Railways have come a hell of a long way since their inception back in the 1800s. Now they’re a part of some people’s everyday lives as they travel to and from work on some of the worlds many railway systems. Some might say that railway companies haven’t changed much since their days of pulling along locomotives. Previously they were ripping off land owners and now they’re just ripping off their customers with rising rail fair prices.
Enough about that though, let’s tall about Railway Empire a new tycoon game from Kalypso Media which tasks players with building some of the very first railway networks across the dusty lands of the United States. At first it’s a very simple affair, creating tracks, rail lines, and buying locomotives, but as the game progresses, the cut-throat competitiveness of being a railroad tycoon comes out as the other railway owners stop and nothing to rip you off.
Beginning the game, you choose your character and railway name, and off you go to learn the basics of being a railway tycoon. At first you’re simply connecting cities together with tracks and creating rail lines so that your locomotives go from one location to another, but as the game progresses you’re given more and more to do and keep an eye on. From supplying certain cities with certain amenities and supplies, to researching different technologies for your fleet of trains, the game can go from a simple building sim, to a full-on railway management sim.
Once other tycoons are introduced that’s when Railway Empire gets a little more serious and slightly tricky as you’re then introduced to stocks and trading, as well as the back-handedness which comes with being a tycoon. Though that doesn’t mean you’re always the victim, oh no. You can hire your own spies and saboteurs to do your dirty work and reap the benefits of whatever scheme you’ve orientated.
Railway Empire is actually a pretty deep game when it comes down to it. Not only are you expanding your railways across the country, but you’re also expanding the cities that you build stations into. This game isn’t simply a place and move-on type game as each city has its own industries and demands and requires players to pay attention to each. What’s more, as cities grow due to more and more people travelling to them via your rail networks, as does the industries within it. One city which specialised in meat distribution may soon become the next big leather goods supplier.
It’s this level of micromanagement which can sometimes tip the balance between a casual railway sim, to something much more hectic and chaotic as having to pay attention to each train, the routes their taking, and whether the railway is crowded or not, can take its toll on the overall enjoyment of the game.
At one point during the game I found that I’d messed up the routing somewhere and all of my trains were at a stalemate, each one waiting for the other to proceed, ultimately causing me to restart the game, which was slightly annoying. This however is nothing on the game itself, just that there’s a lot that needs attention, and sometimes micromanaging everything can become quite tedious.
Railway Empire is however one of those games which sucks you in for hours at a time. Jumping in for just a quick hour or two can lead to being there four or five ours later developing a complex two-way system because you want to make sure you’re travelling the most sufficient way possible.
One thing which does let the game down slightly is the AI which seems to be a little too underhanded when it comes to stealing your research or sabotaging your railway or trains. Adding to this, the over the top dialogue can also become quite annoying when it keeps repeating the same lines over and over. This can ultimately be combated by simply getting bigger and acquiring the rival companies, but until that point you have to listen to them say “Oops looks like something went wrong with one of your trains” or something of that nature.
The good news is that you could avoid the campaign completely and head into free mode which will allow you to set zero competitors and just work on building a huge railway system, if that’s more your thing.
Visually, Railway Empire looks great, however while plenty of detail has gone into the games terrain and each variation of locomotive, you’re hardly ever zoomed in close enough to pay that much attention, or at least, I found that I’d rather view the entire world map at a time and occasionally zoom to manage industries. Train enthusiasts will surely love the level of detail that’s gone into some of the different trains available, as well as the first-person view as they travel through some of their railway systems, but for me it was more of a passing glance as I hop from city to city to ensure I’m meeting demand.
The game itself is fairly easy to get to grips with, but at the same time does overlook some of the more simpler aspects of games like this. One major flaw is the lack of an undo button which can often mean you’re deleting a track you’ve just placed which you may have spent a few minutes working to make it as cost-friendly as possible.
Overall Railway Empire is a great little tycoon game which you’ll surely be drilling hours of your life into. Sure, there are some annoying aspects, but the game overall shines past these little dings.