Sunday, August 24, 2008

Freight Tycoon Review

Freight Tycoon, developed by Nikita Interactive and published by 1C Company on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Comprehensive economic simulation, almost excellent user interface, lots of scenarios, numerous goods to transport, success will develop your city and bring in more clients
The Not So Good: Finding good contracts should be easier, small icons make it difficult to determine vehicle type, not much to do once you get your business started
What say you? A good economic management game if you don’t mind the inherent tedium and repetition: 6/8

Tycoon games have surely put their mark on the computer gaming map. Ever since the craze started with titles such as RollerCoaster Tycoon and Railroad Tycoon, we’ve had tycoon games cover pretty much every aspect of society: fish, hospitals, wild animals, and even the circus. Now, it’s truck transportation’s turn with Freight Tycoon. You start out with a small business concerned with delivering goods across a small town. Where will this game fall into the tycoon pecking order?

The graphics of Freight Tycoon are not bad, as long as you approach them from the perspective of a economic management simulation and not a top-flight city builder. They are on par with SimCity 4, which, of course, is five years old. Although you can rotate your view, the buildings have a 2-D isometric feel to them. The cars and other vehicles in the game move around, but they certainly do not have life-like animations. But since your main focus is not on what the city looks like, I'm willing to give slightly archaic graphics a pass. There is a wide assortment of photos for potential employees, though. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the sound in the game: I seem to have disabled the audio (just in this game) somehow and can't get it to work again. Oopsy!

Freight Tycoon is a single-player only game that offers twenty-one scenarios to test your business sense. Even though this might not sound like a lot of content, each individual scenario takes a while to complete (thanks to the somewhat arbitrary victory conditions), so you'll be busy for a while. It is sad, though, that Freight Tycoon lacks editors to make your own scenarios. Each scenario can be played at several difficulty settings (great for beginners) and the tutorial does a good job teaching the basics of the mechanics.

As the president of a transportation firm, it is your responsibility to make fat stacks of cash and you do this by moving goods across the town. You will only own two types of buildings: an office and garages. The garages are where your fleet is stored and new cars and drivers are purchased or hired. There is a wide array of vehicles to choose from in the game, from vans to trucks and trailers, each of which has a speed rating and other characteristics. Freight in the game is broken down into which kind of vehicle can carry it: tank, container, open, van, timber, or armored. The key is to find the most profitable ware, purchase a vehicle that can carry it, hire a person that can drive that car, and sign a contract to deliver it. The game makes it more difficult to do this process than it should be, since you must individually click on each business to see its products and the product is cannot be sorted (according to profit, for example). This makes peering at a small window of information excruciatingly boring. In addition, the game confuses even more by changing the look of the freight category icons when reduced in size; this makes it extremely difficult to determine what category some of the goods fall into, since tool-tips simply say “required body type” instead of what the “required body type” it actually is. Useful messages that spawn along the bottom cannot be deleted (even if you've read them) as they disappear after a fixed interval of time. Other than these issues, the rest of the user interface is good: there is a ton of information spread across screens that do not take up the entire display. The car list in the upper-left, very reminiscent of the empire tree from Sins of a Solar Empire, puts the most important information right on the main screen. If only finding a good contract was easier, then Freight Tycoon would be a breeze to handle.

It's pretty easy to get a successful business up and running, but you will also need some support staff to assist operations. Employees can serve human resources positions (which reduces operation costs) and fix broken vehicles, for example. The chaos associated with accepting contracts in real-time (which are also being sought after by your competitors) can be eliminated by pausing the game: a disappointing “cheat.” One neat feature of Freight Tycoon is that your city grows along with you: as you play well, businesses will also expand, offering new (and usually more profitable) goods for you to transport. I don't remember any economic simulations where this occurred.

Freight Tycoon is one of those niche games I come across that is good, but will be completely boring to people not interested in the genre. There are a couple of missteps when it comes to the user interface, but, in general, the game is polished and makes finding information very easy. There is a good selection of products to transport and vehicles to add to your fleet. The game comes with a satisfying number of scenarios with adjustable difficulty, so the sting of the lack of a level editor is relieved somewhat. Still, there is a lot of waiting around for money to accumulate once you get your business established, but time acceleration reduces the waiting. Obviously this game will not appeal to everyone, but those looking for an entertaining economic simulation with a couple of minor hiccups will enjoy Freight Tycoon.