reviews\ Feb 16, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Railroad Pioneer - PC - Review

Railroad simulation games have been around for a while now and it appears there’s been a solid leader in the race.  Railroad Pioneer offers players a somewhat different game then the current front runner, Railroad Tycoon.  While there might be some similarities, Railroad Pioneer still offers players a solid and thoroughly engaging game.  In fact it might even have you hooked for hours, muttering the words “Let me do one more thing” over and over again before you finally turn the game off.


The basic premise of Railroad Pioneer is similar to other Railroad simulation games; you have to build your Railroad Empire out of nothing.  There are three game modes available, Campaign, Single Player and Multi Player mode.  Campaign mode is the real meat and potatoes of the game.  You have to complete 10 different missions that take you across the United States of America.  Single Player lets you select 5 missions in various parts of the United States.  Multi Player allows you to play against three other players over the internet or network connection.


In Campaign mode you start out on the East Coast, in New York.  Your ultimate goal is to finish all of the 10 different missions and end up in California.  You have certain objectives that you have to complete before you can finish the mission.  The objectives can range from either linking up a city to your railroad line, or delivering a certain item to a specific town.  You also have a time limit for each mission as well, and if you don’t finish the mission within the time limit then you’ll have to start the mission over again.  There are additional sub-missions available during the missions as well.  If you complete the sub-missions, it will effect your ranking for the completed mission.  When you finish a mission you’re awarded medals depending on the time it took to complete the mission, number of sub-missions completed and other factors.


Each mission usually begins the same way; you start out on the playing map in a certain city.  You have a limited amount of funds to start off with and the funds do not roll over to the next mission.  Each time you start a mission in Campaign mode the amount of money you have depends on that mission.  This can be frustrating at times, especially after you spend several hours on one mission, only to see the funds you built up disappear at the beginning of the next mission.  The only way to advance to the next mission is to complete the mission you’re currently on.  It would have been nice to roll the money over mission to mission, but it would have probably made the game too easy.


The in game tutorial will describe your objective for that particular mission.  But in Railroad Pioneer it isn’t always about laying down tracks, connecting cities, and transporting cargo.  You have to explore the state that you’re in.  The game is laid out similar to a real time strategy game, where only part of the playing field is viewable at the beginning.  In order to open up additional areas on the game field you have to hire explorers.  There are several different occupations for the explorers, ranging from Pioneers, Gun Slingers, Trappers, Balloonist, Rafters and many more.  Each explorer costs money and you don’t know what type of dangers they might face when exploring the country.  For example if you uncover a group of bears in the game, you better have a Trapper in your party or you’ll parish.  If you come across a Bandit, then you’ll need to have a Gun Slinger in your party.  As you come across the dangers, the computer will display an icon as to what type of explorer you’ll need in your party.  You can have multiple parties exploring the country at the same time, and you’ll need as many as you can afford.  The sooner you open up parts of the land, the quicker you’ll be able to complete the mission.  The explorer function is a nice addition to the game that requires you to think about more than just building railroads.


But since this is a railroad simulation game you will still spend the majority of your time laying down track, building locomotives, and transporting goods to and from different cities.  Even though you might have an objective such as connecting one city to another with your tracks, you’ll still have to depend on money.  If you don’t have enough money to send out a group of explorers, lay down track or purchase additional locomotives then you’ll be going nowhere.  Each town has its own city hall and market place that have a list of items demanded and items in supply.  The easiest way to make money is by transporting a heavily demanded product into the city that has the demand.  There are additional locations that can be uncovered in the game as well, such as cornfields, sheep farms, and mines.  These locations might have a large supply of a particular item, but no demand for anything.  You have to make sure these locations are connected to your network.  It’s all about supply and demand.  You find a city that has a demand for a particular product and then you connect it to a city that has that item in supply. 


When you establish a route to a city the game indicates how much money you spend on the route.  When you start transporting the items that are in demand to a city, you can see how much money you’ll make on the transport.  As you continue to grow your railroad network in a mission it’s important to monitor older routes.  It might be more profitable for you to expand a route from one city to multiple cities, along with stops at the sheep farm or cornfield.  You’re not just connecting cities you’re managing your entire network of trains.  As you bring more products into a city you have the ability to help the city grow.  For example city “a” has a big demand for wood, connect it to a location that produces wood, then city “a” can grow and eventually build a sawmill.  With the sawmill producing lumber, connect city “a” with city “b” which has a large demand for lumber.  If you connect all three locations together then you could double or triple your profits on the route. 


There is so much to do in the game that by the time you get near the end of a mission you might have too much going on in the game.  From connecting new cities to your railroad, changing routes to increase profits, researching new technology, dispatching explorers, maintaining the locomotives and even getting your hands dirty in politics there isn’t a shortage of decisions to make in the game.  For simulation fans and hardcore railroad simulation fans, Railroad Pioneer will fit right in with your collection.  Who knows, maybe the Pioneer can become the new Tycoon?



Gameplay 7.6 

Honestly the only thing really wrong with the gameplay is the lack of clear instructions in the game.  The instruction manual is lacking instructions on the majority of the game.  It mentions a tutorial mode that’s available in the game, but even the tutorial mode is lacking.  It gives you the basics of the game, such as laying track and building new locomotives.  But it doesn’t go over all of the additional options in the game, such as what to do when you face competition, political options, advanced track options, or maintaining your locomotives.  The in-game interface is confusing because of the lack of instructions.  Once you get use to the interface it’s usually a breeze moving between all of the choices available in the game.  Most of your choices can usually be made with a few clicks of the mouse.  If you want to dispatch an exploration party, you simply click on the members you want in the party and then click on the green check button.  Then your party will appear on screen.  To move them around the stage you simply click on the party and then select a location on the stage you want them to travel.  To connect a city to your railroad network, just drag a piece of track to the city.  You can then click another button to give you the cost of building the track.  If you still wish to build the track, just click on the green check button.  Point and click is how you take care of everything in the game. 


Graphics 8.4 

The game is presented in an isometric 3D view that is similar to other strategy games.  All of the locomotives, cities and explorers are presented in detailed 3D models.  You can even zoom in to get a more detailed view of the cities, locomotives and landscapes.  Even with the graphics zoomed in or from a distance the graphics always maintain a clean, crisp, detail view.  As the cities grow you’ll notice more activity coming from the city, such as smoke from the buildings.  There are a few shortcomings with the graphics.  First the cities all look the same, and the only way to tell them apart is by name.  Second when your explorers run into a bandit, bear or other danger, you don’t actually see the bandit or bear.  The dangers are presented with an icon on the screen but never an actual model.


Sound 7.0 

Unlike the graphics, the game is lacking in the sound department.  You’ll occasionally hear a little bit of music playing in the background, if you’re lucky.  A unique feature was the ability to zoom in and out to hear the sound effects.  If you’re zoomed out you might not be able to hear the sound effects of the trains.  But as zoom in closer, the sound effects become louder.  What sound effects you can hear are accurate representations of locomotives.  You’ll hear the train whistle and the different sounds made when the trains leave and enter the stations.  There is even a voiceover during the beginning of the missions, but the voiceover never matches the text on the screen. 


Difficulty Medium 

There is not an option in the game to set the difficulty.  As you complete the missions in the game the difficulty gradually increases.  Each mission usually starts out the same, very slow, which gives you plenty of time to get use to the stage and prepare for the objective.  As you go farther along in the mission, the amount of activity required on your part can become intense.  Near the end of a mission you might not even have time to update a trade route, since you’ll spend all of your time maintaining your fleet of locomotives.  The screen will pop up something that requires your attention probably every 30 seconds near the end of a mission.


Concept 8.3 

The idea of a train simulator is not a new, fresh concept to the world of gaming.  However Railroad Pioneer does enough to get accommodations for trying to merge a few different styles into a railroad simulator.  By having to uncover the playing field by dispatching explorers is something that wasn’t in the last Tycoon game.  It’s an interesting idea that adds a little bit more to building railroads.  But it’s not just as simple as dispatching an explorer; you have to make sure you have the right group of explorers.  If they run into a bandit, do you have anyone in your party that can take the bandit out?  You also have the ability to control your own political agenda in the game.  You can try and bribe a particular city or an act of sabotage.  Unfortunately there isn’t any mention in the instruction manual or tutorial about the political aspect of the game. 


Multiplayer N/A 

The only way to play a multiplayer game is over the internet or on a network.  Unfortunately I was unable to test this feature out since I could never find anyone online with the game.  The instruction manual states up to 4 players can compete in a multiplayer game.


Overall 7.8 

Railroad Pioneer is a solid and engaging railroad simulation game.  The explorer option is an impressive feature for this type of game.  Instead of laying track right away, you have to discover the different cities by exploring.  Then having to manage both your locomotives and explorers adds a little bit more to this genre.  The detail graphics are a nice plus to this game as well.  While there are some great parts to the game, the lack of clear instructions is a big oversight either by the developer or publisher.  Having to guess as to what option does what in the game shouldn’t take away from the game, but it does.  The tutorial only covers maybe 1/3 of the in game options and then it’s up to the player to figure it out.  For a simulation game this isn’t the best idea in the world.  However once you get use to the controls, you will find a deep and entertaining game.  If you’re looking for either a new railroad simulation game, look no farther than Railroad Pioneer.










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