When you see a railroad simulation game on console, it's easy to assume that it'll be tricky to play. However, Railway Empire manages to be a wholly enjoyable and in-depth sim that's sure to delight genre fans and newcomers alike.
Railway Empire definitely seems like a game that's meant to be played on PC yet upon starting it, I was very happy to see how intuitively it plays on console. The controls require a bit of memorization but once you have the patterns down, you'll find yourself zipping through the menus like a master transit planner. With that out of the way, I should probably explain what's involved in playing Railway Empire. Basically, you have to connect cities with each other as well as resources such as various farms and whatnot. Once you do, you can set up train routes to then carry cargo and passengers back and forth. Building the tracks is super-easy and impressively instinctual. When you have a network of connected locations, you can then build industries within the cities. For example, transporting cotton from one farm to a plant that makes fabric then taking that fabric to a clothing factory only to finally ship the finished product to those rich fashion-savvy folks in New York City is quite a lengthy yet rewarding process.
There are many other aspects that you can tend to such as hiring employees who work on the trains, in the office, or even sabotage your competitors. That's right; as you play, other computer-controlled folks are trying to strike it rich via their own railway systems. The ability to purchase stocks and even buy out your competitors comes into play, too. There are so many factors but your head won't spin as long as you follow the incredibly well-implemented tutorial that teaches you throughout the main campaign. The gradual learning curve will eventually turn you from a novice entrepreneur into a full-on master of the rails who can juggle all the aforementioned tasks with ease. It all adds up to craft an addictive and immersive real-time strategy formula that's multi-faceted yet rarely overwhelming.
Most games that are made for PC yet release on console as well suffer from plenty of technical difficulties. Thankfully, Railway Empire runs surprisingly well. The load times are short, I didn't notice any slowdown, and the visuals remained crystal clear as I zoomed in and out and panned all over the country. Speaking of visuals, I enjoyed the detail of the cities as you can see folks going about their day and little carriages on the city streets. The audio is generally well done, too, with era-appropriate American music and satisfying sound effects. The voice acting is pretty good but some of the actors are clearly German and just putting on American accents which is quite funny. That actually leads me to my next point. The humour presented in Railway Empire is fantastic and actually had me laugh from time to time. It's awesome to see a game that combines a historical premise with contemporary humour in such a clever way.
Finally, I should discuss a couple things that detracted from my fun with Railway Empire. First of all, some events are random yet they feel like they should be under your control. For example, sometimes you want a train to carry a specific material from one place to another but it instead takes something else. You'll also encounter trains randomly breaking down and citizens becoming unhappy in a city no matter how much money you pour into it. Seeing as some of the mandatory tasks rely on such activities, I wish you had more control over preventing these sorts of mishaps. Along the same lines, there's a lot of information presented via the plentiful menus yet some details are either too difficult to reference or completely absent. To illustrate this, some trains can't carry certain types of materials which confused me at first. Perhaps the in-game messaging should provide more suggestions instead of just stating the obvious.
Railway Empire is simply one of the best real-time strategy experiences that I've ever played on a console and juggling its many rewarding tasks in order to succeed in building a nation is nothing short of satisfying. My conductor hat is off.
- + Addictive, multifaceted, and immersive real-time strategy gameplay
- + Surprisingly smooth performance
- + Well-implemented learning curve
- - Some important aspects aren't as customizable as they should be
- - Could use more comprehensive and intuitive information screens