Title: Chris Sawyer's Locomotion
Developer: Chris Sawyer
Publisher: Atari
Date Published: 09/10/04 (EUR)
Platforms: Windows
Chris Sawyer's Locomotion is the long-awaited sequel to the brilliant Transport Tycoon and Transport Tycoon Deluxe games.


Locomotion is all about building transport networks. You can build railways, trams, busses, trucks, ships, and aircraft. Your objective is to gain wealth by constructing routes and operating vehicles to transport passengers, mail and cargo between towns and industries.

There are three geographic regions in the game, differentiated by trains and climate.

How it all works

Transporting passengers and mail is easy. Simply build a passenger station in or near a town, and another station further away, also in a town. Connect them by appropriate means, and set a passenger vehicle like a bus or train with passenger carriages to work driving between the two stops.

Cargo is a bit trickier. Some industries only produce materials, while others require deliveries of one or more types of material be supplied before they will produce their own material. Here's an example of one of the more complex processes:

COAL (Coal Mine) and IRON ORE (Iron Ore Mine) --to--> STEEL (Steel Mill) --to--> GOODS (Factory) --to--> City

Assembling a network to support such a complex supply chain is tricky, but satisfying.

Extra Features

In the decade since Transport Tycoon, games have become more complex, which in term makes them more flexible and enjoyable. Locomotion is no exception, and offers the following features:

  • two types of electrification, to allow the operation of powerful electric trains.
  • narrow gauge railways, for climbing extreme slopes.
  • refittable ships and aircraft, to permit the carriage of cargo.
  • one-way signalling, to let you better control your trains' movements.
  • one-way roads, which can be used alone or laid parallel to create high-speed highways.
  • extensive construction options allowing you to shape the terrain to suit your needs.
  • the ability to add multiple locomotives to a train, if extra power is needed for heavy loads.
  • elevated and underground stations.

The game runs from 1900 into the 21st century, with vehicles approriate for the era. As a result, your early railways will have small, weak locomotives; and tiny, pathetic trucks that can barely top 30mph. A great deal of satisfaction comes from upgrading your vehicles to the latest and greatest, and watching your layout transform from a steam-driven operation to a sleek, electrified modern network.

The boiler bursts

So far, so good. The game sounds like the long-desired upgrade of Transport Tycoon, giving players the features and freedom they hankered after. By all rights, Locomotion should be brilliant, right? Wrong. If anything, Mr. Chris Sawyer should be ashamed to lend his name to such a buggy, unfinished, half-baked abortion.

This game stresses me out far too much. All the little niggles (giant cities from tiny hamlets in a decade, breaking vehicles, no overhead EMUs, jammed airports) pale in comparison to the colossal cock-up that is the pathfinding. Am I really meant to only build single or double-tracks directly between stations to ensure my trains will go to their destination? I am absolutely raving sick of carefully plonking down waypoints just past all the key junctions on a train's journey, and watch it always go any which way BUT to the waypoint.

I have turned trains around and sent them back to start their orders over, only to have them turn up lost again a few minutes later. I have trains travel halfway across the map to ignore their orders. I have huge express trains wander down tiny industrial spurs and get jammed in the factory platform. I have trains which somehow reach their destination but, since they somehow got there ignoring the waypoints, don't unload but instead turn around and drive back out, heading for the waypoint they missed!

My network growth is at a standstill because I am playing nursemaid, traffic officer and signalman to these cretinous Abominable Intelligences, wasting months of game time carefully SPADding trains through traffic jams to get things flowing again. I've horrendously simplified parts of my network, added bypass tracks, direct routes and one-way signals and yet they still manage to find a way to ignore both the orders to guide them and the route design to catch them if they ignore the orders.

It's not just the railways and a possible lack of talent building them. My trucks are a hopeless mess. They love driving down dead end streets, turning around, and then heading in the opposite direction from their destination. They ignore empty bays to queue needlessly for an already occupied bay, and prevent trucks already in the bay from getting out. They take wrong corners and drive halfway across the map to circle the blocks of a distant city, skip and ignore waypoints, and short of giving them square-by-square waypoints for their entire run I can't see how to control them.

I cannot comprehend what on earth Chris was thinking and/or did to the AI from TTD which, while far from perfect, was at least capable of avoiding dead-ends or routes which took it away from its next stop. Much like TTD, playing a game of Locomotion from start to finish is a large investment of your time which is meant to be rewarding - watching your network grow from little steamers and buses and biplanes to ruddy great APTs, double-deckers and 777s. I'm reluctant to waste any more of my precious leisure time starting a new game for fear I'll invest more hours fruitlessly trying to make the program do something it obviously doesn't want to, but the subject matter of Locomotion appeals to me so much I can't *quite* bear to give up on it without a fight.

Sims in The Sims 2 ignore my orders as part of the fun, but when I build a railroad and make it run, I want it to race against time, not test my patience.

Other niggles:

  • third rail electrification, something the UK would gladly be rid of given half the chance, is your only option for operating EMUs. No EMUs capable of accepting an overhead supply are included in the UK set. So, you can waste money on both types of electrification to get the full effect.
  • vehicles, by default, wear out after a mere five years. When you get further into the game, and own vast fleets of vehicles, to be replacing them every five years is to be spending all your time hunting down and replacing vehicles, and slowly going insane.
  • the 'large airport' can become permanently jammed.
  • the competing companies' AI is utterly hopeless, see the bottom of this wu for an image link that illustrates this far better than I could ever hope to.
  • the maps are tiny.
  • leading on from that last point, the trains are completely out of scale with the rest of the game. An express train will often be longer than the city it serves. Stations are therefore huge to accomodate these giant trains.
  • there is a ridiculously small station size limit given the size of the trains.
  • it takes an express train approximately a third of the map to reach top speed, and that's with completely flat, straight track.
  • ludicrous speed restrictions are in place for all road and rail curves. Combine this with the shortage of space from the tiny maps, and your trains are virtually guaranteed to never reach their maximum speed.
  • trains set their route several signals ahead, often preventing another train that would otherwise have cleared the junction from proceeding.
  • trains only wait a very short time at a red signal before 'giving up' and turning around to find another route. This results in huge jams and trains getting irrecovably lost.
  • vehicle maintenance depots, as seen in the original Transport Tycoon, are gone. Vehicles therefore slowly degrade and you cannot prevent this.
  • the North American vehicle set is bereft of content to the point of being a joke. A boring, unplayable joke.

Conclusions to be drawn

In his foreword in the manual, Chris Sawyer reveals Locomotion was actually started almost a decade ago, but was put on hold for over five years when he decided to work on Rollercoaster Tycoon 1 and 2 instead. This delay in development is painfully obvious, as Locomotion feels like it was intended to run on the Pentium-IIs of 1998, not the Pentium-IVs of 2004. Locomotion should have been rebuilt from scratch, or stayed in development for several more months. As it is, it's painfully close to being good, but there are far too many niggles, flaws and bugs that spoil your fun. You are far better off with your old copy of Transport Tycoon and the brilliant TTDPatch. Yes, it does share Rollercoaster Tycoon's game engine, hence the RSI-inducing construction method.

Links n' things

There's a brilliant community at work, and they've rectified a number of the problems, notably the short vehicle lifespans. There are also lots of add-on vehicles available to download and enjoy.

Here's that image I promised of the AI at work:

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