I’m a sucker for transport management games, or any type of management game really, and I love puzzle games, so Train Valley has managed to grab hold of me on two different levels. It’s probably closer to the puzzle end of the spectrum than the management side of things, but it’s still drawing from both elements at once. I mean you’ve got to keep a hold of your finances, with bankruptcy being an ever present threat; a pretty defining characteristic of a management sim.
We talked about the core game more in our original review, but I’ll give you a quick overview. Essentially you’re presented with three train stations that you need to lay track between to connect. Each station has a colour, and will also serve as the starting point for trains that have a different destination colour. As you may have guessed, your goal is to get each train to its destination colour, without colliding with any other trains along the way.
Of course, laying down track costs money, and demolishing obstacles in your way will prove an even greater drain on your finances. While you can route around those troublesome buildings that lie in your way, you might end up paying more for the track than you would have spent demolishing.
This is all fine if it weren’t for the fact that the game will randomly spawn new stations for you to connect into your network, as well charging you taxes every year. Every level starts of reasonably simple, but once you get towards the later stages, the financial pressure can start to build. Add in time pressure from the fact that trains will start their journey without your instigation if you leave them waiting too long and you’ll often be under so much pressure that you need to pause the game to reassess the situation.
Content wise, the main game is split up into a series of four countries, The Netherlands, U.S.A, Russia and Japan, each of which gives you six levels that move you through time, showcasing the development of trains and society in that location. The Germany DLC adds, as you may have already guessed, Germany to this selection, which serves as the new final country in the game’s progression. That does mean you’ll have to have beaten the rest of the game’s content if you want to get to it, which makes sense when you take into account the DLC’s difficulty level.
The game’s previous last country, Japan, was pretty tricky, introducing a few new elements and giving you densely packed urban environments to try and wind your track through without demolishing too much. It was certainly tough, but it felt like a fitting crescendo to the game’s difficulty curve.
This new DLC decides that the previous difficulty peak wasn’t nearly high enough, and instead piles on a whole heap more challenge. There are some tough level designs to deal with, but it’s the new mechanics and optional objectives that provide the real challenge here.
In terms of those new mechanics, there’s a few new concepts to deal with. One of these is a twist on an element introduced in the Japanese section of the main game, where a high speed train from outside of your main network would arrive from the side of the screen, forcing you to work quickly to deliver it to the right station. The DLC version, however, features a huge train that barrels across the screen, serving only to wipe out any of your trains that lie in its path.
There’s also one level which sees you play in Berlin during the period that the Berlin Wall was up, with a single point that you can build a line between the two halves of the city. Half way through the level the wall comes down, meaning you can redesign your entire train network if you want, although having your finances in a position to allow this is tricky at best.
While these are interesting ideas, there’s one other mechanic that really shines, and potentially opens up new ideas for any future DLC. You see, one of the levels takes place at around the time of the First World War, and at certain points you’ll see a biplane fly over your little train network, dropping bombs on it and wiping out random sections of the track.
This is the kind of addition to the core game’s ideas that I love to see in DLC, really adding something new as well as more levels to play through. The developers, Flazm, have done a great job of making the bomber feel like it fits contextually as well. There’s even an air-raid siren to forewarn you of the impending destruction.
However, it’s the aforementioned optional challenges that really set the DLC apart. These are present throughout the rest of the game, with every level featuring three objectives that you can complete should you so wish. These range from staying under a certain budget, to dispatching a certain number of extra trains, to not destroying any buildings.
The objectives in the new DLC are somewhat more mischievous, toying with the core concepts of the game. Whereas before you might have been tasked with ensuring no train arrived at the wrong station, you’ll now be asked to make sure a number arrive at the incorrect destination before you get them to the end of their journey. There are even challenges that ask you to destroy a set number of trains, undermining one of the core concepts of the game.
By subverting your expectations in this way, the DLC constantly frustrates you, forcing you to learn how to play the game in a completely new way. Given that the only way to even get to the DLC is by beating the main game, and by presenting the objectives as entirely optional, Flazm have done a great job of really challenging their best players.
For a couple of quid added to an already quite cheap indie game, the Germany DLC is a great addition to Train Valley. It provides you with more content, which is something I’ve been eagerly waiting for, new mechanics, well thought out challenges, with little to detract from it. While some might be annoyed that it’s locked behind completing the game, it really makes sense given the difficulty of the DLC. This really is a DLC for people who loved the main game, and it will likely leave them begging for even more.