If you’ve ever watched “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” sometimes they have a segment where they merge two celebrities together to show what their offspring might look like. Recently in my mail I received something similar, but with computer games. This merging involves RollerCoaster Tycoon and Railroad Tycoon, and the result is -- drum roll, please! -- Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion. But just like the babies shown on Conan O’Brien’s show, which are often incredibly warped and ugly, Locomotion isn’t a pretty game, and it’s probably not something you’re going to want to look at for long.
Your goal in Locomotion is to transport people and goods, but unlike Railroad Tycoon, which had a similar premise, in Locomotion you get to use cars, trucks, planes, ships and trams in addition to trains. And if that isn’t enough, you also get to build roads and railways, create cargo stations and airports, and develop routes for your plethora of vehicles. In other words, no matter what needs to be moved and no matter where it’s located, you should be able to deal with it. It also means that Locomotion should have more variety and more things to do than Railroad Tycoon, giving it more staying power.
Except it doesn’t. Instead, Locomotion has one problem after another that makes it little fun to play. Let me start with the easiest area: the graphics. If I read the manual’s introduction correctly, Locomotion is using a modified version of the RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 engine. But RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 looked almost identical to RollerCoaster Tycoon, and RollerCoaster Tycoon came out in 1999. I care about graphics less than some people, but come on. If you make a game that looks like it could have been released five years ago, you’re in trouble. And it doesn’t help that the fixed 2D isomorphic view offered by the game isn’t exactly ideal for laying down railroad track, which is what you’ll spend the majority of your time doing.
Then there’s the sense of realism, which is entirely lacking in the game. For starters, just what sort of company are you supposed to be running? What company moves people and goods, builds roads and bridges, and completely controls airports and sea ports? No company does that, and it’s not even close. But even if you ignore that sort of thinking, the game mechanics don’t make sense. There isn’t much reason to create tunnels in the game because it’s cheaper to just flatten the land; it’s almost impossible to find a place to transport some goods, like food and mail, which should be basic staples; and you’re allowed to put stations anywhere (like, oh , 100 feet in the air), where nobody can get to them, but where people and goods magically appear anyway. And if you have a resource on one side of a lake and an industry that uses the resource on the other side? Obviously, the answer is to build a bridge between them rather than use a ship, because that’s just way more efficient (that’s what the computer players do anyway; or maybe the computer players are just “smart” to avoid ships, since ships tend to get stuck and spin in circles a lot).
But whatever. It’s a game, right? As long as it’s fun to play, who cares if it’s real. The problem is that Locomotion is one of the driest games I’ve ever played, and it’s weird that a game from the maker of RollerCoaster Tycoon could have so little personality. Unless your idea of a good time is laying railroad track, Locomotion has little to offer. Consider the 40 scenarios that come with the game. The objective in almost every one is (essentially) “run an efficient transportation system and make money however you want,” and the only variable is in how much money you need to make. Plus, there aren’t any triggers or events in the scenarios, and so the only thing that makes them play differently is the map they take place on, but the maps are a joke. They all look like they were randomly generated, right down to the “real” cities they’re supposed to include. For example, if you play a map with San Francisco on it, not only will you not see the Golden Gate Bridge, the city itself will probably have one street that’s about four blocks long with houses on either side. Why would San Francisco look like that? Because every city looks like that. Chris Sawyer could have saved some time and just dumped the 40 scenarios, and instead created a random scenario maker. That probably would have worked better and been more fun, and it couldn’t have been any less thrilling.
So I wouldn’t recommend you purchase Locomotion. It’s not a lot of fun to play, and it’s not even enjoyable to sit and watch. But if the concept of the game sounds intriguing, and if you don’t mind old-style 2D graphics, then I’d suggest you try out Railroad Tycoon II instead.