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Riding the rails

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Railway Empire

By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

TYCOON GAMES aren’t for everyone, but it isn’t hard to understand why they have a loyal following. They’re flashy, and they’re capable of producing a surprising amount of fun and complexity. From Sim City to Zoo Tycoon to Roller Coaster Tycoon, the process of building something from scratch and seeing it thrive and prosper brings about catharsis. And, by the same token, Kalypso Media delivers.

In Railway Empire, players are thrust into the 1830s and tasked with managing and running a budding corporation. You aim to build networks of train tracks that span the length of the countryside, working your way from mission to mission, researching new technologies, purchasing and creating new trains, and beating other corporations who’ll try to hustle in on your profits.

In terms of looks, Railway Empire appears lacking when compared to more recent games. What its graphics lack in flair, however, it more than makes up for with its polish and unique art style. The simple presentation of the countrysides and towns mix well with the music, and the game is able to build its atmosphere from the ground up, offering vibrancy if not detail.

That said, Railway Empire’s main selling point is its gameplay, and it thankfully gives great bang for the buck in this regard. It proves extremely engrossing once you get into it and dig deep past the opening tutorials. The story mode tasks you with linking towns and cities to each other to make money. And you are given the freedom to operate your growing system as you see fit, placing foundations of train tracks where you please and working deals with local merchants to find profitable routes between cities.

Railway Empire gives you a large degree of autonomy on how you can approach your goals. Tracks can go through mountains and rivers to reach towns at your discretion. At the same time, cargo is automatically optimized depending on what provides the biggest revenues, cutting down on the tediousness. In consonance, the game is streamlined for maximum ease; such otherwise-repetitive activities as managing personnel, fixing logistics, laying down tracks, and researching and upgrading equipment are all done at the touch of a button. Nothing is presented as overly complicated and intimidating.

Parenthetically, Railway Empire might present little challenge. On purpose, it is structured to allow even newcomers to the series to enjoy it from the outset. The tutorials are straightforward, the instructions easy to follow, and the controls not overly complicated. Still, the overall campaign serves as a fitting test to your skills, slowly ramping up the difficulty between missions while still faithful to the tone of the time period.

And when you really get down to it, certain aspects of Railway Empire just stand out. Little touches, like being able to see the towns slowly grow over time, and even being able to ride the trains themselves, add to the immersive experience. Granted, it has its limitations; if you’re looking for something more in-depth in terms of management, you’ll be disappointed with the streamlined presentation. And if you’re new to the genre, the slow and steady development might not keep you interested long enough to appreciate the fruit of your effort.

Nonetheless, Railway Empire does a lot of things right. It’s a polished entry to a niche genre and worth a try, especially if you have a soft spot for tycoon games. And who knows? You might just find out you really like trains.


Video Game Review

Railway Empire
PlayStation 4

THE GOOD

• A streamlined but still competent tycoon game

• Immersive atmosphere that strongly adheres to the tone of the time period

• Extremely engaging

THE BAD

• Graphics lack flair

• The nature of tycoon games naturally lends itself to the tedious

• AI/Rival corporations ignore most of the game mechanics and just do as they please (which can be immersion-breaking)

RATING: 8/10