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Who remembers Snake? I’m not talking about mono-orbed special forces anti-hero Mr Plissken, nor am I talking about the confusing dynasty of snakes in the many Metal Gear games. I’m talking about the simple yet compelling game where an ever-extending line winds around your screen in its relentless pursuit of apples or pixels which will increase its size.
This 40 year old game concept is an oldie but goodie which will make many of us think back fondly on the terrifically indestructible Nokia 3310. It’s also arguably the best thing about Bloober Team’s Blair Witch game where you can whip out your brick-sized phone for a quick game before going back to petting your dog.
It would seem that the thrill of blazing a trail without blocking yourself in or crashing into the peripheral wall still remains, and Unrailed! from Indoor Astronaut and Daedalic Entertainment picks up Snake’s legacy and turns it into locomotive chaos. Instead of collecting fruit or pixels your goal is to make it to the next station. Instead of an ever elongating tail, your mission is to keep on putting down tracks without straying into obstacles and making sure your little engine that could doesn’t meet a pixel explosion demise.
So far, so simple. But Unrailed! is a devious little masterpiece of patience, resource management and forward planning. Some low-level psychic ability would also come in handy as each time you play this game your map is procedurally generated so it’s unlikely you’ll be working with the same terrain twice.
Your train comes fully equipped with a storage cart, track making machinery and water supply. All you need to do is chop down trees and mine out rocks to load up your cart and create those much needed rails. Occasionally your train gets a little overworked and will sporadically erupt into flames if you don’t keep an eye on your water tank, which you will need to keep topped up by gathering water from whatever lakes are available in your tiny wooden bucket.
The equipment provided is sparse and you are given an axe for tree-felling and a pick for harvesting rock. There’s no real skill involved here and all you need to do is equip the necessary tool, stand in front of your desired resource and watch as your blocky protagonist chips away at the similarly blocky environment.
There’s a Minecraft-like charm to the world and whatever character model you decide to go with, and why wouldn’t you decide to be a sombrero wearing penguin railway construction worker over being a basic bitch humanoid?
On the subject of Minecraft humanoids, don’t think for one second that you are alone in this lush cuboid utopia. There are a range of antagonists who will try their absolute best to prevent you from spoiling their home with the horror of industrialisation. These include aggressively kamikaze cows and camels which will, without any sense of fear, flock and crowd around your train like vampires around a blood donation van.
Then there are characters which look a little like mini slendermans (slendermen?) who will run off with your carefully gathered wood and rocky harvests and yeet them off the edge of the world.
Thankfully in this world of train track tinkerers, you are given almost free rein to murder. So you can absolutely lay waste to the troublesome livestock or creepy resource thieves with your axe or mining pick with little to no recrimination.
If the thought of rapidly throwing down track like a demented Wrong Trousers Gromit, while rectangular devils steal your stuff sounds too stressful, then fear not as Unrailed! is a co-op multiplayer game. If you have friends, you can work together with them to create the best damn railroad ever, or descend into an Overcooked! style fireball party.
Co-op can either be done locally, online, or from the comfort of your couch, and you can play cooperatively with up to four players in a single team or challenge your friends in a two versus two game. If you’re a lone warrior then Unrailed! has a single-player mode where you are provided with an AI Robot buddy that you can order around using a faithful radial menu.
Be careful though, as much like actual friends your robot pal can get salty if you send it off to do tasks it can’t do, either because you’re holding on to the tool it needs and laughing in its face or because you thought it might be amusing to trap it.
As you progress through the map you will find bolts, which are the currency you need to upgrade your train and add more carriages. These bolts can be earned by reaching a station intact and they can also be found scattered about the world often in inaccessible places which you will have to mine your way through to, or build bridges across to. This is a classic risk/reward scenario as you have to weigh up whether you have enough resources to spare on building a bridge, or time to hack a path through a cliff before your train crashes.
The upgrades are worth purchasing as they can increase the amount of materials your carriages can store, how quickly you can manufacture tracks and increase your water capacity so that it takes longer for you to combust. Progression through the map also requires you to upgrade the engine section of your train so that you can traverse the changing terrains with ease.
Unfortunately I’ve still not managed to progress much further than the Wild West map because the Cowboy Endermen, dumbass camels and distinct lack of trees is causing me some issues. Even on easy difficulty. However, I do know that experienced track tamers are likely to experience other obstacles and extreme weather including; snow, ice and lava.
There are fun and unexpected details that I wouldn’t necessarily expect in a game like this, such as a dynamic weather system and a day and night cycle, which also adds to the difficulty of the game as your visibility of the surrounded area becomes affected based on time of day and if you accidentally pass through the fog of Silent Hill.
Rewards include unlockable characters and in-game achievements which are fairly standard ways of marking progression, however my one problem with the game is its unfathomable checkpoint and saving system.
You can customise the game from the menu to switch checkpoints on, and I would expect that a checkpoint is reached when you make it to a station unscathed. However it doesn’t seem to work that way and even after reaching station 3, when trying to restart from a checkpoint I can only start back at the very beginning. You can save the game once you reach a station, however you can only reload a saved game once. So if you load up a save and then crash, that game has reached its end and can never be played again.
As a Soulsborne fan and friend to the Roguelike, being unceremoniously hurled back to the start without all my carefully collected items and upgrades is not a new experience for me. But I wasn’t expecting that level of harshing my buzz from a bright and blocky puzzle game, and while I’ve generally enjoyed my time destroying the grassy plains and sandy vistas with much-needed transportation I’m not sure I’d pay the $19.99 / £15.99 price tag.
Unrailed! asks the question what if your local town planning office was run by the chefs from Overcooked!, and your local town is actually a Minecraft village run by Governor Steve? The art style is bright and familiar, the music is cinematically jaunty and if you have the presence of mind to plan ahead and keep an eye on your resources, the early stages of the game can be quite zen. The difficulty does ramp up quite quickly and I’ve never felt competent enough to move out of “easy” but if you like a challenge and you don’t mind splashing the cash then give this a go.
TBG Score: 7/10
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 23/09/2020
No. of Players: 1-4
Category: Action, Arcade, Party
Developer: Indoor Astronaut
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop