I am a terrible business manager. I know a few things – time equals money, and money is green – that sort of thing. But when it comes to actually sitting down, chewing on a pencil, and coming up with a clever way to shave a few percent off my annual fuel consumption… It becomes quickly apparent my mind is full of horses with wings and technology that doesn’t actually exist.
Many transport-management games know this, and gently take my hand during these crises of reality. They mutter soothing platitudes and persist that I am not an idiot, even as they quietly re-shuffle the universe in the background to better suit my skills. Free fuel and colour-coded roads with lots of big green arrows, usually. The Train Giant is not these games. And my first few tenures as a mighty entrepreneur ended with a rather crushing blow to my ego as my coffers drained dry.
Of course, I now know that spelling my name out in highway-tarmac isn’t actually a great investment. Live and learn.
Despite having Train in The Train Giant’s name, those mighty stallions of industry and day-trips to the beach are barely half the story. The game presents you with a landscape of towns, cities and cul-de-sacs and charges you with increasing your company’s holdings through clever business ventures. This can reach from networking rail-routes for industry, building accommodation and shops, to making sure a regular bus service gets people to their work on time. Eventually, as the gears of commerce start to grind without interference, you can turn your gaze to improving the acres of un-sullied lands that surround your city-states by building the hell out of it.
The striking thing in all this building-glory is that The Train Giant plays like a true sandbox. You can literally do whatever you want, wherever you want. Think the business district could use a massive Eiffel Tower in the middle? Go for it. Just make sure you don’t give your bank manager a heart attack in the process. Most ventures that swing towards common-sense work better – cheap accommodation near working buildings is a nice little earner. Saving the more opulent housing for the scenic outskirts of the city can make even more. Setting up a decent bus or rail service from these little suburbs to the city centre eases the risk a bit and so on. The Train Giant rewards these little networked investments, and when it all comes together, there is a real sense of pride.
Then some faceless bugger builds a corner-store near your housing, and leaves you thinking “Ah, didn’t think of that”.
A real spin on the genre is the other guy. This other chap, un-named, is doing more or less the same thing you are. Designed to be a competitor and (cleverly) a way to make even more cash with surplus building materials, he/she/it hovers on the sidelines, building shops and buildings in response to the cities own supply and demand, as well as your own movements on the corporate landscape. Although, thankfully, the roads and trains are all yours to control.
With a multitude of engines, both passenger and freight, turning the landscape into a spaghetti-esque tangle of railways is a very real possibility. Of course, that’s wasteful, and with some careful planning, just a few rail networks can make you oodles of cash very easily. And that’s a bit of the problem with The Train Giant – it’s all a bit easy. As far as the goal of the game goes, making money is the driving force, and clever investments will make you more cash faster. But even from the start, you are already making money. Stick the game into fast-forward and you make money even faster – provided you don’t actually build anything. You make your own risks with every dollar spent, and to some, this lack of challenge my be a little deflating.
But then, The Train Giant isn’t Sim City. At no point will you, in a fit of boredom, trigger an earthquake under your city for a giggle. This is a game designed for those of us who once owned a model railway in our youth. The enjoyment comes from actually creating something functional. A city that breathes, makes cash and runs like clockwork is the goal here. Eventually, after a fair few hours by my count, you’ll be able to afford one of the super-structures – monstrously expensive, real-world landmarks; the Eiffel Tower, the Bullet Train, to name a couple. Each dominating the landscape and suddenly making things a little more interesting. You will probably skin your company constructing these, and they require huge amounts of building materials to construct, but if The Train Giant has an “end-game” – these are it.
Despite the compulsive nature of reaching the stage where you can afford these, there are a few more hurdles in the way. Graphically, The Train Giant just about ticks the “functional” box; pretty from a distance, but it’s drab textures become apparent as you zoom in closer. Oddly, though, the game still manages to chug a little at high settings on my PC – something I haven’t experienced in a while. The interface is awful. I really can’t describe it any other way, it feels unintuitive and clunky. Not that this is a major issue in a management game, but sometimes it feels slightly broken.
The cities, while dense, lack a fair amount of detail. Although whether this is by design or due to hardware limitations, I’m not sure. The only moving objects in this world are your trucks, busses and trains. There is no traffic nor people rendered at all. Again, this is a minor thing, but people coming from other management sims may find the environments in The Train Giant a little bland and sterile. To be honest though, after a few hours of play, I didn’t miss them all that much.
Despite my issues with the interface and even the choppy frame-rates, I honestly enjoyed The Train Giant. I realise this is just the latest in a long line of games very popular in Japan, but not having played the others, the open-ended nature of this game felt very liberating and refreshing. Just being allowed to muck about a little without someone shouting at me was a pleasant experience; you can’t really fail in The Train Giant, only lose money. Not that the game isn’t challenging, it simply steers you towards making your own goals and leaving you to it. There are more difficult maps on offer too; everything from disparate cities in need of networking, all the way up to empty grassy fields and a truck-load of money to brick over the whole lot of it.
There is a wealth of satisfaction to be had in The Train Giant, and it offers a unique and fresh perspective in the genre that, as a rule, tries (and tends to fail) to be as accessible as possible. The game encourages experimentation and allows you the freedom to be as creative or as conservative as you like, all in the pursuit of cash. And remember, it’s not all about trains.