Transport Tycoon (iOS version) – review

How time flies – it’s been 8 years since I last reviewed a Chris Sawyer game on Leidartikel. You’d recall that Chris Sawyer’s Transport Tycoon for the DOS system is still one of the finest business strategy games ever conceived for the PC and I also think that Locomotion (a spiritual successor to the first Transport Tycoon) is not as bad as most people thought it to be.

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Moving forward, we know that mobile apps have more or less taken over daily lives (for those with smartphones) these days. If we’re not playing games, we take to social media. Booking flight tickets online, movie tickets – the possibilities are endless.

Certain entertaining apps like ‘Clash of Clans’, ‘Samurai Siege’, Simpsons: Tapped Out’, ‘Sonic Dash’ and so on, are a few examples of firm favorites (as at time of writing, at least) and which is reflected in its healthy chart-topping positions within the Apple App Store. There’s a certain kind of exciting familiarity when you see a random stranger at a café placing an iPad in front of him/her and when you peer curiously at the screen, you could see a militant, medieval village sprawled across a lush, green background with its owner tapping away at gold coins and purplish elixir.

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The thing is – I personally thought that newer games developed from the ground up for the iOS (or Android, if you prefer) appears to be a solid investment for users as opposed to an established game franchise dug up again (some by EA who destroys most of the gaming nostalgia) and redeveloped for the smartphone or tablet. 

I’ll explain – some months back, I saw the App Store advertising the sale of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the iOS.

While it was (and is) a great game (and I do admit deferring the decision to my heart first over my head) I still have a copy of the game on PlayStation 2 –  so buying and downloading this app wasn’t terribly appealing after all. Add to that equation the poor battery life of the iPhone 5 and the not so spacious storage space on a 16GB model, you could see why I didn’t entertain further thoughts of making a purchase.

Some weeks back, I was flipping through the App Store charts for new games to play and saw this Transport Tycoon app for sale at USD6.99. I was intrigued and after reading a few reviews of the game, bought and downloaded it on the same day.

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If you look closely at the startup screens, you’d be awash with familiarity. These are from ‘Locomotion’ in case these images didn’t ring a bell.

Almost immediately, the realization sunk in – this is ‘Locomotion’ updated for the iOS, and marketed as a new ‘Transport Tycoon’. The jazz music from the original TT game is present, so there’s some déjà vu there if you’re into this sort of thing.

Having said that, I wanted to try the game anyway, since I’ve paid close to USD7 for this. No harm, I’d be happy to write a review, looking out at the same time for any notable improvements over the PC versions of the past.

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So, let’s skim the help guide first. Everything has been simplified for the translation to iOS and the interface and instructions are very simple and clear. The icons aren’t descriptive but you could tap on each one in turn to see what they meant if you have the time.

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John Broomhall is credited as the music composer of this game whereas Allister Brimble (who wrote and arranged the music for ‘Locomotion’) is now credited for his part on the original sound FX.

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Once at the scenario selection menu, I think that the sole factor which irked me was the lack of a terrain generator for this game to ensure continued replayability. As it stands – this means that once I’ve completed all of the pre-set scenarios (set across five varying difficulty levels), then this game is a favorite candidate for deletion to free up vital storage space.

If you’ve played ‘Locomotion’ before in late 2004 on the PC, you may be hit by the sudden awareness that the scenarios available back then are replicated faithfully for this iOS version as well. In addition, for seasoned ‘Locomotion’ gamers, you would have been familiar with the e.g. ‘Great Britain and Ireland’ or the ‘North America (East)’ terrain which are omnipresent across the different difficulty levels (with only the winning condition and era being the distinguishing characteristics). So, with the lack of new scenarios present on this iOS version, I’d run out of adjectives to reasonably describe my disappointment at this stage.

For the benefit of gamers who are new to this series, though, I’d try to make the following as unbiased as possible.

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I started a game in the North America (East) map since it’s one of the easiest to make money on and erase most loan debts within five years of incorporation. This would also make my review easier since I don’t need to balance keeping my transport enterprise afloat and also to take notes which would form the backbone of this review at the same time.

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Buying vehicles is easy. Placing them on the track / road isn’t terribly difficult but it’s slightly more tedious than ‘Locomotion’ since you need to exit from the vehicle purchase window and switch to your vehicle inventory list to be able to deploy your newly-acquired moneymaking asset.

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I noticed that trams make spades of money in whatever scenario you choose to play, so consider this as a free tip. Plus – trams run on a fixed track (as long as there’s a complete u-turn loop) so you don’t need to assign destinations to each vehicle running on the circuit as it would stop at all stations which you have designated along the way.

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As the cities develop over the game years, the increased population density ensures that your tram networks are often profitable.

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Expand your transport efficiency by making sure that your customers (i.e. the people waiting at the stations) or materials are quickly whisked away from the station of origin. The destination is immaterial –you’d be paid accordingly depending on the distance ferried and the speed at which the people or goods are transported.

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Aircraft makes the most money in the long run with fewer maintenance issues to be bothered with.

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With the scenario won, I had nothing else to fight for, so I started a new game on the Swiss Alps at the turn of last century.

Again, I started off with a tram network to rake in the dough early. That would solve some of the debt financing issues which could seriously debilitate your ability to maneuver out of fiscal trouble close to the start of the game.

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With some cash reserves, I then built a train platform above the roads to eliminate the need to tear down existing buildings. I’m not concerned about town authorities’ ratings but I’m more interested in the urban development rate, since for every townhouse that I tear down, it would mean lesser chance of passengers converging into the station(s) that I’d be constructing in the immediate vicinity.

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Trains running parallel with the tram line means that other terrain obstacles remain pristine. I built my trains using a 3 passenger / 1 mail van setup since it’s still early days when the locomotives aren’t powerful enough for longer combinations.

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I also enjoyed playing the Swiss Alps scenario because it offers the chance to build tram lines leading to the ski resorts which dot the entire map.

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There was this one time when I finished constructing a tram line connecting a town to a ski resort and next thing I knew was that resort suddenly packed up and closed shop before my very eyes. I had to re-route the entire line to the nearest (which isn’t the case) ski resort some ways off. Not funny.   

I’m still halfway through this scenario so this is all that I can report at this moment.

Right – it’s time to tabulate the scores now.

Gameplay: 3.5 / 5

If you are playing the game for the first time, then I’d say it’s a mighty fine choice. It’s a solid business sim and the mechanics are easy to grasp even for a newcomer. There are many industries to tinker about with and if you are aiming to play it safe, you could always rely on the good old passenger lines to get you out of a tight spot.

The challenges aren’t difficult to complete but some degree of business acumen would be helpful since the rival companies controlled by the AI are given certain privileges like the anti-sabotage protection (where you are prevented from building anything on an area which the rival is about to construct on) and also that the AI-controlled opponents tend to have the lion’s share of customers/goods displacement than you would.

For the laidback gamer, there’s always that sense of fun in deploying a well-planned transport route and lay down your vehicles and then watch your money rolling in.

Otherwise (for long-standing fans of this series), it’s the same ‘Locomotion’ game that was released about 10 years ago.

By the way, the AI hasn’t improved much since the TT days. Have a look:

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Why are all of those loops even necessary?

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A rival tram bulldozing its way through town just to get a piece of the action.

Interface: 3.5 / 5

It should take a lot of hard work to fit most of the game’s features on a small touchscreen, so credit must given where it’s due. Plus, the menus are concise and easy to understand, so there’s no excuse for you to screw up. My only gripe is the terraforming tool which is a hit or a miss most of the time. I could blame my fingers for being thick and clumsy here, I guess.

The world map is available at a touch but I have some difficulty reading the very small text. Yea, and then you’d tell me that I should play it on an iPad instead, right?

Music: 4 / 5

The familiar tracks from the original TT which you love has been re-mastered for this iOS version. I‘m quite a fan of the ‘Locomotion’ music tracks as well but between the two sets, I’m partial to the classic soundtrack by John Broomhall. ‘Aliens Ate My Railway’, anyone?

Graphics: 2.5 / 5

I won’t rate this section very highly since very little was done to polish up the dated graphics from last decade. It is clearly a direct port of ‘Locomotion’ visuals where the terrain is heavily pixelated. I mean there are lots of good graphic mods offered by third parties and I don’t understand as to why some of the better ones are not marked for inclusion in this version.

Value: 2 / 5

Low replayability. There should have been a terrain generator in the game at the very least if not a scenario editor. For a price of USD 6.99, it’s not a bad price but returning fans of Transport Tycoon would be sorely disappointed at this rehash of ‘Locomotion’ seeing as there are not many new features onboard. In fact, I struggle to think of even one.

On the other hand, it’s quite a good, thoroughly absorbing game to have in your apps library. The powerful hardware of the iPhone 5 allows the game to run quite smoothly on this mobile device as well.

Conclusion:

Should you get this game? It’s a matter of small debate but I’d think that only the most ardent fans of Chris Sawyer’s games would do it.              

        

 

  

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