Reviews - Updated on April 12, 2022

The strategy genre is large and varied. There are many sub-genres in it – military, economic, indirect control, real-time and turn-based, in historical or fantastic surroundings … If you dig into the very depths of such a classification, you can find such an amazing beast as a railway tycoon simulator.

All these years the genre did not stand still, but developed and evolved. Developers are no longer limited to one railway – now “tycoons” are in fashion among such games, covering the entire range of vehicles, including cars and aircraft.

But there are those who remember how it all began. Railway Empire from Gaming Minds Studios (this German studio had a hand in such series as Patrician and Port Royale) is a classic railway simulator in an equally classic setting of the railway boom in North America of the 19th century.

Railway Empire game review

“Cartoon” design clearly does not form a serious attitude towards the game.

Go West, young man

Don’t confuse railroad tycoon simulators with rolling stock simulators. In the latter case, the player takes on the role of a train driver and his task is to deliver cargo or passengers from point A to point B on time and without critical consequences. Reliable location of rivets on the boiler of some Rocket (one of the first English steam locomotives) and a realistic system management with the need to comply with all traffic rules – to taste.

Tycoon is something completely different. Here you have to think at a strategic level, and the trains and railways themselves are just a tool for making money. Moreover, there are other ways to replenish a bank account: playing on the stock exchange, buying and developing your own industrial enterprises. Railway Empire is about this.

The time and place of the game was not chosen by chance – in the USA of the 19th century, the railroad played a huge role in the development of new possessions on the West Coast. Aviation and automobiles were not yet in sight, and horse-drawn and water vehicles could not fully satisfy the growing transport needs of the young state. In addition, when compared with Europe, the North American continent did not yet have a developed road system, so any trip to the west was a real test (by the way, one of the first video games in history, The Oregon Trail, is dedicated to such expeditions).

The creation of a railway network could become (and became – a little later, in the second half of the 19th century) a real salvation for the logistics of the whole country. As it should be in a capitalist society, the development of a new type of transport was left at the mercy of private business. The state assisted in every possible way those enthusiasts who decided to take up the construction of the railway: for example, land at a distance of 10 miles from the tracks was given into the ownership of the owner of the roads, and targeted loans and credits were very, very profitable.

Again, as it should be in a capitalist society, especially thoughtful guys did not fail to take advantage of such preferences. For the sake of those very lands and subsidies (issued on the basis of the length of the road), they tried to make the paths as long and winding as possible, sometimes deliberately ignoring the shorter route (in some cases, the authorities had to force such roads to “straighten”). A very important issue for the local population, through which city the road would run, was often resolved with the help of considerable bribes to the owner of the railway company.

Railway Empire game review

From time to time we are shown such newspapers, which reflect both gaming and various historical events.

And then the Civil War arrived in time, during which trains played an important role. The ability to quickly transfer troops and resources was very important, which also influenced the development of this type of transport. Not without amusing episodes associated with the railway in this war: here are the first armored trains. and the Great Engine Race. Finally, in 1869, the creation of the first transcontinental railroad was completed, connecting the West Coast with the central and eastern regions of the country, which provided a huge jump in the economy of the entire state.

In short, it was a fun time. Oddly enough, the spirit of this great era in the game is fully felt, despite the rather specific genre that does not favor such immersion. It can be seen that cities grow and fall into decay precisely thanks to the actions of the player and his computer opponents, for the sake of profit, company owners can do anything, and the creation of an efficient transport system means a lot for the economy of the whole country. This is especially noticeable during the passage of the campaign, which at the same time is a training in the basics of the game.

Debit and credit

In addition to the campaign (very short, I must say – only five chapters) there are separate scenarios, free mode and a sandbox. In the latter, there is no need to earn money, all the possibilities for building your own railway network are available from the very start. Scenarios require certain goals to be met in order to successfully complete the mission; sometimes tasks get very non-trivial.

But the main mode in such strategies is, of course, free play, where you can build a railway empire for your own pleasure. Looking ahead, I’ll say that in our case there is still a list of tasks: in order to get the highest mark at the end of the game, you need to achieve certain indicators in 20 years.

Railway Empire game review

You can switch the camera to the view from the train. It looks beautiful, if you do not pay attention to the disproportionate scale.

The developers did not pull the whole of America, so the country is divided into five parts, each of which is a separate map. They differ not only in the location of the cities, but also in the relief – for example, in the west the area is quite deserted, and the coastal cities are completely behind the mountain range, through which it is simply impossible to stretch the rails. In addition to the map, you can determine the year the game started: there is a choice from 1830 to 1910 – with an interval of 20 years, half a dozen options come out. Finally, we decide where to start and who will run the company. It depends on the latter what bonus the player will receive: for example, a fraudster spends 20% less money when buying locomotives and during auctions, and a retired general can build tracks with a decent discount.

The main task of the player will be making money – of course, it must be high and stable. Profit, as expected, is the sum of the balance between income and expenses. Income can be received in several ways: cargo transportation performed by our company, delivery of mail and passengers, and so on. Expenses, except for the purchase of steam locomotives, the construction of stations and tracks, consist of train maintenance, staff salaries and interest payments on loans.

The economy in Railway Empire is not static, but develops depending on the state of the railway system in the country. In addition to cities, various farms, mines, oil stations and other sources of resources are scattered around the map. These same resources must be delivered to cities, each of which has a demand for certain goods. For example, if there is a brewery in the settlement, then wheat is necessary for the successful production of the drink. Beer, in turn, can be a source of demand in another city – you have to build supply chains to ensure the greatest profit.

When demand is satisfied by more than 60%, the urban population begins to grow. The more residents, the more enterprises can be built within the city and the more potential passengers and recipients of correspondence and parcels. In addition, in developed cities, there is a higher demand for more goods. It turns out mutually beneficial cooperation between the railway and the inhabitants of the surrounding area: we get money for providing goods and resources, they get the development of the economy and the satisfaction of all needs.

Railway Empire game review

The more trains you own, the harder it is to figure out what’s going on.

“The blue wagon is running, swinging”

Putting the station in the right place and connecting it with rails to the city is not enough – you need to purchase a locomotive and determine its route. In addition to banal transportation between two points, you can quite fine-tune the waybill: what kind of cargo to unload and receive at each station, determine the priority of loading and the order in which stations are visited. Different models of locomotives become available gradually, depending on the advancement in the research tree. The latter is very extensive here and is not limited to rolling stock. But if you look closely, the difference between the improvements is not so great: behind different descriptions are hidden banalities like an increase in profit from cargo transportation by n%.

As soon as the number of trains on one track becomes more than one, the player will encounter one very unpleasant feature of the Railway Empire. The fact is that here is either a completely buggy, or a system of arrows and semaphores that is very difficult to understand – and most likely, both. Even if you try to separate the two tracks into different directions according to the instructions, the trains can still get stuck against the stop signal, although the rails ahead are completely free. At the same time, there is no need to do any complicated interchanges to rearrange the trains at the station – the train itself will “roll over” on the tracks and calmly go in the opposite direction. It makes no sense to flirt with realism – the spent nerves are not worth it. It is much easier to turn on the simplified path mode in the settings, in which the trains pass through each other when moving on the same road. Computer opponents, by the way, have this mode enabled all the time – they, apparently, also have problems with the semaphore system.

The rivals themselves, in theory, should encourage the player to fight for the dominance of his company on the map. But there are not enough tools for this. You can, for example, send a spy or a provocateur to your opponent (or find the same one in your place), but these guys do not make any difference. Yes, there are auctions, but there is no particular logic in how rivals participate in them. In addition, there are certain suspicions that the AI ​​​​cheats a little – sometimes the assets of one of the competitors begin to grow too sharply for no apparent reason.

It is unlikely that it will be possible to check or influence this – among other things, the interface and the functionality of statistical data are extremely uninformative for the genre. The more stations and active paths, the more difficult it is to understand what is happening in general. Railway Empire, of course, does not claim to be a serious simulator, but this does not mean that we should forget about banal convenience.

Railway Empire game review

Probably, investments in the alcohol business will be justified – it is still far from prohibition.

In addition, the game has a rather large layer of mechanics that has little effect on what is happening. For example, personnel – there are office workers, there is a crew of locomotives, various employees of an auxiliary level (the same spies or guards). But if you don’t pay due attention to them (that’s still microcontrol), then nothing particularly terrible will happen – it’s quite possible to build a successful business without fussing with every driver or conductor.

***

Railway Empire turned out to be very “casual”, as if specially designed only for beginners. At the same time, the unfriendly interface, bugs and toothlessness of opponents lead to the fact that once you get used to what is happening on the screen, boredom sets in. Much could be forgiven if the game had multiplayer. But, as you can see, he doesn’t. And, judging by the information from the developers, it is not planned at all. You can go through the campaign and scenarios, play a couple of times in free mode … and that’s all – this is where interest in the strategy fades. A verdict for a representative of a genre where replay value is incredibly important.

Pluses: the spirit of an era of development of the Wild West is perfectly transferred; the game will be a good start for those who want to get acquainted with the genre.

Cons: strange implementation of arrows and semaphores; lack of online play; simplification in everything; inconvenient interface; poor statistics.

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