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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Transport Tycoon (iPad)

Review by Matt S. 

Before Rollarcoaster Tycoon there was Transport Tycoon. And Transport Tycoon was a game made by the Gods (or, well, God of simulation games, Chris Sawyer). The fact that it is so playable even now, and still feels so modern compared to the likes of the rebooted Sim City is proof of just how good this game is.

For the iPad version there hasn't been much done to the classic game. That means a shockingly inelegant interface that takes a couple of failed games to really get the hang of. Vital information is buried deep in a menu system that doesn't always make logical sense, and the tutorials are singularly hopeless at explaining to you exactly how the system works. For my first game out of the tutorials I thought I was doing a brilliant job in linking up three cities via train, with a mail carriage and everything so the citizens could send letters to their loved ones in towns far away... only to discover that the letters were piling up on the train and doing laps without being dropped off. 

I has similar problems getting the mining infrastructure working at first, because, again, the tutorial didn't help. But eventually I got the hang of things and then I was allowed to enjoy Transport Tycoon in full. 

And what a simulation game it is. Unlike a game like Sim City this one is purely focused on bus, train and industrial transport routes, but is in many ways the more complex game. How do you handle a bus network when high rise buildings start going up an the bus stop becomes packed? How do you cover an entire town so that everyone can commute without causing traffic jams? How do you fit a train network in there, and how do you create an efficient line of transport so that raw materials can be manufactured into completed goods and then shipped off for significant profit?

And then how do you achieve all this in a profitable manner?

That's the beauty of Transport Tycoon; it quickly makes you realise that being in control of a city's infrastructure is not easy. Even when it's a tiny island with minimal needs beyond buses and mail cars, it's not easy. 

It almost makes me feel sorry for people in control of the nightmare that is Sydney's public transport. Almost. 

As challenging as it is, it's also an endlessly rewarding game. Though there are no "sandbox" modes that you might expect from a simulation game, the many scenarios presented in this game range across a huge number of difficulties, and offered enough freedom that even I, who prefers to play his sims in a sandbox, was able to get value out of the experience. 

It's also rewarding to watch how cities react to your the way the transport systems support them. Build a road in a direction and people will build houses on it. But the real population growth will be in the areas that are best serviced by the transport networks. The true value that trains bring a growing city becomes very evident after you've built your first good train network. Eventually a few isolated hamlets have become sprawling cities and you're raking in the millions. 

Starting out with nice simple maps where you also get to be a monopoly, later scenarios are big, sprawling affairs where capitalism starts to play a role too - rivals will compete for your market share, and unless you're able to keep the people happy, then they will take their business to your rivals. 

It's at times a little simple by modern simulation standards but the core data crunching that Transport Tycoon does is impeccably balanced and allows people to approach their profit and market share goals in their own ways. Some will build massive freighting businesses, while others will focus on keeping the daily commute for the virtual citizens to a minimum. Both work. 

It's the kind of game I wish we saw more of. Modern Sim City and Tycoon titles have been so focused on multiplayer, or being able to zoom right in to micromanage individual buildings that the core of what a good management simulation should offer has been lost; the ability to set policy and watch it all unfold as you go. 



- Matt S
Editor-in-Chief
Review: Transport Tycoon (iPad)
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