I have always been interested in trains and their immense power and usefulness to a continent. How do you move goods from here to there when that spans thousands of miles over some of the most desolate and dangerous terrain known to the planet? Sure, once we moved into the skies and built cars and highways that scene has changed, but during the era of the locomotive, there weren’t many options for transporting supplies or people in a relatively safe and expedient way.
The focus of Railroad Empire is mostly limited to the 1800s, when the first transcontinental railroads were created. There are myths and stories related to this huge undertaking. The game does a very nice job setting up the tasks you are about to take on. Your goal is to create the largest railway network across the United States and your first objective is to set up train stations and lay tracks. To do this, you select the station you want based on the needs and the price and then you plop it into a town.
The user interface (UI) is not as straight forward as it could be and left me scratching my head many times as to what the tutorial was asking me to do. It’s easy to make decisions when someone is holding your hand, but it becomes far more difficult to make these decisions once you start playing through the game. My recommendation is that you just go for it and follow the pattern they set for you in the introduction. Regardless of my complaint of the UI, the narrator will tell you exactly what to do.
When you pull out the magic wheel of selection with the ZR button, you are given several choices. These include laying tracks, purchasing locomotives, and building stuff and things like train stations and intersection signals. They point out that a train needs to have a water station set up on the route. They also give you the alarming reality that trains can’t pass through each other. Apparently, the laws of physics apply to trains and they aren’t capable of phasing in and out of the real world. Who knew?
The problem of what buttons I was supposed to push to do the things the game was telling me to do became apparent. There were some options like watch a little movie, remove, select a building, and select a type of build. None of these sounded like something I needed to do. So, I logically selected remove because it was the only thing that didn’t keep me where I was. It didn’t remove anything… except me from that option list. I was then given the opportunity to place my building. Rotation of the station was to use the digital L and R buttons. I found it very difficult to rotate the building exactly how I wanted it to lay out to the geographical proximity of upcoming track placement.
After I was able to plop down my building I had to connect the tracks. This was a very seamless and easy thing to do. You can even tweak the track in different areas to follow a lay of the land of your choosing. Next, you had to do things like make a route that used the tracks, select a locomotive, and so on. It was fun to see your train instantly start hauling stuff to the next town. However, there was a problem – steam trains need water. Your next task is to set up a water tower. Then we moved on to the next issue of trains having this problem of being solid matter so you had to lay bypass tracks because bypasses need to be built. No forms to fill out in triplicate, you just laid track and it joined them automagically. You place your signals and the direction you want the bypass to travel and you’re on to the next task. This was all seamless, but I had trouble understanding the concepts laid out up to this point. But no matter, you are now given tasks to put down as many stations and track as you can to build your empire.
The graphics are quite lovely for the Switch version. I know it doesn’t compete with the high end PC or even now generation consoles, but it more than fits the bill and you can zoom in about as close as you need to in order to see your lovely locomotive doing its thing. The people characterized in the game have a cartoony effect to them, but art choices aren’t that important, and I appreciate the Dick Dastardly look to some of them. Exaggerated facial features are always welcome in my book and give some character and make it look cool. Making people look realistic is good for something like Call of Duty, but unnecessary in a game where your goals are railway domination.
The sounds are exactly what you’d expect from a game with locomotives. Your trains make chug-a-chug noises and the music is tasteful and nothing egregious. They even have voice overs for the narrator and tutorial. I have played too many Switch games where that was left out but is available on other platforms.
My basic recommendation is that this is a really good game to get your feet wet in the world of simulation games. I found it confusing to learn, but rather fun and fast paced, which is not what I was expecting. I welcomed the challenge and look forward to really getting into the nitty gritty of the different play options they give you including a sandbox where you can just do what you want to test things out. At least, that’s what I saw it as an opportunity to do. If you are big on simulation games, this is the best that’s out for the lovable portable system. If you have a hard time seeing small print, however, play it on the big screen or get yourself some cheater glasses from the spinning display in your pharmacy. These old eyes can’t make out the tiny things on the tiny screen. This is the first game where it really became a problem for me. We don’t all have 20/15 vision with eagle eye precision.
Railway Empire - Nintendo Switch Edition Review
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
If you’ve been hankering for a really good simulation game but are disappointed by the lackluster showing so far on the Switch, then give this one a go. It should give fans of the genre hours and hours of enjoyment and allows you to play it in a way that suits you. However, it’s not great on the portable version for those of us with less than perfect eyesight.
Jay has been an avid gamer since the Intellivision days. His hobbies include building PCs, 3D modeling and printing, and spending time with his children and dog.