Developed by the three-man team of Alexey Davydov, Sergey Dvoynikov and Timofey Shargorodskiy, Train Valley is billed as a management simulation and strategy cross over revolving around building and managing train routes.
It quickly became apparent as we got into the game that the ‘strategy’ label is a little misleading. There are very light strategic elements, mostly when it comes to laying track and deciding what routes to create – but the rest of the game is much closer to being a real-time puzzle experience.
You can play in three ways – ‘classic’, which takes you through levels where you have to meet certain objectives, ‘sandbox’, where you’re basically free to build whatever you want, and finally ‘random’ which produces a different level each time and lasts for a bit longer than the shorter missions in classic mode. The game’s biggest strength comes from solving the set challenges, as sadly the sandbox mode feels a little flat. Even money has been completely removed from the sandbox mode. Random is much more fun and can present some real challenges, although due to the nature of randomly generated levels, we’ve also encountered a string of real duds.
The primary objective is always to complete the mission and direct all the trains in the level without going bankrupt. When a train appears, it will have an icon with a background colour that matches the colour of one of the towns on the map. Track laying is expensive and if you don’t do it in the most efficient way you’ll run out of money and fail.
There are four seasons and time periods to play through – 1830-1980s Europe, 1840-1960s America, 1880-1980 USSR and Russia, and 1900-2020s Japan. Each time period and location have their own selection of trains and environments.
New towns will appear as the mission progresses, which will force you to build new tracks and often modify your existing track layout. You also need to strike a balance between building tracks through empty land, which is cheaper, and destroying objects in the way, which costs extra but will often yield a more efficient route.
Crashing trains results in the complete loss of both trains plus the tracks they were on at the time, so it’s a disaster - especially if money is tight. I’m glad that a game like this doesn’t ease up on the chance of failure and really tries to offer a challenge. You get more money the sooner a train completes its journey, so efficiency in managing junctions and building tracks is important. Train Valley constantly makes you think about your next action.
Visually it looks like a cross between a board game and 4x strategy game, albeit on a much smaller scale. We like the art style. It’s a little simplistic yet when there are a few trains driving around it’s really quite pleasing.
You can get right into micromanagement, manually stopping trains to let another one through or reversing them. Sometimes trains won’t leave without you clicking on them, and if you wait too long some trains will start their journey automatically, which can really force you to act quickly.
As the maps get more complicated, making sure you have multiple trains on the go at once while manually flipping junctions and ensuring none of them crash becomes very hectic.
There are some nice little touches to the game. For instance, the more trains you successfully direct to towns, the bigger the towns get, and you’ll see houses and other buildings being built in typical fashion of many building sims you will see at www.buildinggame.net. Train Valley has a nice level of attention to detail that gets you invested in the gameplay.
Even by the third level you’re managing routes between five or six towns and it quickly becomes really challenging, especially if you build too many junctions on your tracks.
If there’s one area where Train Valley could really be improved, it’s with the explanation of game mechanics. The tutorial, in particular, could be better. It only teaches you how to pass the first mission and attain one additional advanced objective, rather than showing you how to schedule an extra train or explaining the tiny meter in the bottom-right corner, which is actually rather important as it tells you when another train is scheduled to appear.
Another issue that we have come across and we can’t seem to solve – sometimes an advanced objective is to schedule additional trains. The button to do so is greyed out most of the time, and then others it becomes available. I’m not sure why. It’s not to do with the amount of money we have spare as it costs a small amount and we always have more available.
The music is awful. What is it about train games that requires them to assault your ears with repetitive, twangy guitar riffs? When you get into the actual game it turns into a generic happy-go-lucky track that is just as repetitive.
Train Valley is addictive, it’s challenging and it’s a ton of fun. For that money, it’s one of the better games we’ve played in a while. There’s an expansion coming soon as well as very reasonably priced DLC content too, so now is a great time to develop a bit of train fever.