Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion (PC)

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I have a lot of respect for Chris Sawyer. As a developer, he’s practically a one-man show and yet he has still developed some of my favourite PC simulation games over my long gaming career. He is well-known by most simulation fans and probably draws most of his popularity for his Transport Tycoon series of games.

Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion is a transport simulation game first released in 2004 and is, in Chris Sawyer’s own words, “the spiritual successor to Transport Tycoon.”

Chris Sawyer's Locomotion Screenshot 1

In Locomotion players must develop a transport company to achieve certain scenario goals ranging from revenue targets to transport targets (such as transporting ten thousand passengers within five years) and players have various transport modes at their disposal, including railroads, trucking lines, buses, trams, ships and even aeroplanes to attain these objectives.

There are more than forty scenarios included in Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion and more can be added with the included scenario editor. While many of the scenarios are fictional, some of the included scenarios are based on real-world countries such as the Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Since its original release, there are by now several add-ons available for Locomotion. Packs including hundreds of trains, trucks, aeroplanes and other vehicles can be incorporated into Locomotion which helps to breathe new life into the game once the original resources become a little tired.

Chris Sawyer's Locomotion Screenshot 2

The interface of Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion was bad even for its time and the windows-centric interface requires some adjustment and is not nearly as intuitive as Mr. Sawyer would have liked it to be. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking Tom Sawyer had a hand in the interface’s design. The entire user interface hinges on three features: a 2D/3D isometric view, the ability to rotate the screen in ninety degree intervals, and a windowed menu system akin to the Windows desktop.

The isometric view is generally fine but in some rare cases the view of what you’re trying to do is obstructed and a manual mouse click to rotate the screen is required. Probably three times out of four you can rotate until you find an angle that helpfully (to some extent, at least) reveals what you’re trying to see but on the odd occasion (which seems to feel like it happens more frequently than it probably actually does) still I was unable to see what I wanted to see and to get around this I had to spend more funds on levelling the terrain around my target just to see what I was doing. Not much business sense to spend $3000 to build a $100 train track.

Once you understand the desired objective behind the windowed menu interface it can actually be a little helpful even though it clutters the screen and generally overcomplicates things. Once you’re familiar with what you want to see you can more easily customise the menu layout to suit your requirements, but moving windows around the screen is a bit of a drag.

Chris Sawyer's Locomotion Screenshot 3

The interface is by and large the most obvious irritant with Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion experience but it doesn’t end there. The AI is very mediocre at the best of times and in my experience I’ve never been threatened by the AI industries in any of my games. That being said, the lack of any rival company competition is not a train smash because just trying to establish your own company before you hit bankruptcy is challenge enough, but without the feeling of cut-throat companies competing for the single coal industry’s business it does feel a little lonely.

The loneliness can be countered with the two-player multiplayer, however, and the multiplayer boosts the longevity of the game and puts the lacklustre AI complaint to bed – if you’re able to find someone willing to let off some steam playing Locomotion with you then you’ll both have a good time competing against each other.

Chris Sawyer's Locomotion Screenshot 4

The final frustration with Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion is its continued emphasis on the mouse inputs. To place a track requires you to rotate the direction of the tile until it is pointing the right way, then to click on the track deployment button and continue doing so until you want to turn the track or elevate it, which involves more clicks to get done. Heaven help you if you need to undo a track layout. It would have been much easier (and sensible) to have a drag and drop option or even better, a click and drag facility like Railroad Tycoon, but first prize in my opinion would have been more keyboard short-cut options than the limited number actually available to the user.

Chris Sawyer’s Locomotion remains an intriguing and entertaining transportation simulator if you can get past the interface, the mouse-centric controls, and the bad AI. The inclusion of a scenario editor, third party add-ons and multiplayer have no doubt helped Locomotion to survive this long. If you’re looking for a decent transport simulator to play with a friend then Locomotion should meet your needs.

Chris Sawyer's Locomotion Screenshot 6

The Good:

Simulating a transport industry is always fun; Multiplayer; Hundreds of add-ons

The Bad:

Interface is painful; AI is worse than than a colony of ants