Everyone has had a train set at some stage in their life. From the small circular one that just went round and round, to the behemoth tracks that spread across the house with homemade trees, houses made out of LEGO and stations created from cardboard. A friend of mine had one that went in and around his dog’s basket and occasionally the 2:42 from Colchester would be delayed because a monster dog was chewing the non-smoking carriage.
Well, for you budding railway enthusiasts there is a game now available whereby you can build track, stations, trains and design a whole world of railway fun. Railway Empire has arrived, just on time and with no delays.
There aren’t a huge number of sim games available on Xbox One. Cities Skylines is the most recent, most successful transfer from the busy PC market. Railway Empire ports over and places you in the role of a budding railway engineer in the American wilderness from 1830 to the early 1900s. You start the game with a number of options available to you – Campaign, Scenario, Free Mode and Sandbox.
The campaign is the best place to start as it gives the actual fundamentals for the gameplay and shows how to design the perfect rail connections. It delivers a great introduction to the basics and then builds a nice learning curve into what you have to do. There’s a finance/investor character who talks you through each task that needs actioning and this really works well, all while building a bit of a story.
Railway Empire gives a top-down version of a region in which you can see all the towns, cities, farms and timber yards – all waiting to be connected to each other. With the click of a button you can zoom into a town or train and get a close up view of what’s occurring. Another press gives you access to a menu that has all the tools you need to be a successful rail designer. There are the stations – whether you build the biggest one for a thriving city or a small one for a dairy farm or meat farm. Then you build the track that connects them all to the cities. But don’t forget to add water supplies on route, bridges over rivers or higher ground and, of course, signals and side tracks to stop the trains crashing into one another. Then as you progress you build maintenance hubs and faster, fancier trains. Working out the best routes from city to city, and what that city needs in terms of production, is pretty much the name of the game from there on out. Get all this right and the money should just roll in, right?
Well, it can be tricky, but following the campaign is the best way to guide you through, with a helpful tutorial to start with and then a really useful task list to keep track of what you have to achieve. The controls can be a bit fiddly to get used to as well, especially when it comes to joining the tracks together and building all the empire bits and bobs. But overall it’s a good transition with some excellent adaptations to the UI.
Your time with Railway Empire will no doubt be a lengthy process, because as well as the campaign, there are a number of scenarios and the chance to mess around playing freestyle. There is a good amount of research to be found, money management and a decent design that gives the avid sim gamer plenty of things to take in. I do feel that if it was cheaper – perhaps around the £30 mark, rather than the full price it comes with – it might do a bit better and make any potential newcomer to sim games tempted to have a bit of a punt. But what do I know about game economics?
Railway Empire looks fine and dandy too. The menus are bright and easy on the eye, with a great visual UI that ensures any selection is a joy. The actual stations, trains and towns look good, especially when you can zoom in and out instantly – something which is always fun and satisfying. It doesn’t quite hit the standards of the likes of Cities: Skylines in the looks department, but it’s pretty damn close.
The sound effects and tones for this rail sim are all superb too, and it has a nice realistic feel to it, with old-time music pumping out whilst in the menus. The voice over is well acted, directed and written, with it providing an informative job, whilst mixing in humour and drama.
Overall this game will only be of true interest to sim fans – railway sim fans in particular. It is maybe too expensive for the newcomer to take a punt on, but should it hit a sale, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it. There is lots to do and the campaign mode is brilliantly informative and gives you everything you need to know. The controls can be fiddly, and after a few hours, I did begin to feel a bit out of my depth with my multi-tasking skills put to the test and failing. It’s important for Xbox to champion PC conversions though and once again we have a sim game to be proud of on the console.
Now excuse me, I have a 10:42 milk order to get to Denver.