Train Valley PC Review
Have you ever had that feeling when you are trying to perform a specific job, but no matter what you do, you can’t shake the feeling that this line of work was something you would never be good at? I often felt like that when trying to safely manage multiple trains from crashing on their way to a destination. No matter what I did, one sneaky little locomotive managed to be out of my grasp and cause an accident. It’s a good job I was not around in the 1830s, because chaos would ensure with my ability to masterfully kill innocents through derailment or head on collisions. Thankfully, it’s all fun and games in Train Valley, and while I don’t think anyone dies in this cute train puzzle management title from the trio of Alexey Davydov, Sergey Dvoynikov and Timofey Shargorodskiy, it certainly made me see The Fat Controller in a new light – just how did he manage his Sodor rail network? I should give him a buzz and see if he can give me some advice…
The objective in Train Valley is simple, make sure your trains get from one destination to another. It sounds easy on paper, and initially, it is, but when the game ramps up after a few levels and the player is tasked to handle multiple stations and trains, then things begin to become stressful and destructive. Each stage begins with a budget and a couple of coloured stations that need connecting. Trains begin to populate these stations over time, with little coloured symbols above the station to alert you to its destination of choice. Locomotives can only travel on railway lines, so of course this means a destination route needs to be placed on the land. Construction lines costs money, $1,000 a square, so ideally the shortest distance possible is the general target. At first, this is easy to accomplish, but as the stages become more complex, objects begin to obstruct the ability to construct rail, and the only way around this ,depending on the type of blockage, is to pay high costs to remove the obstacle or simply build around it, but costing additional time and money for the train to arrive at its final journey.
Money is incredibly important, run out of it and you’ll become bankrupt, no longer having the ability to continue running the town’s rail system. You need to make it to the end of the target years, represented by a blue box that fills up with the date ticking up inside it. Money is also taken from your account every year for annual tax, which can be the nail in the coffin when hoping for that last train to keep you in the green. Every train that spawns is given a cash rating, which slowly decreases as it waits to leave the station – they will also automatically set off if they are kept idle for too long. Once the transport begins their trip, the cash begins to decrease until it arrives at the correct station, dumping the remaining money back into your literal life savings. That is all you have to do, which makes Train Valley sound like a simple game. Well it’s certainly easy to understand the objective – it’s a puzzle game that wants you to figure out the best solution to continue, but mess up somewhere during the task and it’s time to worry about the cash.
Mistakes can be easily made, as you aren’t just in control of building tracks and signalling the trains to go, but you must also make sure they have a safe journey. This often requires intelligent track placement, incorporating multiple routes to most stations, but this can also make for tricky situations, as line switches require the player to switch them. As you can imagine, trying to get four trains across the most busiest track without accidentally sending them to the wrong station (they turn around and drive back out) is going to require speed and careful concentration. Crashing them costs money, so to make sure the planning goes well there is help with the pause button that freezes the action, while still enabling the placement of railroads (they don’t build until time is active), interactions with switches or activating a train to begin its journey once the game is resumed. Trains can be stopped or told to reverse (amusingly, the train actually flips round, rather than going in reverse), and the game can be set to run at double or quad speed to get the early game parts moving faster. All these features are here to help make it easier for the player to get their trains home before they become worth zero cash.
Progressing through the four chapters of story mode, each one covering an era: Europe (1830–1980), America (1840–1960), USSR (1880–1980) and Japan (1900–2020), adds train models based on that time. The latter years means longer and faster trains to deal with – the game likes to make things a little crafty and awkward, and this becomes more true towards the later end of the game. Failing is something that will happen at some point, but attempting again does not mean that you now know what is coming, since one of the core elements of its gameplay is how more stations pop up as the level continues towards the end date.
These stations are randomly given an order for their construction, throwing in a spanner when it comes to designing what could have been a successful layout in the previous unsuccessful attempt. It might have been a train that crashed, causing problems with bulldozing and replacing the track (both those actions cost money), so the design itself was fine. You will have to try build something similar, but then, the randomness also applies to the train spawns and destinations, so the outcome is going to be ever so slightly different. It’s a neat little feature that makes replaying stages to pass the three optional challenges, for example, spend X amount of money, no crashes, destroy X amount of land, request X amount of additional trains, that each stage includes a bit more fun, or awkward depending on how you view it.
One thing that did frustrate me was that there was no function to undo a track placement. I would not mind if this feature wasn’t enabled when the game was running, but when paused, where tracks don’t build, an undo button would have been incredibly helpful. There were numerous times where my track did not correctly attach an ending, leaving me wasting money to bulldoze it down and rebuild the last segment again to make sure it was correctly connected, which can only be done when time is moving. It seems like an oversight, especially when the highlighted area is hard to tell if the track is going to be connected as desired.
An additional mode called Sandbox allows all the levels from story mode that have been completed to be played in a version where everything is in your control. There is no game over, as money is gone and there is no real objective. Stations can be given a location to spawn and trains can be called upon when needed. In essence, Sandbox is what it sounds like, a place to let you go wild with the tools at hand. I personally did not find it a helpful feature to practice with, but I understand others like being given the chance to play wild with the tools a game offers. There is no harm being done to the game for having it included.
Train Valley displays a charming, simple visual style that inherits cuteness without going full-on with overly bright colours and exaggerated modelling. The user interface is kept to the sides of the screen, so the focus of the action is clean from clutter. Don’t expect crazy video options here, there’s resolution (that goes up to at least 2560×1440) and a couple of additional detail settings, but the title is not demanding, so expect to have no trouble running it on anything with a graphics card from the last 8 years.
An extreme warning for anyone with monitors that display above 60hz, because Train Valley has a crippling problem with it. When I began playing the game, I wondered why I was always coming close to being bankrupt at the end of the stage. I thought nothing of it until I hit a stage where it seemed impossible to beat. I was running out of cash, trains were running out of money and spawning extra trains did not reap me the benefits. Turns out that the cash that counts down when trains are travelling is calculated based on frame rate/refresh rate, so having it at 144hz instead of 60hz breaks the game’s currency, as you simply don’t earn enough to successfully finish stages. Forcing your computer to run 60hz fixes the issue, but this is an oversight that should have not been missed with four plus months of early access development.
Even though my initial experience was soured with technical problems (which the score is affected by), Train Valley is at least a fairly good puzzle game that gets by with its pleasing aesthetics and easy to understand mechanics, but still manages to supply a challenging and enjoyable game within its limited scope. It’s a small title that never becomes complicated as some other puzzle games, and with only 24 levels, it’s a short time to be with, but at being priced at a welcoming £6.99, it’s not going to break any bank balances. Train Valley doesn’t do enough to steam into the genre to imprint a mark, but for anyone wanting a quiet game to sit with in an evening, there is enjoyment to be had here.