Being avid fans of the Railroad Tycoon series, we approached this game with all the excitement of a six-year-old on Christmas Eve. The latest offering published by Kalypso Media, famed for continuing the Tropico series of games and trying to fill the void left by Dungeon Keeper with their own Dungeon series, we felt that the game would be in safe hands. Add to that, it was developed by own in-house developer Gaming Minds Studios, which brought us the latest incarnations of the Patrician and Port Royale series. Safe to say, we were very keen to see how the void of train simulations would be filled. Would this game be a steaming success though, or just a plain old train wreck?
Railway Empire gives you the typical options of campaign, scenario, free mode, and sandbox to play. It is recommended you take a single ticket to campaign mode first as it also acts as a tutorial as you learn your way around the interface. Led through the basics by real historical characters, they let you get to grips with the controls and the fundamentals of the game. The first thing we thought that could derail our gaming experience would be the control system, often a thorn in the side of most simulation games that are ported from PC to console, but rest assured the game delivered an easy to use system of laying tracks and building stations. Much like the Tropico series, it feels as if it were made for the console and not just a port.
Set in the USA, Railway Empire takes you on an express journey from 1830-1910, tasked with building the most powerful railroad company and modernising the continent. Our first campaign saw us starting off on the great plains of the US and with the slightly daunting task of beginning a transcontinental railway. Each campaign took us to a different part of the States and also through the ages of steam trains right up until the first diesel engines. More than just looking after your trains, you have to be aware of the demands of the towns and cities along your railroad. Sadly, however, the tasks and lack of variation of buildings soon became a little repetitive, with every track needing a supply tower and access to a maintenance shed. That said, the game does give you many options to modify your city and you really feel that you're helping your company grow. Another great feature is the ability to get the train drivers view and take a passive seat watching the world go by on the tracks you have built over long wooden bridges and through extensive tunnels.
Unlike Tropico, the game lacked a multiplayer option which seemed oddly missing, but in free mode you always have the option of playing against up to three rivals who also make an appearance in the campaign mode. Much like in Railroad Tycoon, Empire sees the ability to invest, merge and buy out your competitors and also invest in various industries. Be aware, however, as the other company owners will use saboteurs and other underhanded tactics to derail your efforts. One of the characters, for example, seems to be based somewhat on Al Capone (a little anachronistic for our liking), a mobster who has access to criminal techniques. Each one of the bosses has different skills and personalities. The great fun we had against these AI characters left us craving all the more for some online action. Another thing we were looking for was variation of maps, visiting countries such as China and the UK, but the locomotive options and maps are pretty much limited to the continental US. Let's hope for some DLC in the near future.
To progress your trains through the ages you need to unlock items on a packed research tree, with a lot of the objects and trains on it seeming quite similar and with only subtle improvements. If you are a lover of trains, you will find many of the familiar classics such as the John Bull (imported from England), all of which have realistic statistics. The lack of customisation options, other than dining cars and a few others, made us feel that there could have been a bigger range of ways to personalise your empire. Who wouldn't want to build a train with cool silver alloy wheels and pink go-faster stripes? The developers decided to stick with reality though. Decked out trains looking like something out of Back to the Future Part III probably wasn't on the minds of 1830s pioneers.
As you can probably guess, scenario mode gives you the opportunity to complete various challenging tasks within time limits, such as delivering cattle or increasing a city's population. This additional content provides extra hours of entertainment on top of the campaign mode. When you're all done you can head to the sandbox and free mode, which won't help too much with the gaining of trophies/achievements, but will theoretically see you playing for many hours (trophy hunting seems to be relatively easy, so if you're eyeing a platinum here, it shouldn't take you too long). It seemed to be more of an opportunity to build something truly picturesque for those without space to have a model train set. One thing that baffled us was to separate free mode and sandbox into two different features. Why not just give you the option on sandbox mode to play with or without unlimited money and no rivals rather than make a whole new mode?
In conclusion, if you're looking for a high-octane gaming experience or a pick-up and play title, then dodge this one. However, if you're after an in-depth simulation or you're a massive train fan, then this is a game you should take a further look at choo-choosing. The only things that let it down are the lack of multiplayer, limited customisation options, and a clunky research tree. That said, the more we played, the more fun we had, and that's always a good sign. So, if you want a realistic tycoon game with lots of different modes to play that doesn't punish you for making the game as easy as you want, take a chance on Railway Empire.
Loading next content