Simulator games are no stranger to Xbox One, but many of them fail to deliver a worthwhile experience. We get the occasional gem here and there, but for the most part, it’s a genre that typically struggles to stand out. Arguably, simulator games are best played on the PC, mostly due to how in-depth the gameplay and control mechanics are. Railway Empire aims to overcome that by offering up a more accessible and easy-to-approach formula. Developed by Gaming Minds, the talent behind the likes of the Port Royale trilogy and Grand Ages: Medieval, and published by the ever so popular Kalypso Media, does Railway Empire have what it takes to separate itself from the crowd? Yes, in fact this is most likely one of the best simulator games to release on Xbox One in recent memory, and probably a good while yet to come.
Railway Empire is a train simulator that’s set in the United States during the 1800s, a time in which “the new world” is in its ascendancy. The industry is flourishing and the race is on to build and establish the most powerful and dominant rail empire in North America. You will solely be responsible for the rate, quality, and stability of said growth, interconnecting several cities together in the process. The twist here is that you’re not the only one that’s trying to accomplish this mammoth job. You’ll be tasked with outsmarting and outmaneuvering your competitors as you battle to bring your company into the 20th century. So, no pressure then.
Much to be expected, Railway Empire requires a great deal of strategy alongside its intuitive resource management system. You will need to carefully consider your options and motivations as you go on to create your vast network of rails. It’s important to understand that despite being a very in-depth and well realized experience, it’s not a game that compromises the energy and thrills of the genre. There’s nothing quite like making it to a city and slamming down a station before your competitors have the chance to undermine you. Moments like this, in which your hard work and perseverance is paid off with a great sense of accomplishment, are hardly few and far between. That’s one of the most alluring aspects of play. Railway Empire feels massively rewarding when you play your cards right, but that’s not to say that all you have to worry about is your network structure.
There are several elements of play that you will be contending with, including the likes of having your stocks chewed up by your opponents. This pushes the player to think fast on their toes, and then act on a decision even quicker. The game does a good job at giving you all of the tools that you need to achieve greatness, and certainly feeds you into the experience with a firm understanding of how everything works. That being said, the game does take a few hours to get into before you’ll bypass the tutorial-like portions of the game. It’s unavoidable for sim, but here it felt somewhat drawn out more so than it needed to be. Once you do gel with the mechanics of play however, it’s (as aforementioned) a welcoming and accessible ride throughout the entirety of play.
The aim of the game is to link cities together along with points of interest such as farms and other important locations. Once you begin achieving these joints, passengers and cargo can use your railway network to get from A to B. This is further expanded on when you begin thinking about the bigger picture. Transporting cargo alone is noteworthy, but what if you could build on that and setup a business route to take advantage of the cargo’s needs and outcome? Railway Empire is so intricate that you can indeed craft industries to benefit you further, which is just one example out of many as to why this game is as appealing as it is. You’ll even be juggling your own employees and slyly recruiting folks that can sabotage your competition.
Normally this would be something that you feel slightly guilty about, but you’re not alone in the dark corners of your business growth. Rivals will constantly attempt to counter your expansion efforts by racing you to glory via their own means. This is made all the more apparent (and pulse pounding) when you’re bidding against them in an auction for properties and land mass. Cities will favor those that bring home the bacon, and although slamming down your railway system is a mandatory feature, running goods and trade is equally as essential. Populations will need all important resources that you’ll be fighting to provide, including corn, grain, ale, furniture, and so on and so forth. This is where the AI really excels in terms of complexity and, to a degree, difficulty.
It’s all too straight forward to setup and establish your business in one area of the map, but if you take your eye of the bigger picture for too long, you’ll soon find that your competitors have played the proverbial turtle race. That’s right, the AI seemingly knows when to throw in the towel and will start making tracks to other regions in the hopes to establish their own growth elsewhere. Work hard enough and you’ll unlock new upgrades and technology that you can utilize to stay one set ahead. That being said there’s a huge variety of five era-spanning locomotives and wagons that can be acquired throughout the game via skill points, all of which come with their own pros and cons. These vehicles are all historically accurate and can be viewed up-close to see the gorgeous detail that each houses.
You would be forgiven to believe that Railway Empire is only a small game, mostly due to the fact that there are not that many missions within. However these collectively take several hours to complete, and can be replayed for better results if you want to perfect your run. The actual gameplay is hard to get to grips with at first but the deep tutorial alleviates this, though it can indeed prove to be overwhelming at times. Once that’s out of the way and you feel more confident with the controls, laying down tracks and crossing off meaty scenarios becomes second nature. The game also comes with some helpful features, keeping you in the loop as to what needs doing and what’s currently underway.
One chief complaint regarding games that are better suited for the PC is that the controls and UI tend to be awkward and stressful. Thankfully Railway Empire nails its design well enough to overlook this expected flaw. When you’re finished with the campaign, or perhaps just want to enjoy construction without the weight of finance and pressure, you can take to the sandbox mode. Funds in this mode will be unlimited and all technology will be unlocked, ready for you to get your hands dirty and your mind creative. It helps of course that the visuals are wonderfully created and diverse, along with decent audio that helps to sell a level of authenticity. Simulator fans will not be disappointed with what’s on offer.
Railway Empire comes with a steep learning curve and can often overburden the player with a mammoth selection of tasks. Perseverance is key, because underneath this complexity rests a thoroughly enjoyable experience that’s equally as rewarding as it is satisfying. The game remains in-depth, disparate, and competitive throughout the entirety of play.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.