Graphics and sound
The graphics are actually a bit disappointing. Thereís nothing wrong with the terrain and day/night cycle, which are beautiful. The water has nice pixel shader effects, but the focus of the game, the trains, are horribly neglected. The basic details that identify every train are readily visible, but the small touches are gone. Wheels are not actual 3D objects, but pairs of flat, animated textures.
The textures are rather low-res and while they have rudimentary details, these arenít particularly impressive. Thereís an undeniable lack of color depth to any given texture, they seem done for a 16-bit color palette. Theyíre functional and itís easy enough to identify trains, but weíd be overgenerous if we suggested that the textures accomplish anything beyond that.
The terrain engine is really rather impressive, able to display huge mountains as ably as deserts, forests, plains and oceans, but the most important gameplay change this allows is the way track laying is handled. Being able to control the exact path of the track using minute angles allows one to minimize the severity of the grades faced by his trains, thus improving delivery time, but while the graphics and the game support this, the tool to do so is not conducive to it. The track laying tool is very biased towards long, curving tracks, and absolutely hates allowing track to come off at small angles from a main line. Itís often necessary to create a 90 degree turn and then delete the extra track before proceeding with the new, slight angle. Itís a minor quibble, but itíd save time and money; and those are the two things a railroad company always cares about.
All in all, the graphics engine feels like a jack of all trades aimed at a lower denominator, than an uber-l33t visual machine. RT3ís low system requirements support that hypothesis, and when judged on those merits, Railroad Tycoon 3 has a rather splendid engine.
The sound effects are much better than the graphics, relatively speaking. PopTop provided a multitude of sound effects for the various trains of course, but also present are background sounds for rivers, coasts, the wilds of nature and the hum of civilization. Of course the trains coming into stations still make those pleasant video lottery terminal-like dings and beeps.
Music has been very important in PopTopís version of Railroad Tycoon and that certainly carries over to RT3. Unfortunately it seems most of the tracks are repeats from the previous games. Maybe the tunes are all genuine, and itís a little tough to go back in history and make some more railroad songs, but itís not as if anyone would be put off in original scores being created.