|Me still running a Gresley A4 in 1983!
|Good Shepherd Entertainment
|4 Sep 2014
Made in Switzerland
Transport Tycoon is one of my favourite games of all time and I've yet to find a game that can truly usurp its position as greatest transport company management game despite many development studios trying to do so. Colossal Order tried their hand at this with Cities in Motion and Cities in Motion 2 and while they were decent enough games in their own right, they didn't scratch the itch (not that it matters now since they went on to develop the hugely successful Cities: Skylines and usurped SimCity's city builder crown instead).
Anyway, fast forward to 2016 and I grabbed Train Fever for really cheap but it wasn't until early 2022 that I finally got around to playing the game. Released in 2014, it's the debut game for Swiss development studio Urban Games who would go on to develop more transport company management games such as 2016's Transport Fever and 2019's Transport Fever 2. Over time, the reviews have trended towards being more complimentary with Transport Fever 2 holding an “Overwhelmingly Positive" rating on Steam based on 18,413 Steam User reviews and a respectable 76 Metascore. But what about the earlier titles such as this one? Are they any good or are you better off just playing the most recent game in the franchise?
A Love Letter to Transport Tycoon
As soon as you boot-up this game, you already know where they're pulling their inspiration from, I mean just check out this intro theme:
Sounds very much like Transport Tycoon Deluxe doesn't it? In fact, Admiral James T.'s theme is so similar to John Broomhall's version, I find it hilarious yet also impressed at how much these developers must love Transport Tycoon. The similarities do not end there either since as soon as you play the game, you'll notice a map filled with various towns and industries, just waiting for you to setup some road and rail networks to service them (and make a profit in the process)!
|A starting map screen similar to Transport Tycoon. Unlike Transport Tycoon there are far fewer cities
Unintuitive and Difficult to Learn
Unfortunately, it took me a bit of time to understand how to play the game due to a cumbersome interface and poorly explained instructions. I tried playing with the tutorial on and occasionally the features they mentioned in the tutorial windows didn't actually work (e.g. the middle mouse button never did anything) and there doesn't seem to be a way to set up your own controls. I also couldn't find how to rotate the placement of buildings or the camera so I ended up finding the answers on a wiki because there doesn't appear to be any proper documentation for this game. In fact, the game actually directs you to Steam Guides if you want any help! I also had trouble placing railway lines but I guess that's to be expected if you don't have a square isometric grid anymore like Transport Tycoon.
I would continue to experience issues navigating around the unintuitive UI and weird gameplay restrictions. For example, there's apparently a way to automatically upgrade vehicles once they reach a certain age (an improvement over Transport Tycoon) but when I tried to turn it on, it never worked. You're also unable to upgrade roads where there's an intersection or the road connects two cities together and is considered a public road. This means having to destroy roads in order to improve them in certain instances which is annoying and doesn't seem to serve any purpose.
|Traffic really starts to pile up as the decades roll on by
It's All in the Details
In terms of the main gameplay loop though, it brings along the same addictive qualities in Transport Tycoon to the 21st century: you're always exploring new routes, always improving the profitability of existing lines and always replacing old vehicles for exciting new models. The game also has high graphical detail that allows you to zoom right in to see what's going on in the towns at street level not to mention a high attention to detail too: not only will the car models change as the decades roll by but traffic also increases as a result as people stop taking public transport and start using private motor vehicles. This change is also reflected in the profitability of passenger trains as they become less profitable in later decades due to rising running costs and the fact many people are using inter-city highways instead. It's really cool from a transportation history standpoint but not so good for the bottom line as the CEO of a passenger train company!
The only downside to the more realistic behaviour is that the game appears slightly more complex under the hood when compared to a game like Transport Tycoon. In Transport Tycoon I found it quite easy to make a profitable freight train line, provided you had no competitors running the same route. This wasn't the case when I played Train Fever and it had me perplexed for the longest time. Once I finally discovered there was a cargo layer for the map, things became clearer. This layer shows the real-time transport of freight when it's not handled by your company and this showed me that you had to take care of supply and demand for the entire chain. While it was optimal to have a route that provides lumber to a sawmill and then sending goods from the sawmill to a city in Transport Tycoon, the sawmill would gladly pay for the lumber despite not having any of their goods sold to cities. In Train Fever you need to ensure that the demand for goods is satisfied first before the sawmill will even consider paying for more lumber. It's basically a costlier investment in Train Fever but you can reap the rewards if you play your cards right.
|Supply and Demand is critical to understand if you want a profitable freight train
No Planes… But There Are Trains and Automobiles…
Finally, the game doesn't appear to have any ships or planes to play with, only motor vehicles and trains, which is a shame as Transport Tycoon of course trumps this game in that regard. However, the Transport Fever sequels seem to remedy this issue so maybe they're worth a look if the absence of ships and planes is a dealbreaker.
It's obvious that as soon as you boot up this game, the developers are big fans of Transport Tycoon. While they mainly succeed in making a fun experience reminiscent of Chris Sawyer's masterpiece, the game is rough around the edges in terms of a steep learning curve, unintuitive controls, and a lack of planes and ships.
If you like this game, you might like…