When we were little our imaginations held no limits. We could build universes out of blue blankets, a couple of tennis balls and a satsuma. We could build epic stories from toys, bits of rubbish from the bin and the dog. I used to love to build race tracks for my cars, trains, Millennium Falcon and more; toys that I’ve now forgotten about due to old age. These tracks would go under chairs, over beds and around the legs of tables – all much to my mother’s annoyance. Tracks – The Train Set Game lets you revisit those times, or if you are of the younger generation, be introduced to them, but without the messy bits and the chance of standing on a bit of scenery in the morning.
Originally released in Steam Early Access, Tracks has a very basic premise but it executes it brilliantly and with great panache. Basically put, it leaves you with an unlimited toy box of wooden tracks to lay down across a big open sandbox world, and it’s up to you – and your inventive ways – to build whatever you want. You start by choosing your location template, whether it be a winter wonderland, a modern Ikea house, or even a blank white void. You then have a small piece of track with a small wooden train on it, and from there it’s up to you to discover what happens next.
In the tutorial, Tracks – The Train Set Game informs you exactly how you should go about building a track, with a very simple press of your buttons and triggers laying down the tracks; straight, with bends, or up and down across a variety of heights. There are junctions you can place down, letting you change the direction as the train goes through intersections too. It’s all so easy to action, and is hugely intuitive to set up. Once you have built your track there is then the ability to decorate everything around you to make a whole town, city or world. Again, your imagination is pretty much the limit.
You can start by choosing your background, changing the colour, making it foggy or even seeing it snow. Then you can rotate and place buildings by the side of your track, or trees, or even passengers. Soon your imagination will be left to run wild and you’ll find yourself in the throes of building a city, an underground transit system, or a fantasy inspired snow land complete with its own railway track. There are a fair number of options available from the list of things to build with, and the breadth of creativity on offer here is huge.
When you’ve built your ideal track then it’s your chance to have a drive around it, mostly just in order to see if it actually holds up and works. Tracks switches easily between the building mode and into a first-person viewpoint, literally dropping you into the driver’s seat of the train itself. Here you can move it forward and back, watch it move across the tracks making sure there are no gaps in your route, or problems that will ever halt your progress. You can even blow the whistle of the train as you rush by, and believe me there is nothing more satisfying then pulling on the wooden horn. There really is little better than seeing your world from that perspective, rushing by as you take to the tracks to view all the hard work you’ve put into it.
But building as you see fit and messing around in a train isn’t all that Tracks on Xbox One can offer. See, the other side of the game revolves around a sort of mission-based section – called Passengers. Here you have some tasks put in place which involve you needing to pick up a group of passengers, build a platform for them and then take them to a station. It’s all good and again very pleasing, at least initially, as then the game does something unusual; something I don’t like. It is here where timed missions are introduced, giving you a small amount of time to build the tracks and get the stricken passengers to a specific location. The sudden urge to rush your build time and do a task that goes against the whole tone of the rest of the game doesn’t quite work for me. I could easily do without it.
The game visuals though are a masterpiece of design. From the very pretty forming of the room templates to beautifully designed buildings, stations, and decorations, Tracks delivers. It’s the star of the show – the train itself – that always does it for me though, with its wood grain finish and chance for me to look back and remember times as a small child, messing around with wooden tracks on the living room floor. It’s a very pleasant and beautiful environment to spend time in. The soundtrack helps immerse too, featuring some lovely piano pieces that feel like something you might find in a wild west saloon. Frankly, they work brilliantly with the action.
Tracks – The Train Set Game on Xbox One is a game for the creators and the builders of worlds. It’s a game where you could happily lose a hundred hours making a multi-piece railway line that twists and turns around a kitchen table like an award-winning piece of architecture. It will reward you if you invest in it and it is there where gamers will get the most from it. It also just happens to be a great little family game, one that will allow parents and their children to bond; all without the mess of course!
I would love to see what happens with this brilliant railway builder in the future, and if more decorations and ideas are added through DLC packs in the weeks and months ahead, expanding on the mission structure at the same time, the future is hugely bright. But for now, I’m going back to designing the longest track since time began, before jumping into the hot seat of my train to see where this wonderful world can take me.