The transport management simulator genre may be ignored by many but it’s never gone away, bubbling away each year with a variety of companies offering their different takes on it, all lapped up by an enthusiastic and surprisingly large community. From the original transport tycoon right up to games like Train Fever, the formula has stayed much the same. There’s a map with various resources (including people) on it. Your job is to find the most cost-effective way to get them to where they want to go.
Straddling the line between puzzle game and business sim, Train Fever follows the same path of giving you maps to lay your tracks and roads all over. To set it apart somewhat the game starts off in the golden age of railways and works its way up to the (near) modern day. Maps are not pre-set, they are instead generated by a seed (like in Minecraft) so the game will spend some time creating the world on its initial startup and if you like it or want to share it with friends you simply need the short text string to create the exact same environment. The world is made up of towns, factories, mines and various other services, all haphazardly connected by roads in what appears as a strikingly realistic map. Getting a procedurally generated world to look ‘right’ is no small task and the developers have achieved it to the degree that you’ll probably notice how well it’s working. The only shame with this is that you’ll tend to play one map for a very long time and then when you decide to start new one the actual geography of the map doesn’t really matter that much. There’s no spectacularly dramatic features (although you can build bridges which are expensive but impressive) so don’t expect to building across canyons or through sweeping ravines.
As time progresses in the game you actually help to shape the world that you’re playing in by somewhat managing the wealth of areas. If you decide to connect one area really well to the major business hubs you’ll find it grows much larger than the surrounding towns that you’ve forgotten about. You only have so much money so you’ll quickly pick a favourite place and those citizens will reap the rewards of your good graces and soon be lording over the peasants the next village over.
Constructing transport networks is fairly simple as long as you’re used to this kind of game. You lay track , depots and bus stops, then you lay out routes that can easily be managed. You might make a commuter route separately from your goods routes, or you could try to combine the two for the sake of efficiency. Once that is complete you choose your vehicles (from quite an impressive roster) and assign them to the right places. Laying track is simple (although without an undo option it’s easy to make very frustrating mistakes) and the game naturally creates curves and deals with elevation so you’ll always be left with something that fits in with the environment. There are some oddities like trains doing 180 degree turns on a piece of track but in general you end up with some authentic-looking routes that sweep their way through towns and countryside. Another quirk of the game is if you have a train line that gets enveloped by an expanding town, no-one seems to mind, so you often end up with large towns criss-crossed with various routes and everyone calmly making do around it. Wouldn’t be right to make a fuss I suppose.
The biggest flaw with the game so far are the bugs. It is officially released (not early access) but the menu is still ugly and (for us at least) the game crashes regularly. The developers are working on these problems but be aware that this is still very much a work in progress.
All in all this is a fantastic transport game and while it might lack many frills or unique features, the engine that drives it all is solid and enjoyable. The procedurally generated worlds are the real strength of the game and the varying needs of the businesses and populace keep the title interesting as the hours go by. We just hope that all the bugs and crashes get fixed so we can play some more, currently we can’t load the game at all, so check the forums before buying!