“Train Fever” and I have a love/hate relationship. I played it almost religiously during the Beta, something I usually never get to do because of how many games I’m asked to review. Yeah I know…”boo freakin hoo”. Workload aside, I found “Train Fever” to be pretty compelling when I first started playing it. The more I played however, the more things that began to rub me the wrong way. Before I get into that, I’d like to quickly thank Basil Weber, the CEO of Urban Games, for providing me with a free press copy.
Firstly, let’s talk learning curve. The ease of which you slide into this game’s mechanics will vary depending on your past experience with games of this genre. I myself have dabbled in the “Railroad Tycoon” series but this was admittedly a while ago. The most recent train-themed game I’ve played is “Sid Meier’s Railroads”, which is as casual as they come. Needless to say, I was unprepared for the ass-whooping I received during my first few playthrus as there were no tutorials available during the Beta. A quick how-to-play tutorial was available post-launch, but it was a basic non-interactive slide show that didn’t cover everything you needed to know about the game’s inner workings. This is problem number one.
As it stands, you can create transportation routes via vehicle, tram, or train. Trains, as it turns out, are extremely expensive to maintain. Unless you’re hauling large amounts from Point A to Point B on a consistent basis, you’ll lose money on the route. That brings me to my second problem with the game: the game lists “train” in the title but encourages the player to make use of road transportation in order to get anywhere financially. Granted, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing initially but after a while I figured out that hauling freight by truck was MUCH cheaper and thus more lucrative. Half the time I felt like I was playing “Truck Fever” instead of “Train Fever”. I’ve made the suggestion in my let’s plays to reduce the maintenance costs of trains on the easier difficulty settings but have yet to see anything like that come to light.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t painfully and unnecessarily difficult to upgrade or replace your vehicles. In order to upgrade or replace one vehicle, you have to first send the thing back to your depot and sell it. Once that’s done you have to buy a new vehicle and assign it the route the previous vehicle was on. This isn’t so bad in the beginning, but toward the mid-game you’ll have about fifty routes with, on average, four to ten vehicles per route. Replacing them all one by one like this is an exercise in futility and you’ll soon find yourself doing this more often than actually planning out your next route. Upgrading a station with more tracks is equally as difficult as you’ll have to demolish the entire thing and buy a larger one. “Sid Meier’s Railroads” might have been basic as simulators go, but at least I could upgrade my stations with just a mouse click or two.
I’ve bashed the game pretty hard at this point but it’s honestly asking for it. There are no AI competitors (which is fine by me, but give players an option at least to enable them), there is no map editor, the UI and menus can be a hassle, and the gameplay mechanics are poorly explained in-game. Did you know that frequency has a direct impact on whether or not freight will be hauled on your line? If people/freight can get to where they’re going faster by roads, then your route won’t be used. First time players going into this blind are going to have a heck of a time figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
On the plus side, maps are randomly generated giving you a lot of replayability. Further, these towns will grow as you supply them with the raw materials they require. You’ll get to see residential zones pop up around a successful bus line or industrial zones grow/increase in size as you deliver finished goods to a nearby station. You can view everything in 3D and will have the option to reform the terrain on the fly. I would have liked the ability to customize the colors on my trains, though you can name them at least. The economy is a bit simplistic which is actually a plus in my book…I often shy away from games that take years to learn how to play. Some might be turned off by this however and may come away from the experience feeling empty.
“Train Fever”, as a whole, is a pretty fun game that is held back by a number of glaring flaws. For $35.00 (the retail price as of 10/13/14), I expected some of the above complaints to be addressed by the game’s launch in September, 2014. Unfortunately, a lot of them weren’t. I really enjoy plopping down lines and watching my vehicles swarm around the city but am often painfully reminded that keeping up with it all will require more work than it should. The game has the potential to be something really outstanding once the above issues are addressed. Until then, it’ll remain as simply an “okay” simulator that could have been so much more.
Final Verdict: 6/10
YouTube Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLy-_-0rh3dPrmMrUbxTDfts0ZWU3I9870