It's been a while since I played a PC game since getting consoles. The PC gaming landscape has changed from when JRPGs used to be almost non-existent to the point where you can find a whole range of them on Steam now. That said, it still can't beat consoles in terms of choice if you're into Japanese games.
One area PCs still excel in are simulation management games and I've always enjoyed titles such as Civilisation. So, having run out of console games to play I had browsed around for one and came along Railway Empire which looked good and positive reviews. The title fairly much gives away what it's about but I didn't really know what to expect of the gameplay because some management sims are just poorly designed.
However, Railway Empire turned out to be a fun and challenging game to play with a deep learning curve to start with.
There are the usual campaign and sandbox modes that start off by taking you through tutorials as usual. Your job is to connect up cities and local resources together by creating a network of railways. This starts off quite easy when you've only got a few places to connect and each train has their own dedicated line but as your network grows, it becomes a little more difficult. It's one of those games where you can lose a lot at first and want to give up.
Drawing tracks seems like a straightforward thing to do but you have to consider the incline and also work out how to edit them too. Managing funds doesn't seem to be much of a problem in this game but there is a maximum capacity you can upgrade stations to so eventually, you have to figure out to let trains share tracks.
It was kind of hard to learn at first where to place signals, setting one way only tracks or the best places to position them and it got quite overwhelming once the network's a spiralling maze. It's the key to gettng the edge on your AI opponents so until you learn the system you can find yourself failing the time restricted campaigns but once you do figure it out, it's very rewarding watching trains share tracks smoothly and the cash flow growing.
Cities also have demands such as what resources it requires and figure out how to export or import those resources to let them flourish. At this point you might even have to consider what type of trains to use such as freight, express or mixed trains to best handle the job.
With all of this to manage it can feel a bit overwhelming while still learning about the features of the game but eventually the game's pacing feels just right. You're never idle enough to have nothing to manage as you race to grow your rail empire before the AI competitors. Especially once you hit chapter 4 of the campaign.
Outside of building tracks, there's the usual technology tree where you can spend research points to unlock such as new faster and more powerful trains you can employ.
As with all management sims, there's a great deal of replayability too and not just because it has a sandbox mode. You get a rating and score once finishing a level.
Visually, the game looks great for a management sim. It's more lively than Civilisation, that's for sure! And the best part is you can actually hop onto the trains and enjoy the scenery as they travel along the tracks! Maybe because it was developed for the console but it's also not very demanding on PC requirements. It runs well even on my old Geforce GTX 780 Ti at over 120fps in Full HD. Couple this with a fairly well designed UI the game is really a treat to play as I've never found it too tedious to navigate around.
However, the lack of hotkey support and the option to filter out routes or cities by name further suggests this game was originally developed for the console. It would have been great if you could partially type in a name to find the route or city you're searching for or, a hotkey that lets you enter/exit the track building mode.
Other than some lacking features that would have made sense for a PC game, Railway Empire is one of the best management sims I've played on PC in a while since Civilisation VI.
- Rewarding and challenging management gameplay.
- Great interface design.
- You can hop on the trains and enjoy the ride too!
- As with all sims of this type, replayability.
- Seems to run great even on my 4 year old graphics card.
- Maybe the initial learning curve?
- Better hotkey support and partial name filtering would be good.