Train Valley is best described as a traffic management game, where you build your railway and manage the trains on it. It sounds simple enough, but it’s one of those games that I found myself saying “just one more go”, as I tried to successfully complete each level.
Each one starts with two stations that need to be connected by railway. Placing track is simple, with clicking and dragging being quick and intuitive. Trains then randomly appear at stations and await your input for them to depart. They’re colour coordinated with their intended destination, and it’s up to you to make sure that the points are correctly set so that it reaches its correct destination. The quicker it reaches the station, the more money you get, which in turn allows you to expand your railroad as more stations open up and need to be connected to the network.
The train controls are simple, with you only being allowed to start/stop each train, or turn it around, should you accidentally send it down the wrong track. This comes in handy during the later parts of a level, when it is harder to keep an eye on multiple trains and mistakes are easy to make! This means you can reverse it to get it out the way of another train, or set it back on the right path to its correct station. It would have been nice to have had a bit more controls over each train, to be able to set different speeds so it isn’t quite so stop-start, but on the harder levels it doesn’t really matter as you juggle trains by stopping them in separate sidings to prevent them from colliding at busy junctions.
The maps are scattered with forests, villages, and impassable terrain such as mountains or water, which get in the way of your train network. Destroyable structures can easily be removed should you be happy to pay, but in the early stages of a game this can seriously eat away at your bank account. Laying track obviously costs money, so it’s important to keep an eye on your bank balance when creating longer stretches of track. What’s more, you pay tax on your railroad, and so you often find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck as each train pulls into its destination. An unfortunately timed tax bill can spell game over if you go bankrupt, even if a train is just about to pull into a station and deliver you much needed income!
Levels are grouped together in different locations, including Europe, America, Russia, and Japan. Playing between the early 1800’s and 2020, each level has a different visual feel to it, with themed trains and buildings which is a nice touch. That said, it would have been nice to have seen a greater interaction between the environment, time period and gameplay, to allow you to dig tunnels through mountains or bridge across water, but even with the restrictions, the levels allow you to approach the game how you want. There really isn’t a right or a wrong way, but you will learn that certain layouts work better when trying to get around bottlenecks and pinch points.
In Story mode, you are also tasked with completing three additional objectives for each level. These objectives, although totally optional, are what can make the game so addictive. They vary, so that one might be to avoid train crashes or ensure that trains don’t arrive at the wrong station, while others are financially related, such as earning or spending a certain amount, or avoiding a certain limits for destroying objects when placing track.
I often found that just completing the level on its own was hard enough, but once I’d worked out a track layout that worked, I then replayed the level trying to focus on the objectives as well. This is where most of my time went, as I’d replay levels over and over again to get that perfect achievement. If you prefer a slower way of life, or just want to play around, Sandbox mode is also available where all time and money constraints are removed. Although you can make crazily complicated track layouts and have fun trying to run them, I just couldn’t tear myself away from the Story mode and the compulsion of trying to achieve those objectives.
The game hasn’t changed a significant amount during its time in Early Access, and that’s actually to the credit of the developers who brought us a game that wasn’t a buggy mess or light on content at the start. Instead, we’ve seen an extra location (Japan) added to bring the number of levels to 24, and new train models that take the total up to 15. Most of the effort has been spent fixing minor bugs and addressing balance issues, such as the difficulty in the early levels. It was also nice to see the developers directly responding to people’s questions and suggestions on the Steam page throughout the process.
For the price of £6.99/$9.99 there’s a decent amount of content to be found here, even if there are aspects of the game that could have gone further to add more depth. As I said in my preview, most people either love or hate traffic management games, but there’s always the free demo to try out if you’re not sure if it’s for you. The gameplay is the real winner in Train Valley, as it manages to be both frustrating and addictive, but also incredibly rewarding once you finally complete the mission with all the objectives.