by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Et voilà! A new game
The “Fever” games and Football Manager have something in common. I have your attention now, have I not? It sounds like a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. I know some people will despise me for saying it, but Football Manager is pretty much the same game every year. Take last year’s game, make a few tweaks here, a semi impactful feature there, change the colours a bit, “Et voilà!” a new Football Manager is born. Transport Fever follows the exact same formula, taking Train Fever to start off with. The graphics have been updated a bit, the interface got cleaned up and a few things got fixed. Yet, if you would look at both games side by side for the first time, you’d be hard-pressed picking the new one unless you knew the original did not have boats or planes and saw one pass by.
So, broadly speaking, the game remains unchanged. You still get a wad of cash and an empty map, you still get to build a transport empire, you still create lines between passenger or freight terminals and you still follow their income like a hawk to ensure your coffers become flush with cash. Also unchanged is that it doesn’t beat 1994’s Transport Tycoon.
A better launch
Train Fever launched with a number of issues but, deserving credit, developer Urban Games has supported their game with regular patches for well over a year. Those fixes made it into Transport Fever which means drawing rail tracks is now fairly smooth, plopping train stations is easy and intuitive and signalling works fairly well – at least once you resign to the knowledge that trains have fixed platforms and would not select an available platform even if their very lives depended on it. Even creating crossovers to allow trains switching tracks works well enough that the few times it mucks up can be forgiven. A few small additions make life a little easier too. Replacement vehicles and schedules can now be assigned through a vehicle’s overview popup. Once set, the game will take care of replacing the vehicle automagically.
Not everything has improved, though. Time progression is a bit off. By the time you’ve got five or six lines set up in the sandbox mode, you’re likely to have spent thirty years on the map. Travel time versus distance is completely out of whack and a day in the game lasts mere seconds. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor niggle that can easily be forgiven, however.
Not so easily forgiven is the game’s excessive punishment of line interruptions. Actually, I’m not even sure if it’s punishment or just a bug. At the heart of the problem lies Transport Fever’s requirement to set up complete lines for freight. Imagine that you want to provide tools to a town. You’ll need iron and coal to be delivered at the steelworks, take that steel to the tool factory and transport the end product of tools to the towns. There is a huge cost involved putting that entire line together and unless you do it all in one fell swoop, you’ll not generate any income at all, it will only cost. While that sounds very logical, it becomes an issue when things conspire to run a little less smoothly. I have had several times that a farm stopped producing grain while the rest of the chain seemed to be waiting for that grain to arrive at the food plant. The only thing I changed was an upgrade to a station but the lines were intact afterwards. I had lines that ran construction materials for many years without a hitch, only to have production stop for some inexplicable reason. Perhaps the oddest of all is that food plants just stop processing cattle – this one I can reproduce every time. The food plants have stock, the connected towns want food supplied but the plant just stops and will only accept grain. There are ways to find out what the town needs, what the factories need and what the farms and mines produce but none of them gave any clue to what happened.
And while there is now a tutorial that will teach you the basics, it really does just that – the very basics. It’s barely enough to get you going. Things like the platform selection I mentioned earlier, the requirement to complete the chain for a sustainable shipping line, none of that is mentioned anywhere. When you are stuck, the forums are your only friend.
You might ask “Why should I play this then?” Aside from the improvements mentioned above, there are some new additions that push Transport Fever above the – admittedly somewhat low – bar set by its predecessor. The semi impactful features I mentioned earlier, for instance, come in the shape of ships and airplanes. The former is available from the start but there is so little water on the maps and ships are so slow that I’ve rarely used them, favouring trains instead. Airplanes do better, though it is a bit unsettling to see one fly through a mountain to get to its destination.
More impactful, and generally entertaining, are the new campaigns in which you are tasked to contribute to building landmark projects such as the Gotthard Tunnel and the Panama Canal. As you’ll have noticed from those two examples, one is in America, the other in Europe and the game’s roster of vehicles matches accordingly. To enjoy these things, you’ll have to be able to look beyond the game’s bland graphics, a steep learning curve and settle for some gameplay quirks. Not everyone will be able to, but the game is still the only game in town (pardon the pun) for the genre.
I’m not feeling the burn (two puns in one review!), but I can find myself warming up to Transport Fever. Still, I find it hard to recommend the game to anyone but hardcore transportation sim fans, and even then only if you are a bit of a glutton for punishment. If that description fits, you’ll find a fairly capable simulation that you’ll likely enjoy for a couple of weeks.
Many improvements over its predecessor.
Steep learning curve, odd gameplay quirks.