Sid Meier introduced the world to the railroad empire simulator with the original Railroad Tycoon back in 1990. While there have been two more games in the series, this is his first contribution since the original. Does it live up the legacy? More or less, it does.

Sid Meier’s Railroads, like Civilization IV and Pirates, is as much of a refinement as an upgrade. It takes the basic gameplay functions and polishes them to a gleaming shine. It finds a good balance of ease of play and depth that is very hard to strike. The game is very easy to get into and has just enough variety to latch on to you once you’ve started. At it’s most basic element, you’re still building tracks to connect cites so you can send trains to ship people or goods, but now the whole experience has been streamlined. Laying track is as easy as selecting the end of an existing track and dragging where you want the track to go. The game finds the best way to get there automatically (bridges, tunnels, etc), and for the most part it does a good job, though I did find that it can be cantankerous when it comes to building curves and bridges.

Graphically, the game borrows heavily from Pirates and Civ4, in that it features more of a cartoony look. Some people, who think themselves experts, denounce this as childish and dislike it but I find it entertaining. It makes for a more relaxed experience, I believe. You’re foes are the likes of J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt, real-life railroad moguls from days gone by. I did notice the likes of Otto von Bismarck of Civilization 4 making a return appearance here. I guess, once you’ve got the art drawn up, why waste it?

The sounds are minimalist, at best. The trains make the normal chug-chug sounds and you’ll hear money  clinking as you make transactions.  The music, while simple, is definitely catchy. There is no speech to speak of, so the audio experience is simple but functional. I did have trouble, however, with online play. My main computer had few problems over LAN, but my backup crashed every time. It also had numerous graphical glitches that hampered gameplay.

Sid Meier’s railroads is a simpler, cleaner, more intuitive update on the classic Railroad Tycoon theme. Much like Pirates and Civilization IV from the past few years, this game will appeal to old fans of the series as well as attract new ones. Alphasim out.