I never really considered railway simulators to be my thing, but Railway Empire has changed my stance in that regard. I had a lot of fun linking up cities, managing track efficiency, and building up my company. Railway Empire is easily one of the better tycoon-style games I have played as of late.
Simplicity. Railways in the real world are complex. Railways in Railway Empire retain some of this complexity, while still being accessible to new players like myself. Stations are made easy to manage, trains automatically turn around at stops when needed, and track laying cannot be any simpler. I was able to grasp the concepts behind railway building with ease. The only aspect to give me some sort of trouble was signals, but the game provides an encyclopedia that can be referred to at any time. I was constantly checking it when figuring out the signal system.
Amount of fun tycoon features. Contrary to its name, Railway Empire is more than just building railroads and placing locomotives on them. The game offers up several features to make it more like a tycoon game. The tech tree is perhaps the best of these features. It allows players to progressively upgrade their locomotives as well as offering boosts to other areas (such as +5% ticket prices for passengers). The game also offers a stock system, allowing the player to purchase shares from another railroad company, even giving the option to merge companies if the price is right. There are also people that can be hired to sabotage another company’s stations or trains, along with people that can be hired to spread rumors about another company, bringing down their reputation. The player is even able to ride along with his/her trains in first-person. It really brought on the nostalgia from my Roller Coaster Tycoon days. None of these features feel particularly out of place in the game, rather just serving as additional things to do for the player.
Different game modes. Railway Empire has a few different game modes to choose from depending on what the player desires. The first mode, the campaign, is basically a compilation of scenarios for the player to work through. This mode also introduces the player to the game and acts as a tutorial. There are several objectives to achieve in each chapter, along with several optional goals. There is also a scenario mode, which adds a few more scenarios for the player to work through, similar to the campaign. Then there is the free mode and sandbox mode. The free mode allows the player to customize the experience, allowing choice of area, time period, and other options. The sandbox mode is the same as this free build mode, but without the need to worry about competitors or cash. As such, those looking for a challenge have their options and those looking to unwind and just build railroads have their options as well.
Lack of sound. Railway Empire is a very silent experience. There is little when it comes to sound design, ambience, and background music. While I was editing my playthrough of the game, I thought I had somehow forgotten to record the game audio only to find out that it was indeed there, just in very little amounts. More frequent background music (or just sound ambience in general) would have been great. The background music I did hear was not even that bad either, it was just so infrequent. As the game is now, it just encourages me to listen to my own music while playing. Some players may enjoy doing so, but I have always been a big fan of a game’s background music, which Railway Empire simply does not deliver.
The UI. Railway Empire does not have the most helpful UI, especially when a player is first picking up the game. Once a player has about ten or more different train lines, it becomes hard to track down specific lines and make changes. For example, during chapter 2 of the campaign, I decided to upgrade all of the locomotives on every line that had not already received an upgrade (around thirty or so). However, due to the way the UI is designed, this took a lot longer than I had anticipated. I wish the game had made it easier to find specific lines, or maybe even a more advanced way of sorting through them. These UI problems plague many other areas of the game, it is just clunky all around.
Annoying competitors. I like the idea of competing railroad companies, but they are quite annoyingly executed here. Not in the sense that they are competing with the player, but in other ways. For example, every time I placed a new station or established a new train, they would make some snarky comment. After hearing the same comment twenty or so times, it is quite easy to imagine how one may find that aspect annoying. Additionally, competing companies always seem to have more sabotage and smear campaign opportunities compared to the player. It was like every five minutes I was faced with a newspaper article talking down my company or one of my trains being sabotaged. It just grew tiring over time.
Railway Empire is a great tycoon game overall. The game maintains a certain degree of complexity, while also being simple enough for newcomers to enjoy the experience, as well as throwing in several fun tycoon features and a variety of game modes to play. It does suffer from a bad UI, annoying competitors, and a general lack of sound, but the game is still enjoyable regardless. An easy recommendation, especially for those that are already fans of tycoon-style games.
You can buy Railway Empire on Steam here.
I was provided a free review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.