by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
There isn’t a lot of railway fun to be had these days. Transport Fever is keeping the genre alive but its hardcore nature, bland graphics and signal complexity are keeping the game from gaining wider popularity. Enter Railway Empire. Kalypso’s first foray into the railway transport genre feels like it is being positioned somewhere between Sid Meier’s Railroads! and Railroad Tycoon, not just when it comes to complexity but also in the overall feel.
The game plays out in the US between 1830 and 1930. During this golden age of railways things heated up so much that it would not be wrong calling it the “Steam Rush era”. Scientific breakthroughs followed in quick succession and locomotives, trucks and services improved dramatically. In other words, the perfect time for a proper railway transport sim.
The US map spans 700 square kilometres and is divvied up into 7 regions, each with its own characteristics and challenges. Picture yourself building a transportation company in swampy Florida versus dusty Utah and you’ll have an idea of what to expect. In addition to some 20 towns that require passenger services, each region also has a sizeable number of businesses that can be connected and supplied.
Tracks, lots of tracks
Building tracks, is as easy as dragging a line between two stations but the proposed line is not always the most efficient option for what you have in mind. Gradients along the track have a big impact on the performance of your trains and while you may get away with a few hills on a passenger line, a steep gradient may literally stop a heavy freight hauler in its tracks. On the other hand, you can take your time delivering freight but passengers will shun your service like the plague when it is too slow. Fortunately the game allows you to tweak a proposed line to suit your needs. Once the track is laid, it is time to add some train TLC. You’ll need some water towers and signals along the way as well as a service station to keep the train in good condition.
Railways don’t run themselves. You can hire up to four specialists to help you conquer the map. One may allow you to raise ticket prices by 5% without backlash from your passengers, whilst another may negotiate steel prices to lower track laying costs. Similarly, railway empires cannot exist without sprawling towns and successful businesses. You have a hand in their development and will even be able to place and own some of these yourself. As long as you keep catering to supply and demand, towns and businesses will continue to grow.
Gaming Minds’ Daniel Dumont was keen to point out that the player in Railway Empire is not a train manager but a railway transportation manager. Train buffs will find plenty of train love here but you’re in charge of a business first and foremost. This means you’re in charge of researching new railway technologies, hiring and firing, the efficient running of each individual line and keeping a close eye on how your competitors are developing.
There’s a good amount of detail to be found in the various towns, businesses and trains and the game lets you zoom in to take in every detail. You can even position the camera so that it looks like you’re the engineer peering along the engine which looked like a lot more fun than it should have a right to be. Keeping track of your trains is easy as well – a simple click on a track shows you which trains are using it and managing them is only a click away from there. Railway Empire looked fantastic and my hands were itching to give it a spin. We didn’t have enough time to dig deep into the details and maybe that was a good thing – I could have hogged Daniel’s time for hours had they let me. Choo choo!