This is one of those games I cannot make my mind up on. I found Unrailed both enjoyable and frustrating, in equal measure. I’ll attempt to explain why, but if I am being honest, I cannot put my finger on it.
What you have in Unrailed is an endless runner that is disguised as a co-op building game. The idea here is that you need to build a track across an endless procedurally generated level, avoiding obstacles and encounters.
The main goal is to keep that train moving, as any collision is game over. Believe me, you will see a fair amount of game over screens in your time with Unrailed.
You’ve got a Minecraft style aesthetic from an isometric angle, that looks really smart and feels very welcoming from the outset. Yet does disguise a game that is also designed to test friendships.
On easier difficulties I actually found Unrailed to be a wonderfully enjoyable experience, but bump that up and it becomes a lesson in patience and frustrations.
I probably blame myself a bit for the expectations I set for this game, as I expected some kind of puzzle game over anything else. So being hit with a crafting mechanic that seemed to rely on co-operative play took me aback. To the point, I turned it off pretty soon after starting.
I went back in with my son and had an altogether different experience. We both preferred the easy difficulty over the higher ones, but we put that down to both of us having ADHD and not coping too well with how busy the game gets.
There is a solid logic to how the game moves, the vital crafting elements make sense, and you can easily get into a rhythm of gathering resources to build the right parts, whilst then also reacting to emergencies you need to deal with. Including literally putting out fires.
Early runs barely saw us getting 10m into the level before messing up and needing to go again. Which was frustrating of course, but something clicked after a while. All those failures made us work together better and work out a system that allowed us to take on roles within the game to improve.
Going from 10m to around 30m initially felt like an achievement, but breaking the 100m mark for the first time saw us fist-bumping and celebrating. There is a good feedback loop here. Sure one that likes almost to humiliate you with failure after failure. However, the onscreen distance marker really helps give you a goal to push forward on.
I am honestly not sure if this is a game I can recommend as a must-own, but there is certainly something there, and after some QoL patches here and there, Unrailed could grow into something very impressive. Yet right now it is a decent game that I am happy to have played, but not desperate to come back to.
I don’t want to leave it there though, and this section is written after the fact. I said in the previous paragraph that Unrailed was a game I wasn’t desperate to come back to. But come back, we did. Both me and my son had a desire to play more and try and improve just a little bit.
Therein lies the hook of Unrailed. It is far from perfect, but by having that simple bloody distance marker staring you in the face, you can’t help but get the game out of your mind. It pulls you back because you want to get better and you want to beat your previous best.
Is that the game? Or is that something in myself? I think it is a bit of both truthfully. Unrailed is a decent game that has solid mechanics, but looking at each part separately, they have all been done better in other games. But it really does have a hook that makes you come back for more and more.
Unrailed becomes the true definition of a game that is better than the sum of all its parts.