A-Train


Title		A-Train
Game Type	Management Sim
Publisher	Ocean (1992)
Developer	Artdink/Maxis (Amiga conversion)
HD Installable	Yes
Compatibility	All
Submission      John Burns (john@jgb.abelgratis.co.uk) Profiled Reviewer

Review
Let's start with the technical stuff. The game can be run in Low Res on
any system from KS1.2-KS3.9 with 1Mb of memory. A High Res (interlaced)
mode is available if you have a further 512K of Fast memory and can stand
the flicker. The game comes on two disks marked as Lo-Res and Hi-Res both
of which are required, irrespective of mode, but you must boot from the
appropriate disk. The game supports external floppy drives so disk
swapping is not an issue and has a hard disk installer though you can just
copy it manually and start from the appropriate Hi/Lo-Res icon. There is
also an option to print out game maps.

Documentation comes in the form of a 142 page manual which is well laid
out and gives you all the information you need to play the game, including
a guided tutorial, Q&A section and an index. The manual also gives a load
of historical and background railroad info for the true trainspotters.

On to the review....

So far everything smacks of a quality production and starting the game
does nothing to dispel this view. The game itself is played on a grid
rather like Sim City 2000; an elevated, oblique viewpoint. In general the
Graphics are good and the animation of the train sprites are fluid without
any jerkiness. There is a day and night mode selectable to denote the
passing of time and likewise the gfx change dependent on the season.
Soundwise the game has some nice spot effects and reasonable in game music
which, like all good games, you can turn off.

Sounds Okay, I hear you say, but what does it play like?

Well, The game is more than the title would suggest as, far from being
just a railroad sim, to get anywhere and make some cash you will have to
manipulate the built in business model. By no means an easy task, but
then this is a management sim so I don't see anyone who likes this genre
of game being dismayed by that. Options available to you are to buy and
sell, property, land, businesses and stocks and shares. Of course your
core business is the rail network and stations you build but these will
only make money if people use them. So whether you like it or not you
will have to dabble in these other areas even if only to stimulate growth
around your stations. If you don't, not only will you soon be bankrupt,
game over, but you will miss out on most of the fun to be had in playing
this game.

Let me illustrate this by explaining some of the functions available in
buying and selling businesses. You can buy and sell Office blocks,
Hotels, Commercial (Shops) and leisure items such as stadia, golf courses,
and even ski resorts provided you have some hills available on the map to
place them on. So, say you decide to build a hotel, well you can sit back
and rake in the money but this won't go on for ever since, as in real
life, there are bound to be competitive hotels established by the computer
AI at some point. What you do then will obviously depend on both the
impact these competitors are having on your hotel profits and value. If
the impact is large it may be best to sell up, or you could decide to
tough it out albeit with reduced profits or even at a loss. Of course
since you run the railroad some judicious rescheduling may turn your
hotels fortunes around. By the same token should you see a computer
controlled business up for sale which is making a healthy profit it may be
worth buying it. This is really the heart of the game, making money by
buying and selling at the right time.

Difficulty wise I would rate this game harder than Sim City 2000 and
Railroad Tycoon for in those games once a stable annual growth rate is
established you will find it hard to go bust. A-Train's business model is
very lifelike and stable profits one year can soon change to losses the
next. This doesn't mean that the game is overburdened with facts and
figures, far from it. For instance, calling up a list of the residential
properties you own will show at a glance which are making and which are
losing money together with their market value. Simply put, if it's in the
red can you make enough money from selling it, bearing in mind that you
have to pay taxes on any profit you make annually?

Control wise the game shows again that thought has gone into the design
with all controls a mouse click or two away and sensibly laid out. Even
without a manual these controls are easy enough to get the hang off though
if you do so you will have a much harder learning curve. I mention this
because the game is legally available to download free on the Internet but
minus the manual of course.

In summary, a quality product which won't appeal to everyone but for fans
of the genre it is one of the better and harder management sims available.
Notwithstanding that it is free I would recommend this game even if it
were still a commercial product.


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