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Review by: Adam Swiderski
Published: July 24, 1999
Admit it: You didn’t know if it would work.
I know the feeling. I was the same way. When I first heard Pop Top Software would be resurrecting one of the all time classics of computer gaming, my first reaction was skepticism. After all, would it really be possible for contemporary designers to recapture the quaint, yet epic feel personified by Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon? Hadn’t it been years since anyone had even tried to create a workable train game, let alone one that could penetrate the consumer consciousness like that MicroProse masterpiece? And this Steinmeyer guy was going to recapture the deep strategy, accessibility and addictive nature of the game while giving it a modern facelift? While the screenshots and news that accompanied development of the title certainly looked promising, it would be an understatement to say I wasn’t thinking positively.
Two things happened when Railroad Tycoon II hit shelves late last year. The first is that I dined on a healthy meal of crow, having fallen hard for what was, in my mind, one of the top strategy titles of 1998. The second is that the game got rave reviews from both the critics and the public alike, bringing well-deserved accolades to Phil Steinmeyer and his team at Pop Top. With its combination of construction, competition and financial wrangling, Railroad Tycoon II was at once a thoroughly strategic affair, a train lover’s dream and a business mogul’s wish come true. While it may have been too complex for many casual gamers and certainly had its flaws, the offering won over its fair share of doubters. As any good tycoon knows, however, success breeds growth, which in turn brings a need to expand, and soon, despite the customizability made possible by the included scenario editor, fans of the title cried out for more from the source.
Pop Top’s answer is Railroad Tycoon II: The Second Century (Second Century), an expansion pack that extends the play of the original Railroad Tycoon II. But before you write this off as another ploy to grab your hard-earned dollar in exchange for a few recycled materials, take a second look. Second Century is not your run-of-the-mill add-on, nor is it a shallow collection of maps tossed together by some third party. Second Century is that rarest of commodities in gaming: the expansion pack that adds value to the original product. By putting together a new campaign and scenario set, making adjustments in response to customer feedback, and creating new trains and structures with which to play, Pop Top has topped itself and made Railroad Tycoon II better. But the most important factor is the variety of new gameplay compounds that have been created simply by shuffling the elements present in the original. Think of Second Century as the extended re-mix of one of your favorite songs; it sounds a bit different, but it’s still the tune you loved, only now you can dance to it.
Second Century encompasses just that — the second century of the railroad age. The 18-scenario campaign (that’s as many as in the original game, if anyone’s counting) takes place from the years 1930 to 2030, a period during which the role of the train and the railroad owner evolved significantly from that presented in Railroad Tycoon II. In the early part of the era, the advent of the automobile and air travel meant a shift in paradigms for those tycoons that wished to stay afloat. With the coming of the Second World War, train transport and haulage became a crucial tactical consideration, especially in those areas most heavily besieged. The post-war world saw an increase in technology, allowing for faster, more efficient travel, but also an increased dependence on other modes of transportation. All of this is represented in Second Century, with scenarios detailing everything from wartime troop transport to the establishment of uninterrupted supply routes. Most intriguing, however, is Pop Top’s vision of the near future. By adding a new industry (a geothermal power plant called GeoCore), Second Century’s designers have given a new, science fiction twist to the relevance of the locomotive. I won’t go into any more detail than that, so as not to give anything away, but rest assured the opportunities for aspiring tycoons do not disappear as we enter the twenty-first century. Heck, it’s probably not realistic, but I’d rather a game be a little more fun and a little less realistic than vice versa, and Second Century seems to strike that balance well.
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