Full Steam Simulation – Going off the rails on a crazy train
Over the years I have played a lot of video games and chances are if you are reading this you probably have as well. So when it comes to games it takes something pretty darn special to be memorable to me. One of these games for me was Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon which came out in 1990. I was able to borrow a friend’s copy for a while shortly after it came out. I was 11 years and most of the games I played until this point were 8-bit console games. The only reason I gave the game a shot was because I loved trains. My father and I built model train sets in the basement, we would go to watch trains and even visit train museums. So naturally when I saw a game that railroad in the title I had to at least give it a shot. I instantly loved it! Being able to build my transportation empire through delivering passengers and freight through a rail line that I designed was awesome. The variation of historical locomotives throughout the timeline was cool too, plus there were plenty of other great features packed in to boot. Over the years I must have dropped hundreds of hours into that game. I could tell you more about this classic that legendary game designer Sid Meier made but I am not reviewing that game today. I have brought all of this up because many of the games that fall under the umbrella of economic and business simulations just often feel they are all the same exact thing and it might just get a different skin to dress it up a little.
Like I said, I am not reviewing Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon, I am reviewing Train Fever. This is the first game to be developed the small Swiss company Urban Games, which is really just five guys have been big fans of the “transport” genre. Just because they are small a team doesn’t make this any unambitious by any means. They are trying to make the game that they want to play and just building another clone in this tired genre wasn’t going to do. So they built their own in-game engine from the ground up specifically for what they wanted in their game. Part of how the game work is there is no grids which means when designing routes players are not limited to the usual 90 and 45 degree angles. This sounds really cool if the game is able to pull that kind of thing off properly!
Also don’t let the name “Train Fever” fool you! This is not just a game about trains. It is a game about running a transport empire. Yes, there are tons of train models in the game but there are tons of other modes of travel and transport like horse and carriages, trams/trollies, buses, and trucks. Keep in mind when playing though all of the available vehicles in the game are models from European countries which isn’t a problem but some people may be confused looking for certain engines that are usually associated with North American transportation. Also the first models of transport are noted as being designed in 1847 with some of the later ones which eventually become available appearing as recent as 1975. Upon hearing just these detail I already started to get pretty excited and couldn’t wait to dive in and see if this was really something that could shake up the genre.
So I eagerly click the new game button in the start menu and as I am setting up the game for my trial run and the music seems to set the mood for a really fun time. The name of the artist is Admiral James T. and he is also Swiss. Throughout the game the soundtrack stays fun and playful for all its 70 minutes and in game there is a small media player allowing the player to skip a track, pause, or quickly bring the music’s volume up or down.
Once in the set up menu there is only one date you can start: 1850. 1900 and 1950 will become available as start dates later once certain objectives in are accomplished. You can choose from three different sized maps in set up to start the game on. It is highly recommended that for you first few times you play to go with the small map to get the hang of the concepts of the game. With a small map you can expect around 5-8 towns. When playing on a medium map expect 11-13 towns and on large maps there should be around 19-25 towns. Each map is procedurally generated which is pretty standard. One feature that I found to be fairly unique to this was that the buildings are generated this way too and depending on various factors such as real estate value, the environments its in and choices made over time can all affect it’s evolution during a game. The only other choices while setting up a new game is terrain types: flat, medium and hilly and difficulty: easy, medium, and hard.
When I set up my initial game I went with a flat terrain, small map with difficulty set on easy mode.
Once, Train Fever, finally loaded I was really thrilled with how good it looked. There are a lot of little details in the world that blew my mind when I started to really check the world out up close. The freedom of the camera is also very nice. It can freely rotate in just about any way you would want or need while playing. The zoom goes far enough down that it allows a player to even see the individual people moving around and the detail is fine enough you could even count the cobblestone on the road if you really wanted. The draw rate when you are down on ground level looking around is very decent as well and perfect for watching trains come over the horizon if you decide to do some sightseeing in your map.
While I have had some issues with the graphics in the start up menu losing everything but the background image for the menu after I change resolution for my PCs settings I read that the team is aware of the issue in their forum and says they are working toward a fix. They did provide a work around for now which get the menu to come back however the fix dropped my game resolution to 1600 x 800. Once a patch is released I do look forward to playing the game in my proper 1920 x 1080. I did experience another graphical hiccup that after the start of a new game and it usually would only happen while my camera was zoomed all the way out and I would need to move the map around. This would cause stuttering no matter what I had the visual setting adjusted to and occured very frequently. My PC specs were far past what they recommended ones for the game. Maybe it is part of the same problem affecting my desired resolution. In the meantime I will keep an eye out for a fix and update this review if a patch resolves this or any other issue I address in this review. Even though it ran in a lower resolution than I planned on it still managed to look very nice.
My first few times actually jumping in and playing I just wanted to tinker around with no help or tutorials. This seemed fine because when I started I was told by pressing the F1 button at any time would bring up a beginners tutorial. So I said screw it and began to explore and play on my own until I felt I needed help.
I spent some time observing for awhile trying to familiarize myself with the citizens of the towns, the buildings they lived and worked in, and the industry that was in the more rural areas. While exploring during my initial observations I messed around with the game speeds: PAUSE, STANDARD, FAST, and VERY FAST. You can pause and speed up the game whenever you want it is entirely up to you and your comfort level.
The menus looked nice at first glance but it quickly became apparent they had some problems one that a lot of PC gamers could very annoying and that is that the game has to rely solely on point and click with the mouse inside of the menus for just about all of the games functions. The only buttons on the keyboard that do anything in game are your standard WASD and QE for moving the camera around. The M and N keys can toggle between your stations, and TAB will toggle your speed controls. There is no option in the settings menu to assign or change a single thing.
From here on I played it safe and hit the F1 button and was then offered two starting tutorials one for starting a bus line and the other for starting a train line. I went through them both and they were very brief but I learned enough to get my first train moving. I decided to keep it simple at first by sticking to only trains because I saw no use in getting overwhelmed with too much too soon. Following the instruction was fairly easy and soon I had my first train ferrying people between the two towns. Things seemed to be going well. I felt great! More and more people were coming and money was beginning to come in! Naturally I decided with all of these people wanting to ride my train that it was time to expand which was instantly a crisis. Every time one train would get going the other always had to stop and wait behind the other quickly causing all kinds of headaches as well tons of money and time to be wasted. I then paused the game and began to look for the next tutorial. The next few minutes involved me searching for a while in the very limited menu and then pressing every button on the keyboard to see if one brings up tutorial number 2 and I came up with nothing. This is part where I saved and quit to the main menu and found out there is no other instructions in the game of how to play the game.
I took a short break and came back to my game and decided I would just start playing through trial and error. After a few hours of playing this way I never quite got things moving much better and this got a little old rather quick. This is when I decided to check game forums and the games site for more information. I found an interactive guide that helped get me going on Train Fever’s own site that breaks down a lot of the games fundamentals that I wasn’t able to work out on my own and from their site they linked to Steam page made by a beta tester the combination of these made the game feel more manageable than it had a few hours earlier but I still wanted to learn more. I turned to YouTube for some lets plays uploaded by a veteran beta users which showed everything in action while explain the hows and whys. This was very important because there is a whole lot to digest when learning how to play properly. After my lengthy education film I could handle a full game. This time things made a lot more sense and I did much better when I played. I was armed with proper knowledge of how to use all of features that trial and error never would have taught me. Feeling confident I started another new game this I rode this one out until the end and it took about 20 hours this time I ended up using all forms of transportation and ended up having a whole lot of fun!
After being able to put in some decent time with the Train Fever I have learned that it is fun but there is still a lot of work that need to be done to make it an exceptional experience. It is oozing with potential and with some proper patches and game fixes this game can really step up and be a total show stopper. Some things I would like to see worked on:
Trying to incorporate a much better tutorial that allows for much more than simply building what exists in the game currently. This is something that would help veterans to genre get started much easier. Who knows when some people will play a game like this possibly for the first time they could be offline and using this as a time killer for a long flight or some other scenario. Not everyone can jump on the internet in the middle of the game to learn how to play properly. Even just taking the current resource from the Train Fever website I used to help me and inserting it to the game as in game assets would be better than the current scenario players have on the table.
Another thing that currently can be very annoying is collision detection issues that can happen while laying rail and road. Many times while trying to expand my routes to new places I would have this issue and it would happen more often than it really ever should. What makes it worse is after this happen I would zoom the camera in and inspect what the cause of the said collision was I could find nothing at all but regardless it was not going to work there and would then have to completely rework what I was going to do. Another similar recurring issue I encountered was the process of connecting/disconnecting track to briefly branch off then quickly return from primary lane can very often feel like luck on whether or not it will work. Dealing with either of these can get frustrating as well as time consuming, and costly because more often than not it will take you several tries to get what you need to get done to actually work right. These are the kind of things that hopefully can be fixed through future patches because though they are not game ending they can really make playing feel like a chore which no one ever wants feel especially when it is for a game they paid for to be fun.
Even with all of my issues I have I must say that I really like this game a lot. I learned that this is not the Sid Meier’s Railroad Tycoon I have been waiting for because that game is almost 25 years old and while it was a great back then these five guys did a an excellent job with Train Fever now and made something here that is different that I will continue to play for a while down the road. Once you are able to get past its faults and can figure out how the game works it’s unique charm can grow on you very easily. It brings some new flavors to a genre that has more recently just tasted bland and stale. The guys at Urban Games fortunately seem dedicated to work on what isn’t right here which is important because with some hard work on their end this has the potential to end up being a really fantastic game!
Final Verdict 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Gambitious ; Developer: Urban Games; Players: 1; Released: September 4th, 2014 (Steam); Genre: Real Time Simulation, Strategy; MSRP: $34.99
Note: This review is based on review code provided by the game’s publisher, Gambitious.
If you decide to play and do need some help starting off then click here for help getting started guide through Train Fever’s own site
Also here is a pretty helpful starting walkthrough that the Steam community member Dakdak99’s had authored right here
This game was played on a computer that was running Windows 8.1 on AMD FX 8300 8-Core processor that comes in at 3.3 GHz, 12 GB DDR3 RAM, AMD Radeon R9 255 2GB video card