Switch version tested
Review code provided
Just the Ticket.
For those looking to flex their entrepreneurial prowess then Railway Empire might be just what you’re looking for. Created by Gaming Minds Studios and originally released on PC in 2018, Nintendo Switch gamers can now enjoy this tycoon like experience courtesy of Kalypso Media Group. But does this empire-building sim steam along nicely or derail under pressure? Let’s take a look.
The first thing to mention about Railway Empire is the amount of content on hand. As well as the core experience that consists of a campaign there is also a scenario mode, free mode and sandbox mode plus console owners are also getting three expansion packs, Mexico, Crossing the Andes and The Great Lakes all included in the base game.
The Campaign takes place across a series of locations and will introduce you to the various gameplay mechanics by providing a set of challenges in each level. Once these challenges have been completed you can choose to continue playing that level or move onto the next. Anyone familiar with tycoon style games will have an idea of what to expect, build a rail network across the Americas and beyond by establishing a connection between cities and rural businesses to meet the supply and demand needs of the area and help each city thrive and grow while of course, making a tidy profit in the process.
This is a delicate balancing act between establishing a network in good time to start earning and gain the edge on your competitors or taking a moment to choose wisely which areas to connect and in what order to maximise income potential. You’ve heard the saying, time is money, well that is pretty much the name of the game here as an objective may task you with supplying a certain amount of product to a city or connecting express routes before a set date but your competitors will also be looking to make a name for themselves by doing the same. Keeping your finger on the pulse and being prepared to adapt to the changing needs of the 1800s where technology and industry were on the rise will keep you busy and ensuring you have the cash flow to be able to make the changes at a drop of a hat takes practice but is ultimately rewarding once you get into the flow of things.
Your competitors will play a large part in how your progression unfolds, some will be sporting rivals where others will be underhanded tyrants who will seek to sabotage your efforts at every turn. You can choose whether to play it by the book or employ a few underhanded tactics yourself by hiring reporters to write a damning article about a rival or infiltrating their business with a spy. You can even go all out and hire a bandit to carry out a train robbery or send someone to sabotage their engines causing breakdowns thus lowering public opinion. If you are doing particularly well with profits you can even buy their network outright though this is a slow process especially in the early going, in a few instances a level objective is to buy a set amount of shares of competitors business which can be a grinding task and grind the enjoyment to a bit of a halt. You can use bonds to get a boost in cash but just make sure you have enough in the bank to pay it back at the end of your term or things will go pear-shaped for you very quickly. As cities grow you can purchase or invest in businesses to gain a foothold and more earning potential while also taking control over the supply required for that region.
Though the wheeling and dealing will be an integral part, the real fun comes with building your network and managing your trains. This is simplified by a menu wheel which easily allows you to switch between buildings and train construction as well as selecting the various menus you will need to keep an eye on stocks and trade. Train stations come in a few sizes but can be expanded as time goes on should you need to connect more lines to manage passenger and produce demands. Depending on your freight load and the terrain your trains are travelling over you will need an appropriate engine to haul them. Railway Empire features over forty historically accurate locomotives each with their strengths and weaknesses to consider. Each train will need to be maintained so ensuring you have supply towers and maintenance sheds along each route will help you but also hiring stokers, engineers and security guards will aid in keeping things running smoothly.
Upgrades and enhancements to your business and earning potential can be earned via a robust technology tree featuring over three hundred options to tailor things to your play style. Make passenger carts more comfortable or hold more passengers to entice punters or increase the quality of your rails to prevent damage to the trains or increase the money earnt from transporting fresh goods etc. The options are numerous and though all this is a lot to take in it is what we expect from the genre with a fine mix of micromanaging and patience.
Scenarios are similar to the campaign in that it will grant you a series of locations to across the Americas in different time periods to play in. As the name would suggest each location will provide you with a series of scenarios to complete over a set period of time, the quicker you complete these objectives, the higher your rank will be at the end. The experience can also be more tailored to your preferences by selection the competitors and applying certain gameplay features.
Free mode is a custom game where you set the rules and requirements as you see fit. Anyone who remembers Command and Conquers skirmish mode will have an idea of what to expect. This is where you can create your own experience, dictate how many rivals you have and generally create your own stories as elaborately as you want. It is also an ideal mode to put into practice the gameplay mechanics you learn in the campaign. If you are struggling with settling up more complex network routes with side tracks and signals, then jump into the free mode and play around until you get the hang of it while still having an element of pressure from balancing finances and competitors.
Every kid’s dream, a completely free reign to build train tracks to your heart’s content with no pressure from competitors or finances. Go completely wild and cover the entire country in a complex array of railroads.
A Well Oiled Machine?
As you can see, Railway Empire offers a huge amount of content which leaves the only real question left to ask, how does it perform? Considering its PC origins and gameplay style, it performs rather well on Nintendo Switch. The menu wheel can be brought up with ease with a touch of the shoulder button while using the left analogue stick to select options from constructing buildings, laying track, creating new locomotives, checking the stock market, hiring staff etc. with the text being easy to read and in a good font for both handheld and docked play. The only issue I did have here was with a bit of latency, sometimes when trying to lay some new track it wouldn’t register and I had to select the option several times or close the wheel and reopen to get it to activate. Also when selecting a town to check for supply and demand, the cursor generally selected the train station instead of the town resulting in a bit of back and forth.
The camera works very well allowing you to zoom out and get a good overview of your network with options to highlight the tracks your selected train is assigned to with its route laid out for ease of management. Zooming in reveals plenty of detail which isn’t the most picture-perfect in certain areas but looks good enough to immerse you in the location and time period. The scenery can look a bit smeared and hazy at times with certain textures having a washed-out appearance.
Fortunately, the train stations, towns and locomotives themselves all look pretty good and once I had my business running like clockwork with money rolling in I couldn’t help but take the time to enjoy the ride along mode and blow my whistle as I pulled into the station while the upbeat and catchy music played away in the background.
Another issue I did come across in the early going was during the campaign when I was just finding my feet in the gameplay, the handy tutorial started off doing a good job at introducing a mechanic and then leaving me to get on with it for a bit but then would suddenly ping in several new things to do all at once along with pop up “hint” markers all over the map that just became a bit overwhelming to try and read and understand. Don’t get me wrong, the information was welcome but it could have come at a steadier pace, coupled with the competitors chiming in to taut and boast just made the early going a little frustrating, though I confess that could just be a personal thing and not everyone will feel the same way.
The developers have squeezed so much into a memory card friendly 5.6GB that I would not mind a patch or two to tighten up the menu response time and even smooth out some of the visuals. Considering the lengthy levels, the loading times were reasonable with checkpoints saving at regular intervals thought I still made good use of manual saves especially when everything started going well, you don’t have to take your eye off the ball too long for things to go to cock so expect a touch of trial, error and reloading along the way.
I had been looking forward to getting my hands on Railway Empire ever since it was announced for Switch and thanks to our friends at Kalypso Media I got to spend some good time with it before release. Although it was a bit of a shaky start with an over-eager tutorial that may be off-putting for some and a few issues with latency as mentioned, the overall experience is an impressive one and for fans of the strategy and sim genre you can’t really go far wrong with this one. If the amount of content on hand isn’t enough then you’re just being a fat controller.
TBG Score: 8.5/10
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 19/06/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Strategy, Simulation
Developer: Gaming Minds Studio
Download link: eShop