Review – Choo-Choo Charles
Choo-Choo Charles, where do I even start with this one? This is one of the most bizarre ideas I’ve seen in a while, and while it isn’t perfect, I couldn’t stop playing it. Starting out as a concept idea, Choo-Choo Charles started picking up steam from the community that wanted to see more and play a full game based on it. Created by Two Star Games a single developer, Gavin Eisenbeisz, decided to throw the coals in the fire and finish a full game based on his idea. This is like taking the Thomas the Tank Engine mods, but making it an actual horror game, and I love it.
Choo-Choo Charles is a horror game where a demon possessed train engine is terrorizing a small island. Tasked to investigate the events and eventually take down Charles, you must fight him at his own game, using a train engine. You’ll need to upgrade your train, complete quests for the locals in order to figure out what is going on here, and fight against a cult that worships Charles.
The thing about Choo-Choo Charles is that it isn’t going to have the polish or trappings of bigger production, and I thought it was important to mention this now for those that want to skip to my score. There isn’t anything really unique or standout, it’s generally pretty basic in design. You travel around an island picking up scrap to upgrade your train engine’s speed, defense, health, and your weapons power. You complete side missions, weapon missions, and main missions with each being color coded so you know what to expect.
That’s the thing though, it doesn’t need to be the next big produced game to be an enjoyable experience when it has a hook, and it packages that hook well enough to grab you and keep you going. The game starts off slow with a few exploration missions where you’ll pick up notes that give you a small slice of what’s going on here. Side missions also feature some interesting characters, like the pickle lady and a witch. Yes, most of these are just fetch quests, but there is usually a twist to these.
For example, the witch you run into asks you to collect something on a small island in the middle of a swamp, but there is a monster in the water that is attracted to movement. You’ll need to move slowly through the water or stand still in case it comes for you. They will either have their own theme like that, or they will have instances with Charles. Main missions take a different direction with sending you into caves to collect eggs that will attract Charles for a final fight.
Honestly, these main missions are the most frustrating because they require you to use stealth against cultist members who have shotguns. Since you don’t have any weapons other than those on the train, you’re forced to only use stealth. The stealth mechanics are basically non existent. Since there is no crouch or anyway to distract enemies, you basically just have to hide behind objects and wait until they turn their back. If they see you, they hunt you relentlessly and usually the only thing to do is go back to your train and shoot them there. I like the idea of the cultists, but the implementation needs some more thought. Give the players some way to counter them with stealth, a small gun, or even rocks to distract or knock them out temporarily.
Now to get to the main attraction, Choo-Choo Charles. This is why we are all here, and he honestly does not disappoint. Charles presents himself both randomly and scripted, and no matter when he shows up, it’s heart pounding. It all starts off with hearing his train whistle in the distance and this is like hearing the alarm in Silent Hill. You start looking to the horizon and mountains to see where he’s coming from, while you simultaneously sprint back to your train engine. There are times where you and Charles will collide at your train at the same time, and it is an intense race. You hop in, go full blast forward, and hop on your gun to blast him while you’re both ripping through the island.
Charles will always retreat when his life is low, so the main mission goal is to capture the eggs I mentioned above in order to get him to fight to the death. You’ll need to fully upgrade your train and acquire new guns to take him down though. These battles are always fun, exhilarating, and the final fight is fantastic. The one thing about the train combat though is that there needs to be a better balance for the upgrade system. The weapon variety is good, with a machine gun, flamethrower, missile launcher, and a large cannon. Each weapon has different stats and will overheat, so you’ll need to swap through them as you fight Charles. However, you’ll fully level up your train halfway through the game, and since side missions only reward you with scrap, the last half of the missions you’ll be doing for basically no reward.
Visually, Choo-Choo Charles is a bit of a mixed bag. You can tell that this was a Unreal Engine asset game since the environments and lighting look really good, but the character models and certain original assets are a stark difference. However, since this did just start as a UE concept idea, I can understand the lesser quality in the other assets. That being said, the Charles moments still look fantastic. Riding fast with the woods flying past you, while you’re blasting Charles and seeing the moon shining through his creepy spider legs, looks great.
Sound design is minimal, but what is here is well done. The general ambiance of the forest and rain set the creepy mood. The train tracks and engine sounds all are reproduced well, but the best thing still is Charles train horn. It completely changes the mood and urgency, and you know a battle is coming. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that standout.
Choo-Choo Charles is a hard one to review since everything but Charles is lacking that polish in design, animation, and certain mechanics. However, it is still done well enough to stay engaging to get you to the fun moments. There aren’t any performance issues or glitches I ran into either. With its bad character models and some silly side missions, Choo-Choo Charles is simultaneously silly and scary. At one point you’ll be collecting pickles, and the next you’ll be in a heart pounding fight with a demon train engine with spider legs. It’s not a technical marvel, but it’s a great example of executing an over the top idea as a stepping stone for hopefully something bigger. The ending has me hopeful that we won’t be seeing the last of this world.
The general visuals of the open world and lighting are good, Charles looks amazing. However, character models and certain assets are low quality.
Traveling around on a train and getting into battles with Charles is awesome, but the rest is fetch quests and bad stealth segments.
Sound design is serviceable with your general moody weather sound effects, and sound track. When you hear Charles’ train whistle in the distance, you better hide or get to your train.
Fun Factor: 5.0
The horror moments with Charles creeping around and the big battles with him are great. However, the fetch quest missions and stealth segments really drag it down.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Choo-Choo Charles is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, 16gb RAM
A copy of Choo-Choo Charles was provided by the publisher.