Simulation games are such a niche and yet saturated market, for one to truly stand out among the rest they need to work technically, look good and play even better. Railway Empire as you can probably figure out from the name is a railway tycoon game from Gaming Minds Studios and Kalypso Media Digital. The latter of which is well known for dabbling in simulation and tycoon style games with historically great results, does this continue the trend or simply run off the rails?
The campaign consists of five chapters which vary in length in terms of design, but it is how you play which determines how much time you get out of each chapter. If you just want to complete the bare minimum and do the required objectives you can do so, however for those who like to aim for 100% there are optional tasks you can take to doing which will add a ton of more playtime overall. I love that the option is there. Each chapter delivers a little bit of backstory to give you a feel for the era, area and characters and provides some educational information too. It can be fun learning about trains, honest.
You also have scenarios to get stuck in to, which you can think of as more difficult and lengthy chapters but without the more story focused approach and instead you just have a bit of context as to why you have the specific tasks to complete. These two different approaches to set content is great, you can choose what you want to go for but be following a directed guideline on what to accomplish.
For a more laid-back affair you can just hop into free mode or sandbox mode. The former of which allows you to begin playing in any region, in one of five eras’ and with any settings. Sandbox mode is free mode ‘lite’ if you will, allowing for play on any region and era but you can only choose the starting city, rail network difficulty and pause mode settings. Sometimes I didn’t want to play a full-fledged scenario and just wanted to have some fun with the game mechanics and options, this let me do that, which does wonders for building longevity and replayability.
Gameplay is the most important factor in a simulation game, if it’s a chore to play, don’t play, that is my mantra used when playing titles in the genre. Thankfully, the ease of access is low and allows you to build up to the more complex features as you progress. Step by step you become accustomed to each feature and process, and how each one fits into the overall package. It doesn’t get ridiculous either with what you can do, you manage money, locomotives, research, people, industries and even play around with the stock market. This may sound daunting on paper but in reality it isn’t, everything feels manageable, flexible and fun.
Building stations and figuring out the best way to link these together with tracks is more enjoyable than it has any right to be. I feel this is party due to the controls, well done to the development team on getting this right, especially when so many sim games seem to get it so wrong. The controls are so easy to get used to, once you’ve used the various buttons a few times it becomes second nature. The intuitive UI is the cherry on top for the gameplay, you can navigate the menus with ease and are able to find what you want quickly, and time is important.
Dependent on what setting you choose, time can either be paused whenever you want or when building things. I went with only pausing during building so it creates this sense of urgency, always aware of that time is progressing and you have opponents to outsmart. However, you can just pause the game anyway but your restricted in that you cannot go through the in-game menus so it doesn’t so much give you an advantage, but does allow you to stop to have a think about your next move.
Research is something to always keep an eye on as this lets you obtain more trains but also, most importantly I feel are the benefits you can obtain from research. Increased ticket prices, increased workload, more powerful trains etc are all perks that can be obtained through research. Instead of using cash, you use research points that are acquired periodically throughout each game, giving you a second way in which to improve as opposed to spending all of your funds.
This looks so damn good, it even plays in HDR on PS4 Pro. There are jagged lines that become apparent when you zoom in as much as you can, but it wasn’t noticeable during my general play. The textures are detailed with a colour palette that matches the era on which they are based. The building and object designs look authentic to their respective eras and help build immersion. Immersion can be difficult to create in games where you are looking from above, controlling the world, but this gives it a fair go.
The sound design takes what the visuals bring and just accentuate it, adding more authenticity from the noises the trains produce to the sound of hooves on the road as horses travel the streets. Ambient background music is a quality of feature more than anything in sim games and boy do I love listening to the sound of a western style piano playing a jaunty tune as I go about my business. There’s some voice acting included which is nice and somewhat over the top in terms of the stereotypes they are playing, the gangster which is the classic Italian mobster from the films and the lady is the pompous rich snob that adores luxury over function. These characters and the vibe they bring just add to the jolly experience.
Railway Empire stays firmly on the rails and produces solid gameplay, great visuals and smile inducing sound design. Packed with enough content to keep you going, with only perhaps half of it being mandatory, story-based content and the rest being extra things you can do. Certainly one to pick up for the train enthusiasts or sim lovers.
OVERALL: 8.8/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Railway Empire, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)