Review: Railway Empire (PS4)

Review: Railway Empire (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Railway Empire
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (7.4 GB)
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Developer: Gaming Minds
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), €59.99 (EU), £49.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 3
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available from Josh on Episode 562 of the podcast.
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Ever since I crafted my first, and extremely efficient I might add, railway line in Transport Tycoon Deluxe on the PC I have had a fondness for this sparse genre.

Although I have found none that could beat the old classic, Railway Empire might finally be the one I’ve been waiting for.

Before I get into the mechanics of the game I should point out that I am by no means a train enthusiast.

My knowledge of trains consists of seeing a few in films, traveling on some for work, and playing the aforementioned Transport Tycoon Deluxe and then the excellent Open TTD.

I might have to jazz up this review with some murder, titillation, and intrigue otherwise some might find it slightly mundane.

Gameplay:
Supply and demand, that’s what it’s all about. Your task in Railway Empire is to be the best, to wipe the floor with you competitors and make sure you’re supplying the demanding North American citizens. This means paying attention to, and not getting distracted from, the tasks in the Scenario and Campaign modes.

I jumped straight into the Campaign and quickly learned how to build some train stations, connect them with a track, and even how to place signals. However, I found it difficult to shake the countless hours I spent huddled in front of an old CRT monitor playing Transport Tycoon and some of those old habits tried creeping back into this game.

This one demands a more realistic approach to the track layout. Gone are the days of crosshatching parallel lines and impossibly sharp bends. By pushing the right buttons and moving the analog stick you can get the curves just where you want them, and at a good price too.

Laying the track can be done in either of two ways, clicking the start and finish points and then adjusting the computer generated line, or selecting the start and every point in between. Both ways will generally require some fine tuning so as to avoid the expensive tunneling and bridges when possible.

I was extremely happy to see how easy it is to place a parallel track, with a few simple moves I had another line hugging the first all the way around and through some mountains. Although, I did have a few difficulties later on when I wanted to merge another track and was forced to delete an entire section and rebuild just to get it to fit together.

Unlike the old favorite of mine, you cannot build roads, canals, aqueducts, or even an airport. This game is strictly about transportation by rail. You can however hire staff, buy shares and businesses, and even employ a spy to steal from your rivals. And, if you get enough money, buy them out altogether.

You can also build a few different things in the cities to help with population growth and entice more people to your network. This could be anything from a university to an attraction. You can also add an industry but that’s generally very expensive.

There is an Innovations list where you can spend accumulated points on everything from a Cowcatcher to Clark’s Pre-Warmer, just as long as it falls within the time period and you unlocked enough things earlier on.

On the second Campaign mission, I slightly overreached and blew all of my capital on a stupendously long rail line with several stations and two branching lines. I didn’t have enough to put a train on the new tracks but had two small lines generating a nice little income. I was happy to let the money slowly climb but then something unexpected happened.

Before I go into that I just want to mention the characters in the game. I also want to build on the intrigue. Most of the game seems to be historically authentic, especially with regard to the trains, the various inhabited locations, and general layout. The helpful characters in the game not only guide you through the controls and gameplay mechanics, but they also let you know about the history too.

Bookending each Campaign section are some nice and informative animated scenes. They give the impression of a children’s history lesson. I’m not expecting much if any information on the horrific conditions the people who built the tracks suffered through. I doubt there would be any gruesome details on the hundreds of poorly paid workers who lost their lives constructing the first transcontinental railroad.

There is a newspaper pop-up that mentions significant moments in history and milestones or scandal from my railroad company and the competitors. This can be turned off but I like knowing what’s going on and how well I’m doing.

Okay, getting back on track (pun intended). It was an unexpected surprise when the helpful character for that Campaign area informed me of how worried he was about my finances and gave me a huge sum of money. I wish that would happen in real life, it turns out writing these reviews for free doesn’t put bread on the table.

I should let you know about my one criticism regarding the controls. It might just be me, but I cannot consistently select something from the radial menu. It’s used for everything and I have often found the need to try two or three times before the game recognizes my selection.

My competitors don’t seem to play by the same rules as I do. Or they know something I don’t as I often need two parallel lines or some places where my trains can pass each other, yet the A.I. only plays using the simple train rules. Regardless of the setting I have, their trains pass through each other and never need signals. This can be frustrating as it obviously costs less and is quicker for them to build a network.

Because of their unfairness, I found myself being rather sneaky and building two stations in each city, therefore blocking their intrusion in the area. It slows my progress but helps when the city grows and demands more.

I was happy to see the inclusion of a sandbox mode but disappointed to find no way of altering my starting conditions. There’s an unlimited cash flow but no competitors, which is nice to mess with but soon gets boring for someone like me, who needs to see their bank balance grow.

Another thing I found annoying is having to go to the radial menu, then the build list, to then select the signals. Why can’t the build menu be a separate button click, heck it’s used so much, why can’t it always be on-screen. Albeit in a smaller area as that menu takes up a large portion of the screen real estate. Speaking of which…

Visuals:
For the most part, I really like the graphics in Railway Empire. The smooth transition between from far up above to zooming all the way down so the camera is frighteningly close to a train is quite impressive. However, achieving a nice angle when I’m trying to position some track or signals can be awkward at times.

Then we have the trainspotters dream of a first-person view on the trains as they carry out their journey. Being able to switch between four cameras and look around is nice too. Oh, and you also get to blow the whistle too. Toot Toot! There is one small caveat, there is no way to see inside the driver’s cab with any of the cameras.

There are thunderstorms with flashes of lightning rolling across the map, hampering the performance of any trains caught in their path, although adding improvements to the trains helps to negate that. Nothing else seems bothered by the only weather effect in the game.

Zooming in on the cattle wandering on the plains or the random horse and cart trundling through the towns and cities makes the map feel more alive but they serve no real purpose. It all adds to the detail and that is what continually impressed me.

Audio:
As you might have guessed Railway Empire features trains, about forty of them if memory serves. Now I am no aficionado when it comes to the sounds of the locomotive but they all sound the same to me. Am I being a ‘trainist’ or ‘locomotivist,’? Probably? I know they sound very good and when they arrive at a station I almost expect to see some trainspotters jumping for joy.

All of the different sounds, from the nice themed instrumental music to the narration can be adjusted in the menu. I like that I only hear the trains and other ambient noises when I move the camera close enough. Hearing the competitors berate me because of my aging locomotives or whine at losing another auction eventually gets tiresome but that’s only because they are jealous of my success.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
The on-screen menu and controls in Railway Empire need some work, just to smooth the process out and make it easier to get to the important things in a more timely fashion. Don’t get me wrong, the controls are easy to learn, too easy in some ways.

It feels as if the controls have been oversimplified. Why can’t there be a Build button focusing on the tracks, water towers, and signals? Everything else can be relegated to the dial. Apart from my quibbles with the controls and minor track placement oddities, I find it hard to fault this game.

It supplies enough history so I feel like I’m learning something every so often and it has plenty of strategy to make it addictive and fun. The competitor’s snarky comments about one of my trains breaking down or them building a station near my own are helpful and amusing at the same time.

I’m excited to see what comes next through DLC and I don’t mind if it takes awhile to come out as there’s loads to do here. If you like trains, you’ll love this. Most of my issues will probably get fixed quite soon and it hasn’t stopped me from playing whenever I can. This game is just so addictive, I love playing it.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Chazz Harrington

Chazz Harrington

You can find me on everything: PSN, Twitter, Wii U, Origin, Steam, etc using my universal ID: ChazzH69

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