whiz lighting effects, breathtaking water ripples, and near-lifelike humans, save your money, but if your passion revolves around depth of gameplay with limitless permutations, buy “Locomotion” today!

As I have said before, this game makes you think. I re-started the first “beginner” scenario at least 9 times before I got a glimpse of what was really expected of me. (I don’t have a problem with games that have a steep learning curve. We all are hurting in this economy, we all need recreation and escapism from our mundane lives, and alas, you can’t rent a PC game before you buy it. I’m sorry, but Demos of games are merely commercials, serving only to give the casual gamer a false sense of the game’s actual worth before they decide between game purchases.)

As the game progresses, you are called upon to build docks and manage a seafaring empire (perhaps an initial plug for “Sid Meier’s Pirates” [an ad for which is on the back cover of the “Locomotion” manual] coming soon to a PC near you), manage your empire into the skies by clever utilization of airports and their accompanying cargo trucks, and be positive all your citizens can get to where they need to go. It’s a lot of fun, but it is very taxing, especially considering the scope of some of the scenarios.

I have just (as is my want) re-read the upper portion of this review, and it seems that I am condemning a superior strategy game on the merits of its graphics and sound, or I may be praising a mediocre-looking game for its depth and scope. I am, in fact, doing both, and it is up to the consumer to decide what he or she really wants from a simulation game. Are eye-popping images your thing, or would you rather stay up all night trying to decide which bus route can save you and extra 3 dollars a month?

You will get out of “Locomotion” exactly what you put into it. If you want to see trains collide, just neglect putting in signposts. If, on the other hand, you want to manage (and, indeed micromanage) and entire transportation empire, insuring your clients that you will get what they want from where they have it to where they want it to go, this is the “BOOYAH!” game for you.

On a personal note, I wish the taxicab dispatchers in Baltimore were mandated to play this game to the end before they next show up for work.

In the final analysis, the score for this game will definitively depend on your tastes. If you are up for the stimulation of the little grey cells, and want to manage and micromanage your way to the top, this is without a doubt a must-buy title. If, on the other hand, you would rather see gorgeous images, spectacular effects and ear-pleasing sound, you may want to give this a pass.

My personal opinion (and that’s why you are reading this after all) is this: I love the depth of play, I feel challenged by the game’s AI, and I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I complete a scenario. On the other hand, I think the game should represent the advances the gaming industry has made in the past five years.

Score: 6.0/10

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