If you get warm and fuzzy at the thought of a well oiled transportation system, the long-awaited release of Chris Sawyer’s classic Transport Tycoon should bring a smile to your face. The series has enjoyed massive success over the years, leaving infrastructure-obsessed gamers hungry for more, and now it’s all aboard for the iOS, Android and Kindle versions.
But is this asphalt-laying simulator still roadworthy? Are fans on track for a smooth ride? And just how many of these terrible puns can I make before I run out of steam? (Yeah, sorry – here’s the review).
Note: This review focuses on the iOS version, though all are identical at present in terms of features.
A Fare Price
One of the best things about Transport Tycoon is the price. At $4.99, it’s not exactly cheap in terms of going rates, but for that $4.99 you get unhindered access to every function Chris Sawyer and the development team intended. This is not an in-app-purchase-laden landscape of bolt-ons and premium currency, but a full game release. I’d happily tolerate one future in-app purchase myself: an update to Transport Tycoon Deluxe.
But this Transport Tycoon, with graphics ripped straight out of spiritual successor Locomotion. It uses an isometric viewpoint, which you can view from four different angles, and sprite-based graphics. Some may be disappointed by the lack of a brand new engine that uses fully-3D graphics, but this is a game that really doesn’t need it. As it stands, the somewhat-dated visuals are endearing, conjuring a sense of nostalgia for those familiar with the series while getting the job done for those that aren’t.
The aim of the game is to move people, cargo and other goods around the map while ensuring your haulage methods are efficient enough to make money. You do this by laying road and track, building a fleet of vehicles and adapting to the world around you. As the name suggests, Transport Tycoon makes use of a variety of different infrastructures – buses, trucks, trams, passenger trains, freight trains, airplanes and buses are all at your behest.
The game is split by difficulty (five, from beginner to expert) into a variety of different scenarios (49 in total), starting out with tutorials which introduce you to the game’s most basic features. These are by no means comprehensive, but they should give you a good introduction to the art of moving people and cargo efficiently.
Some might be put off by a lack of a true “sandbox” mode, but really every single scenario is a mini-sandbox of sorts. You can continue to play long after you’ve completed (or given up on) any of the challenges asked of you, which usually involve delivering a set amount of people or cargo, achieving a predetermined efficiency rating or generating a set amount of profit.
Maps are varied in size and layout, with all manner of terrain to build upon – from tornado-prone desert areas to snow-capped peaks, each brings a new challenge. These various landscapes are all affected by seasons, so as winter rolls around the leaves will change and snow will fall which will affect your performance in adverse conditions.
On The Road Again
Being a tycoon game, money management is pretty important here. Each scenario starts you off with a bank loan of varying size, and you can increase this up a set maximum per-scenario if you choose. Like any loan, you’ll want to pay it off so that you aren’t crippled by interest payments so it’s a good idea to do this as soon as you start making a decent amount of profit.
Transport Tycoon isn’t quite like Sim City or other simulations in that you have absolute control over the landscape. You can lay road, track and build stations but you can’t zone land or build the structures that keep your company in business (mines, processing plants, office buildings and so on) – the game does this for you.
It’s genuinely fun to watch the map develop as your networks become essential. Houses and office buildings appear next to roads you have built, new roads are placed without your input, buildings change from cottages to apartments and towns develop from villages. This is bolstered by an intelligent naming mechanism for your various depots and stations, with names like Beachtown lending way to Beachtown Central, Beachtown Woods and so on depending on where you place them.
As the game progresses you’ll find it more of a challenge, with bigger loans and harsher interest payments as well as rival companies being introduced to try and steal your customers and usurp your network. There’s a learning curve here for sure, though most tycoon game fans will feel right at home.
Fortunately, the game has received a rather successful touch-friendly makeover, making it a pleasure to play with your fingers rather than a mouse. You shouldn’t find yourself wrestling with the controls too much, particularly if you’re playing on an iPad.
There’s no doubt that old fans of the series will love this version of Transport Tycoon, but it’s probably not the most intuitive tycoon sim for newcomers to the series. Luckily there’s a comprehensive help feature that will explain many of the games functions, a throwback to the days of finding a big fat manual in your oversized cardboard game box (those were the days).
In addition to the rather conclusive help, a companion app has been promised (Transport Tycoon Companion) but at the time of writing (roughly a week after general release) it’s yet to surface. This app promises to provide hints for the various scenarios as well as explain advanced features like signalling and better management of finances, which should make learning the ropes considerably easier.
The iPhone (and probably the same for smaller Android versions) suffers from a lack of screen real estate, which is more a problem with our devices than the app itself. It’s not possible to have more than two of the game’s many windows open at a time, but it’s not game-breaking. You can still enjoy Transport Tycoon on the smaller screen, it’s just a little bit more fiddly that way.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes things just won’t work, which can be a little frustrating as the game doesn’t really give you much of an idea as to why (that’s probably what the companion app is for). If you choose to play with sound, the cheesy MIDI quality music might put you off – but that’s not a reason to stay away. Transport Tycoon doesn’t even need sound.
The Bottom Line
Is this mobile resurrection of Transport Tycoon fun? Yes! Is it great to have it in your pocket? Yes! Is it a nightmare when things go wrong? Yes! It’s a tycoon game, and a transport simulator – it’s niche, it’s geeky, and it’s very, very addictive. Fingers crossed that Chris and 31X make a mobile version of Rollercoaster Tycoon their next project.
Is this game addictive or what? Let us know what you think, transport geeks!