by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Railway Empire came seemingly out of the blue when it was announced at E3 earlier this year. Kalypso sprang the game on its fans, demonstrating a game that seemed nearly finished. It must have been too - the game comes out in January. With 40+ hours of the pre-release Railway Empire under my belt I can wholeheartedly... scream that the gameís development is firmly on track - pun intended. It plays wonderfully.
The current build runs smoothly and itís easy to forget that the game is still in development. Track laying is among the best Iíve ever seen in any railroad game and the speed at which youíre able to bolster your network is astonishing. Simply snap a new line on an existing line or anywhere on the map and drag where you want to go. Itís that easy. And should you want to make changes or intersections, you can almost always do this without interrupting the normal operations on the lines that are using the tracks that you are working on. It isnít until the map becomes really crowded that you start seeing issues with other tracks getting in the way, though I noticed some minor issues on maps crossing deep rivers in mountainous areas. Luckily fan feedback on the Beta has brought a much sought after pause function to the game that triggers whenever you are working on tracks.
RUN FOR YOUR MONEY
Train management is equally fast. You can click on any station or piece of track to find out which train lines are using them. Click on a train and you can start changing its destination, add staff or replace the engine without any hiccup at all. Lines that are particularly profitable can be duplicated with a single click, though you do have to make sure the tracks that it uses can support the additional traffic.
Thereís a bit of work to be done to ramp up the smarts of AI players on higher difficulty levels but they already give you a good run for your money on the lower settings. When I just started playing the AI kept an excellent pace, usually being one or two steps ahead of me and making me work hard to get my company to compete. If you lag behind, theyíll start buying up your company shares while they are still cheap which is a good incentive to make sure you donít. Theyíll also actively try and sabotage your operations, lure your staff away from your company and steal your inventions. You have the option to give as good as you get though, and these acts can a big impact on your progress during the early stages.
Back in August I wrote that the game feels like it is being positioned somewhere between Sid Meierís Railroads! and Railroad Tycoon. This is no longer just a feeling, Railway Empire sits exactly between those two classics and itís a comfortable position at that. Itís more casual than Railroad Tycoon but has more depth than Sid Meierís Railroads! and it plays almost at that same speed without sacrificing the feeling that youíre actually influencing the growth of the cities and industries around you.
Come January, this is one ride that you do not want to miss.