Videogame content can cover a wide range of extremes. Whether it’s extreme depictions of violence, humor, or difficulty levels, if you’re a lover of the intense, then odds are you can find a game that fits your style. Transport Tycoon is a game that travels in a different kind of extreme, and that’s an extreme level of resource management. If dealing with menus within menus within menus, a distressing amount of unmarked icons cluttering your screen and an absolutely ludicrous level of detail to govern sounds like a fun night at home, then Transport Tycoon is the game for you.
Transport Tycoon puts you in the role of a leader of industry who is tasked with growing and managing cities while undertaking a staggering array of infrastructure projects along the way. You’re chiefly in charge of managing goods and services and making sure that the town’s citizens have what they need to grow and prosper. Your economy rules your life, so keeping track of your finances, overhead, and resources on a continual basis will be your chief concern.
That’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what you do in Transport Tycoon. It’s a far deeper, involving, and time consuming affair then what my little paragraph can convey, and the reason for this is that you have to manage virtually aspect, down to the smallest detail, of every part of a town’s, and your company’s, economy. To talk about everything in the game would require a book– and possibly a flow-chart as well.
Here’s an example of how to perform one of the “simplest” tasks in Transport Tycoon. Say you want to set up a bus route, one of the most fundamental elements of the game. To do this, you first need to set up the bus-stations or terminals that your busses will go between. That’s the first menu you go into. After you’ve done that and have placed your stations where you want them, you have to buy your busses and get them moving the populace along. You go into another menu to buy your bus, then another menu to chose your bus. After that, you place it where you want it and then hit a button to confirm the placement. After that you enter another menu and then a sub-menu to set the bus-route. After you’ve finally done all of that, you hit the big green Go button and your bus is on its way.
Bus-routes are one of the foundations of how you build your economy, so what I detailed above is something you’ll be doing quite a bit. And this is just the beginning. There are other transportation options (laying down roads, building train routes or shipping lanes) to contend with that all have their own ways of doing things, different industries (like coal plants, steel-mills farms, and oil wells) to manage, fund, and provide with capital and transportation, and challenges like demolition, dealing with different terrains or cities that need to be connected for trade and travel.
The sheer volume of what you have to manage is staggering and you can get easily overwhelmed. Virtually every task requires you to go into menus and submenus just to accomplish anything, and the menus are only represented by icons, so memorizing the numerous pictures is essential. There is no other way to know what a menu does until you tap it. There are tutorials to show you how to do the most basic tasks, but with so much information being thrown at you, you just may end up playing through the tutorials more than once. There is also an instruction manual in the game, but again with so much to do in the game, and so much that goes unexplained, just figuring out where to navigate in the manual can be a time consuming task in itself.
Trial and error is going to a regular part of your life if you decide to play Transport Tycoon. Figuring out how to make things work– heck just figuring out what the different menus are all about– takes a lot of time and effort. I found myself replaying several scenarios because of mistakes I made early on. And that’s just the nature of the game. Failure is always an option. But a funny thing happened after a while. If you stick with it, at a certain point you’ll see your profits rising, the people getting happier, your approval rating going up, and you’ll get this sense of giddiness as you watch the machine you just created chug along.
The interface does the job, but it’s obvious that this is a PC port and not a game designed around a small touchscreen. The menus clutter the border of the screen and the game only allows you to zoom out a certain distance, so losing track of what you’re doing happens quite often. You are able to rotate the screen to get a different perspective either by using two fingers or pressing an arrow button at the top of the screen, but the two finger technique never worked for me (I just found myself zooming in or out) and using the buttons doesn’t produce a smooth rotation. Instead, the screen just jumps to the next angle and this would result in me sometimes losing track of where I was. Eventually I learned to keep my eyes on a key landmark and watch how it turned, but the suddenness of the flip can be jarring.
The graphics are also terrible. I know in a game like this I shouldn’t be expecting whiz-bang images, but zoom in too close and your vehicles look like smudges on your screen and the cities look like an undeveloped Minecraft environment.
It probably sounds like I’m being awfully negative towards the game, and the game does have some major issues, but after I got a handle on the fundamentals I actually found myself enjoying Transport Tycoon quite a bit. And that’s basically the crux of it all. You probably already know if this is a game for you. The technical limitations aren’t really deal breakers. They’re annoying and the game would provide a much richer and less intimidating experience if the menus weren’t so obtuse and if the interface rose above being merely passable, but at the end of the day those aren’t the real details you’ll be worrying about. No, once you really get into it, you’ll find yourself more concerned with making sure your factories have enough steel, your busses are able to serve enough citizens, and your expense to income ratio is weighted in your bank account’s favor. Such is the life of management.