Tycoon simulator games are always fascinating to me. I have always wanted to like them, but often found myself overwhelmed. That was past me though, I have found them easier to enjoy the older I get. Railway Empire was high on my list of games in the genre to try.
The premise here is you need to find a way to connect growing cities in 19th Century America using a new fangled technology called trains. You have a vital role in making America the country it is today.
WAIT!! Don’t turn off the game, it doesn’t affect real life you can’t stop it all from happening.
As usual with tycoon games, you are eased in with a tutorial aimed at giving you a base to continue. Whilst at the same time offering some light background to proceedings. Nothing heavy, just enough to give the theme a reason and keep the game moving forward.
I actually needed to start the game again from scratch as the opening tutorial whilst doing a decent job of introducing mechanics and how progression works. It didn’t quite give me a good understanding of the controls. You see there are a lot of contextual button presses that do one thing in certain menus, but something totally at odds in another. A few times I found myself fumbling around the controller to find the right presses.
It’s not bad and a second attempt at the tutorial was enough to get me comfortable with everything. I just felt it needed either slowing down during the opening 20 minutes or so, or be a complete dummies guide.
Railway Empire, as with most tycoon games starts off easy enough to manage and feel like you are earning and in control, before upping the ante and becoming a confusing mess if you haven’t planned properly during the opening moments. I know that I had maps that looked a mess and were far from efficient.
The basic premise couldn’t be simpler, as you create tracks between cities to link them. Add lines so you have a service running and then build from that. You’ll need to extend lines to gather resources from various points across the map. Getting the balance right here is vital too.
Each major location on the map has its own set of needs. One city may have plenty of one thing, but need another shipping in. So you need to work out the best way to get (for example) that livestock from one area of the country to a city on the other side of the map. Creating a direct connection isn’t going to work here, but you also don’t want that journey going all over the country.
This makes you think about how everything connects and how you can transport goods and people in the most efficient way. The thing I liked here, is that there didn’t seem to be a single way to set things up and let it run. The needs of each city changes as the game progresses so you’ll need to make sure you not having a line just doing the same thing and running for the sake of it. The more connected the country becomes, the more you need to adapt.
From a gameplay point of view Railway Empire hits all the right notes and as someone who isn’t an expert in the genre, I still had a good time with the game. There are so many moving parts here, that I have only covered the basics. There is a laundry list of things you need to be aware of and balance ad you play through. Finances, rival companies, etc are going to have an effect on how you play.
A nice touch for me though, was the sandbox mode which allowed me to essentially just build tracks and take out a lot of the tycoon side. Making it much more accessible. It is a nice change of pace and essentially makes the game a giant play-set. There is also a bunch of scenarios too, which again are a welcome change and offer standalone challenges. I am a huge fan of scenarios in any game so really pleased to see them here.
I’ll get back to the good things about Railway Empire, but there are a few annoying niggles that I couldn’t get over. The worst of all of this is the text size. In handheld mode I found it really difficult to read popup instructions and flavour text. To the point it hurt as I was straining so much. It’s not just with the tooltips either, even the text in menus is too small. It made it difficult to play in anything other than short bursts. An option for sizing the UI would be welcome here and in actual fact, this isn’t just a fault of Railway Empire, this needs to be a default option in every single Switch game.
On the Switch the visuals are a little rough, but not so bad as to ruin the experience, it just feels a bit muddy at times. Which is a shame as some of the touches, such as being able to ride the trains would have been enhanced with improved textures. However, I get the compromises needed to get a game like this on Switch. Railway Empire actually runs really smoothly and I only noticed a couple of times where performance too a hit, deeper into the game.
Done with the main game? Then a whole bunch of DLC is added to the mix, allowing you to focus on certain areas of the USA such as the Great Lakes. Yet you can go beyond, Mexico, France, Germany and even the UK and Ireland. So we all have the chance to prove how we could do HS2 better than the so-called experts. Well not strictly, it’d have to be HS0.1 due to being set in the 19th century.
The overall package is wonderful value for money and Railway Empire is an excellent experience and one that is very welcome on the Switch. Fix a few minor things and this becomes a must own title.