for PC (Linux)

Mr Creosote:
Company: Simutrans Community
Year: 1999
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Multiplayer / Logistics
Language: English, Deutsch
Licence: Freeware
Views: 1206
Review by Mr Creosote (2022-06-25)

The model railway will never die. Though who has the space to build one really large? Even if, at some point, you'll want to change it, don't you? Games such as Railroad Tycoon and Transport Tycoon, to a good degree, fed off this boy-ish fascination of laying tracks and watching little steam locomotives going from A to B. These days, OpenTTD is the go-to game usually recommended for such pleasures.

Simutrans, on the other hand, has been largely flying under the general public's radar. Launched in 1997, it started out as freeware and later became open source. Anyone who has ever played one of the aforementioned logistics-themed games will know what it's about: connecting places, hauling goods and people, and making a profit from it.

Traffic jam – time to build alternative routes!

The one selling point usually mentioned when describing the game is that everything has a natural destination. Passengers don't just want to go anywhere, but somewhere specific. The coal doesn't just need to go to a power plant, but the specific one the mining company has a contract with. Oh, and if you take some different coal to the ironworks, don't expect this line to run forever. As soon as their stores are full, no further coal will be accepted – until iron production actually gets running by also delivering iron ore. Don't forget to take the processed iron away afterwards, either.

Behind this outwardly easy enough to understand notion, there is a major complexity factor at work under the hood. Unlike all those other genre entries, Simutrans actually simulates its world on a global scale. OpenTTD, even with its optional goods destination patches, only ever approximates a global world state by actually just simulating each city, each industry by itself.

This makes the game's challenge rather a different one. The growth paradigm generally remains, but its execution and effects are much less immediate. Reaching the point where funds are essentially available to limitless amounts is hardly ever possible. Balancing of running costs versus profits, controlled growth according to a carefully laid out plan are key. Operating complex transport chains can only be pulled off with massive initial investment not available at the beginning, as building it up step-by-step will not work.

Choo choo!

With this in mind, Simutrans is not really in competition with OpenTTD and vice versa. They are complementary games with overall clearly different objectives. The latter being much closer to the model railroad world, the former being capable of actually providing a serious transport network simulation. None of the two is better – I play both with alarming regularity, depending on each day's mood.

That said, it cannot be denied that some of the polish the other game has is lacking in Simutrans. Many graphics sets are available, but none are as polished and clear as the default one of OpenTTD. The systems of signalling and pathfinding also seem generally more reliable in the latter game. The interface isn't nearly as streamlined, either, requiring too many clicks and informative dialog windows take up too much space to actually keep an eye on things over a longer period of time. Coming back to custom graphics sets, why do they have to come bundled with hardcoded rulesets? Why not allow the choice of graphics and rules independently of one another? In the same vein, an over-abundance of vehicle choices all for the same purpose is seriously plaguing a number of graphics sets.

In the big picture, those are still just minor quibbles. Simutrans impressively manages what it wants to be. It is a prime example of what freeware and open source can achieve, something all those involved should be proud of!

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