Dwight Owen Barnes (played by James Coburn), the longtime Chief Executive Officer of the "A-IV Group", a multinational corporation with diversified assets and interests throughout the world, has just mysteriously disappeared in his private jet. As news reports of the disappearance break, stock in the company falls sharply, and you are swiftly selected as new CEO. Tasked with recovering the company from the downfall and ever further expansion you must prove your leadership fast.
You will be required to buy and sell assets, build and manage the transportation infrastructure necessary to keep the company running, and allocate resources among more than 100 subsidiary companies. These are the tasks you must deal with while maximizing profit, keeping the investors from running you out, and preventing hostile takeovers from rival corporations.
AIV Network$ is the last and best English version in ArtDink's underrated railroad simulation series that began with Railroad Empire and best known with A-Train. The game was released only in a handful of European countries by Infogrames (and Japan, of course), and apparently the sales figures were disappointing enough to convince ArtDink never to translate future releases into English again (the series is currently up to A6, which features 3D stations and more). A big shame, since this is definitely one of the best and most complex business sims you'll ever come across.
The game at first glance appears to be only a cosmetically improved A-Train: the graphics are now in vibrant SVGA, with amazing depiction of various weather conditions (rain, snow, etc.) and passage of time. As an old saying goes, though, beauty is only skin deep, and fortunately AIV Network$ packs enough gameplay and excruciatingly realistic details to please even the most perfectionistic of business tycoons. The stock market model in A-Train, for example, has been greatly expanded and improved. You can now trade more stocks than ever before, and there are many random elements (e.g. recessions) that have a real impact on your portfolio. On the train management side, A-Train's great routing system has been greatly expanded: you can now not only plan each train's route, but also choose how long the train should stop at each station, how much load to pick up, and so on. You can even plan a complete maintenance schedule, and speculate in many more building types. As the game is set in Japan (where real estate is possibly more expensive than the Moon), buying and selling land and buildings can make you a billionnaire if the timing is right.
Overall, AIV Network$ is a very deep, complex, and thorough railroad business simulation. Beginners and casual gamers should play Transport Tycoon Deluxe instead due to the game's extremely steep learning curve and somewhat "dry" presentation. On the other hand, if you're a diehard business sim fan like me who cut teeth on stock market simulations, or want to micro-manage your rail empire without escaping any detail, AIV Network$ is the best there is. Highly recommended!
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