It’s a sensation that I feel less and less frequently these days. That is, a completely unfamiliar game – something shiny and new. That’s exactly what we’ve got here with Unrailed!
The game was released first on PC at the end of September, but it only took a month to make it to Xbox One, and then Series X|S. However, as I currently have only the one controller for my Xbox Series X (admittedly an oversight on my part), I reviewed Unrailed! on my trusty Xbox One S. And I must say, I love it.
One of the great things about Unrailed! is that it forces you to play together with others, and work together (most of the time). In fact, you can’t play it solo at all; instead you can choose to play couch co-op, or take it online to matchmake with others around the world. However, for me online matchmaking was patchy depending on which region I selected, often not being able to connect to the server.
Put simply, your goal is to keep your train on its tracks, and prevent a nasty derailment. You’ll have to be quick thinking and nimble, but most importantly you must work with your teammates and communicate effectively. All of the worlds (or Biomes) in Unrailed! are procedurally generated, which basically means you won’t play the same level twice. Ever. Not only this, but you’ll battle through different elements, such as wading through deep snow or having your visibility greatly reduced after being plunged into darkness, meaning you’ll have to tweak your strategy on the hoof.
You can play a quick tutorial which will teach you the mechanics of the game, which are pretty easy to pick up. You’ll need to chop wood and mine stone in order to collect the basic raw materials to build the tracks needed for your train. Once you pick up either tool and move towards the resource you need, your character will get to work automatically. And then when you load it into your train’s cart, it will create tracks which can then be taken and placed down on the map, to guide your train safely to the next station. In theory, that is.
However, your train has a tendency to overheat and, well, catch fire. To avoid this you’ll need to fill your bucket by standing next to some water, and again, like magic, your character will automatically spring into action. You can then use it to douse the flames and put the fire out. Whilst your train is on fire, you can’t create more tracks but it will keep chugging on. And if you run out of track? You guessed right. It’s game over.
At certain points, you’ll need to use your wood logs to build bridges over water which you can then lay your tracks down on. Be careful however, as it’s easy to cut yourself off from either end of the train, meaning you won’t be able to lay anymore track down, or get raw materials into the converter. Instead, you’ll be helpless, left to watch your train slowly inch its way to a nasty derailment. It always pays to plan your route carefully, and think a few steps ahead.
Unrailed! has a Minecraft feel to how it looks, but with a slightly sharper resolution. The game worlds look great, like a child’s imagination gone wild with a LEGO set, and the avatars you play as are silly but cute. To navigate the main menu, you simply walk onto the tile you want to select to choose that option (ie. Tutorial, Start Game, etc.). You can choose your avatar here, and there are all sorts of options, from a Penguin to (my favourite), a gingerbread man.
You can also experiment with emojis here, that you can use in-game to communicate with others you play with online. However, couch co-op is the best way to play. A full-blown argument nearly broke out between me and my other half, as we frantically barked orders at each other to avoid our game going off the rails (literally). Nothing can quite match the intensity of couch co-op – it’s the most fun I’ve had with a local multiplayer game for a long while.
You’ve got a few options of how to play Unrailed!. Firstly, you can jump into a “Quick Game”, which sees you just having to get your train to one destination. This is great for bite-size sessions when you don’t have a lot of time. You can choose from the usual three difficulty tiers, depending on how much of a challenge you want to face.
Earlier I mentioned that you will work together “most of the time”. This is because you can play “Versus” mode. This is a nice change of pace to the other modes, especially if your friends are a bit rubbish and you want to show them how it’s done. The action is played out in the classic splitscreen fashion, seeing both players attempt the exact same level. The winner is the first one to reach the station, or the last man left standing.
There’s also the “Sandbox” mode, which gives you greater control in how to set up your game. Before you can play this, you need to unlock some wagons by playing “Endless” mode. This is because you configure your train before you start, in a similar way to when you reach a station in “Endless” mode. You can also tinker with your train’s speed, depending on how much of a sadist you are.
The most enjoyable way to play Unrailed! has to be in Endless. This sees you hopping from station to station, each one acting as a checkpoint. However, for those seeking a true challenge, you can switch checkpoints off if you wish. The distance you manage to travel is marked at the bottom of your map, and there are also online leaderboards if you go to the official Unrailed! website. If you do try to set a new world record, prepare for the long haul. We managed around 100m in 45mins, whereas the current leader is sitting at 5272m. Enough said.
The beauty of Endless mode is that you can upgrade your train and its wagons after you reach each station. To do this you will need to collect yellow bolts, and choose how to spend them. You will get them simply by reaching the station, but also by collecting them on the map itself as well as completing specific challenges mid-game, such as “Don’t let your train catch fire”.
There are all sorts of upgrades to purchase, such as increased capacity, craft speed and even brand new wagons such as resource converters. You can have a maximum of five wagons that make up your train, which will speed up after you reach each station, so choose carefully. The clever thing here is, not only are the levels different each time, but because of this your choice of upgrades are likely to be different each time you play too. This means Unrailed! offers potentially unlimited replayability, ensuring longevity for the player. Not bad for £15.74.
You’ll unlock new avatars and wagons as you play too, giving a sense of some progression despite the fact you can never “complete” Unrailed!. You can also watch replays of your playthroughs, or those of other players if you fancy scoping out some new strategies. On that note, there’s a real sense of community around the game, with a handy Wiki maintained by players. I could go on all day about how much fun Unrailed! is, however the best way is to dive in and find out for yourself.
Unrailed! on Xbox is fresh, clever and loads of fun to play. You’ll only realise its full potential when playing with friends locally, which is unfortunately very difficult at the moment. However, online play does the job despite being temperamental at times, yet the support of an ever-growing community should keep this one on the right tracks.