Now this is a game I never thought I’d play, let alone enjoy. While I’m a tremendous fan of the whole “tycoon” genre of games, with some titles such as Sim Theme Park, The Movies, and the everlasting Sim City 3000 being among my favorite games of all time, enjoying a railroad tycoon simulator wasn’t something I was expecting in 2018. This is the best way I can start my Railway Empire review, the newest game from publisher Kalypso, best known for their amazing Tropico series of games.
Railway Empire‘s premise is simple. This is no Sim City. All cities are already on the map, and you can watch them being developed as the years go buy. Your main objective here is to simply connect those cities together, as well as connecting cities to rural outposts, factories, lumberyards, and so on. Your second main objective is to create those railroads and train stations before your competition does, turning your railway company into a virtual equivalent of Isambard Brunel’s Great Western Railway.
Estabilishing your empire isn’t exactly the hardest thing ever. Most cities won’t allow for more than two stations at a time, so it’s all about who builds it first. The AI isn’t exactly the sharpest out there so they won’t cause much trouble in the beginning of the game, and if they do, you can always attempt to buy them out and merge your businesses. Knowing where to start is the trickiest bit, though. It makes no sense to set up an immense station in a big city if such city is far away from other main towns and profitable rural areas. It’s a good thing to take a look at your surroundings before spending tons of cash on big stations, extensive railroad networks and “modern” (by 1800’s standards) trains. The fact that the game does provide decent visuals with a very good framerate even when the map is littered with running trains and hundreds of miles of tracks makes scouting for new routes even easier for the eyes.
Another aspect that deserves a lot of praise is how easy the gameplay is. Thanks to a very well-made UI and simple controls, creating your empire is actually pretty easy. Creating railroads is just a matter of connecting one end of a station (represented by a yellow cone) to the end of another station. If the line stays green while doing it, it’s good to go. Creating a line is even easier, as all you need to do is click on stations until you think it’s enough. Once that’s set, just buy a train and see your bank accounts get fatter and fatter.
Weirdly enough, my favorite aspect in this game was the soundtrack, which is comprised of excellent songs from all genres you’d expect from a game set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If you’re in the middle of the Midwest, you’ll constantly listen to fantastic C&W songs that reminded me a lot of Firefly‘s original soundtrack. I’m a simple guy: if I hear anything that remotely resembles the masterpiece that was that soundtrack, I immediately love it. If you’re near New York in the early 20’s, for instance, you’ll listen to some cool jazzy tunes. The voice acting is pretty good as well, something I definitely wasn’t expecting from a tycoon game.
The game’s main simulation mode is pretty good, with lots of points to praise, but I won’t deny, I had a lot more fun creating railways for free in Sandbox Mode. Without the burden of having budgets or fierce competitors, Sandbox Mode allows you to play around at ease, creating the stupidest and most impractical railways ever conceived. There’s something cathartic about not being attached to budgetary constraints or actual common sense that makes this Sandbox mode tons of fun. This is also the most recommended mode for younger players.
While far from being a game for everyone, Railway Empire succeeds at its main objective. It succeeds at providing an easy-to-learn, not entirely hard-to-master railway tycoon experience that can be both enjoyed as a challenge or as a laid back and relaxed sandbox game. It’s the most enjoyable way you can have fun building railroads without the need of using your entire basement’s space in order to build a model railroad. A lot cheaper as well!
Also available on: PS4, Xbox One.
Copy of Railway Empire provided by publisher.