People seem to be really into Monster Hunter World. It seemed like the first big game to come out in 2018. I think it looks okay. But me, I was looking forward to another game that was coming out the same day. For me, the first "big game" of 2018 was Railway Empire.
Not that I'm some big train fanatic or anything. I mean, I think trains are fine. But I've never built a model train myself. I don't own a conductor's cap. Heck, I don't think I've ever played another train sim in my life actually. But I have found myself immensely enjoying builder-sim type games over the past few years. I cannot even tell you how much joy I've gotten out of things like Cities: Skylines for instance. I approach these sorts of games like I would a zen-garden: it's all about gradual tweaking for continual feelings of happiness, and relaxation. Unfortunately my time with Railway Empire has been far less meditative than I had hoped.
Booting the game up the first time I decided I'd try out the campaign since it was basically a glorified tutorial that would teach me how to play. Daunting is the word that came immediately to mind. Put it this way, I had to restart the first chapter twice before I even got the hang of some of the most basic of the basics. But okay, fine. At least I started to wrap my head around how the systems worked. And soon enough I was finishing up the first chapter and moving on to the second of five.
This is where stuff started to get bad.
After a solid six hours into Railway Empire it was still frustrating me. At least the campaign was. There's just so much to juggle. Each chapter offers you a list of tasks to complete within an allotted time frame (in-game years).
Oh, I should at least make note of how great everything looks in this game. It's not super overly detailed, but it's pretty. And the variety of camera angles is appreciated. I loved "riding" my trains in first person mode. The music is... there. Sometimes. Sometimes it just fades out and leaves you with not much to hear at all. Hmm.
On my first attempt at Chapter 2, I had knocked off most of the tasks, and was working on the one that said "deliver 20 shipments of clothing to New York." Seemed easy enough. By that point I had cotton going to Pittsburgh; textiles going from Pittsburgh to Baltimore; and clothing going from Baltimore to New York. But NY wasn't getting the clothing! At first I thought it was the stops between Baltimore and NY... I thought other towns were intercepting the deliveries, but on closer inspection, nope. Baltimore grew too big. They consumed all the clothing leaving empty trains going to NY.
On my second attempt I fixed that and got all the clothing to NY first before expanding any further to fulfill other tasks. Everything went swimmingly, although I had to take out some loans early on to just get the stuff to NY right away. I worked my way down the list of tasks, checking off each one. Except the last. The last one was to own 20 shares of stock in another railroad company. Except I'd given the other companies like two solid hours to expand while I was focusing on these specific tasks. I had also gotten myself into a bunch of debt, so I couldn't afford more than two or three shares of another company, never mind twenty. Ugh.
And then after reading some reviews of Railway Empire it turns out it's not just me. And because Rock Paper Shotgun is much smarter than me, they even took the time to notice that the AI is a cheater! And I'm not talking about taking some advantages. I'm talking about how the AI literally does not have to conform to the rules of the game that you're playing. So like the big one is this: you have to be bothered with the reality that two trains can not occupy the same space at the same time. So you have to make side tracks, and add switches and direction/stop signals. Your trains will have to wait for your other trains to get out of the way. But the AI? They get to just drive their trains through each other like ghosts. So yeah. A strategy game where only one of the three players (you, the player) has to be burdened with strategy.
This revelation is a huge ball-drop in what should be a fantastic game. And sadly not my only complaint. The controls took me hours to get comfortable with; the menus and pop-ups are overly complicated. Even though there's a wealth of tutorials and in-game "hints' and videos to watch, there's still a lot of rather poorly explained systems. I mean, I'll keep the game around for pure sandbox mode, but as a game with a goal... I'm all set. And disappointed.