Often, a game comes my way that I have heard nothing about, didn’t even know it existed and when I play it… I’m kind of glad I didn’t know it existed and wish it would’ve stayed that way. Sometimes, a title comes up for review that I didn’t know about and it really comes as a wonderful surprise as to how good it really is. Train Valley is a puzzle-strategy game from developer Flazm and publisher BlitWorks. But which side of the good/bad coin does it fall?
“Build railways, manage traffic and stay accident-free. Play in Europe, America, Japan and USSR in 1830-2020. Complete the story mode from the Gold Rush of 1849 to the first manned spaceflight, and then explore the random mode. Management. Construction. Trains. Welcome to Train Valley!”
Now, Train Valley was released back in 2015 in the world of PCs. I mean, they’re on Train Valley 2 already and have been since 2019. But this is the console version that has only just been released and I’ve been playing the Xbox port. So then, what exactly is Train Valley all about? If I told you trains, would you be surprised? Taking place in five counties around the world (this version includes the Germany DLC) and over two centuries of the age of the train. What you have here is a puzzle time-management game where all you have to do is get a train from one place to the other. Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, if it were really that simple, it wouldn’t be much of a game. Played on a grid, you don’t control the trains directly, as in you don’t drive them. You place new pieces of track to connect two or more stations. Each station is colour coded and the trains will want to get to a station of a different colour. As an example, you have a red station and a red train at that station. But the train wants to go to the blue station. So you build a track from the red to the blue station and let the train go. Easy… until you get more than two stations, multiple tracks joining together, crossings, junctions and numerous trains all wanting to go to different places at the same time. This is where switches come into play as multiple stations mean multiple routes and you don’t want the trains crashing into each other.
Then add on that each map will throw up various problems to overcome. Maybe there will be an uncrossable lake in the middle of the map, limiting where you can place track pieces. Maybe a real-world event will hinder you, like World War II. Then you have money to worry about. Building train tracks is not free and you start each map with a budget, so you’ll want to keep trips short by using as fewer track pieces as possible. This can be a bit tricky if there is something in your way, you can go around it and use more money and track, or go through it and uses even more money paying for demolition but have a shorter journey. Pick your poison. Run out of money and it is game over. You can earn more cash by successfully getting trains to the right station in the quickest time. The faster the train, the more money you get. Still, rushing can lead to some pretty nasty train crashes and you really do need careful planning, especially when things get increasingly more hectic with more stations and more trains. This is where the whole puzzle element comes in. You can’t just throw down track pieces and hope for the best, thinking is key here and planning is very much a requisite.
Control-wise and you can really tell that Train Valley was designed for PC play. Moving a cursor around a screen for a game like this, with a mouse, is always preferable to using a gamepad. Things can get a little fiddley too because you are playing on a console. There are action options in the top-left corner of the screen and you select them via the shoulder buttons, scrolling to the one you need at any given time. This is slower and more clunky than just whizzing to them with a mouse pointer. The actions are; switches, for changing the direction a train goes at a junction. Track pieces… for laying the tracks. Demolition, for removing any pesky scenery in your way or any misplaced track. Station release, to send a train out from a selected station. Finally, a train action where you can stop and turn a train around, in case you send it the wrong way. When the action heats up, flicking to the action you need in a pinch is pretty much impossible. Still, you can actually pause the game and still select the action you need, build track and so on. This does take some of the sting out of the controls and, as it turns out on later levels, it is pretty much a must to pause and then carry out an action, the game was designed very specifically for you to use the pause… a lot.
There is another issue that definitely caused some problems. It’s really fucking hard to see where your cursor is. It is tiny, even when playing on a big screen TV. Again, this is further proof that this was originally designed to be played on a PC with you sitting a few inches away from the screen. But console players don’t do that, they sit back in a comfy chair, several feet away from their TVs. I mean, just go and look at the pictures I used in this review, all of them taken from the Xbox version that I have been playing. Have a quick game of ‘spot the cursor’ in each of the screengrabs. Seriously devs, if you read this, make the cursor bigger on the console version as it is pretty much impossible to spot. Especially when things get hectic.
Train Valley really infuriated me at first, the clunky controls and tiny cursor being major problems. Still, the more I played, the more I got used to the controls and slipping into pause mode to take a breather and re-plan my strategy of getting the trains where they wanted to go. Honestly, after an hour or so, I seriously fell in love with this game. What looks like a ‘kiddy game’ soon becomes a really damn tricky puzzle title that will test your reactions and force you to use the old noodle a fair bit. More stations in later levels mean more tracks, more trains and more chance of a crash. Various obstacles make planning your tracks more awkward as the game progresses. Each level throws a new challenge and each level also has three bonus goals for you to reach too, which really adds a lot of replay value.
Coming in with a £10 price tag Train Valley is a worthy purchase and it has kept me entertained for a good while. I do think that some players may find it a tad repetitive as all you are doing is getting trains from one location to another. But still, look at that price again and remember that this console version does include the Germany DLC, it’s a decent price point. This is a game that is very easy to understand but increasingly more difficult to master. Frustrating at times but also addictive with that ‘one more go’ style of gameplay that just pulls you in. But please devs, make the cursor bigger or give us an option to change it so it is more visible on the console version.
Available to buy now on everything and it is well worth a purchase.