Every serious scholar of American history could tell you the way the west was really won. Iím sure it had a lot to do with two parallel lines of steel, stretching for as far as the eye could see into the vast 10 x 10 matrix of uncharted land squares sprawled out across in front of those early explorers. 100 squares of peril, fortune and opportunity that needed to be tamed, and then tamed again 10 times over in an increasingly difficult challenge of supplying a rail service to the pioneers. Only the wealthiest and most successful rail moguls would ever make it to the hallowed hall of fame - would you be one of them?
This is an entertaining little game that is very similar in style to the 2004 indie smash hit; Oasis. It is a little more limited in scope, and whereas concepts in Oasis were introduced gradually over a long period of gameplay, an entire game of Loco Mogul can be played in one sitting - less than an hour. Itís got very good pick-up-and-play value, and would suit a 15 minute break perfectly.
The game progression can be broadly broken down into three very different stages. Every map consists of 100 squares in a 10x10 lattice, and the players first job is exploration of the map. Surveying a square is quite costly, and youíll soon run out of cash unless you plan this stage well. The idea is to uncover as many of the resource and town features as possible. Like in Minesweeper, squares adjacent to areas of interest will be highlighted with a number to assist with efficient surveying. Every level of every game is randomised within certain parameters, so the challenge will always be different.
Once the terrain has been sufficiently explored, track building can take place. Hills need to be flattened and trees felled so that the rails can go through. Stockpiled lumber can then be used to build bridges over rivers and dynamite that is found beneath flattened hills can be used to blast tunnels through otherwise impassable mountains. Sometimes when flattening terrain, the player may come across one of several experts, who will offer services like exploring a set amount of undiscovered terrain for free, or chasing away all pesky bandits from a map! These NPCís services can be used immediately or saved for use later. Most importantly though, building an efficient track layout usually means (but not always requires) a loop of some sort, and decisions may have to be made to not service some remote locations in favour of saving the cash for later levels. Stations need to be built to service the towns and resources.
Finally, depending on the percentage of serviced locations, a time limit is imposed on the player to run their railway for the best profit possible. Do you forgo the luxuries that need to go to the other side of the map in favour of a few cheap coal runs? Each completed delivery raises your reputation, but some are more profitable than others. Food cannot be left lying around very long, but other goods like ore can stay on stations for an extended period of time before pickup.
Truly great games are always asking the players to make interesting choices that have real effect on the situation as well as the outcome. Loco Mogul is always presenting the player with dilemmas. The object of the overall game is to buy out your stakeholders, and own your own company, but as the game goes on, investors will demand more and more money for their stake as the company becomes more profitable. Buy them out early and struggle with less cash, or pile up your personal assets first and then make an aggressive top-dollar bid later on? Upgrade your rolling stock for $50,000 or explore more terrain on the next level? Go around that mountain up ahead and save in the short term, or spend money prospecting for TNT to blast a cost efficient tunnel right through it? The game never degenerates into a click-fest like some of its peers.
Control is entirely mouse based. Itís a very easy game to learn, with the assistance of some tutorial hints on the first play through. These can be disabled later in the options menu. The game runs in a fixed resolution of 1024x768 in either full-screen or windowed mode. There are no options to customise anything else apart from the sound and music volume. Thereís a local high score table, and multiple player profiles as well. Given the nature of the random maps, some games play out a lot harder than others, and comparison between players is not always fair, though.
A couple of sore points. The music consists of one MIDI version of ďIíve Been Working on the RailroadĒ that you will be hearing in your nightmares for weeks if you allow it to repeat for more than a few games. There are sound effects for most actions in the game, and these are fairly good, but the bloody train whistle that sounds every time you move the train annoys me. The game has a tendency to feel a bit light. Some more levels, or an expanded playfield might have prevented this, or perhaps the inclusion of a custom map generation option that could be unlocked at the end of the campaign.
The graphics are fairly basic and characters look like hand drawn caricatures (which fits with the casual theme perfectly). No special effects, shadows, anti aliasing or advanced shaders means that the game will run on even low-end PCs. In fact, the game is perfectly suited to pop onto your laptop for a bit of light hearted entertainment every now and then.
Because of the range of gameplay features, Loco Mogul will appeal to many types of mainly casual gamers, but the strategists might get a bit out of this title too. It is certainly capable of commanding quite a diverse fan-base, and this should work in favour of the developers - ApeZone. I would definitely give it a hearty recommendation to all readers. Thereís something here for everybody. Itís a solid, fun and absorbing title, and there arenít too many casual games out there that I could honestly say that about.
Keywords: loco mogul review, apezone reviews, apezone games, loco mogul scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.