Railway Empire (Switch) – Review
Follow Genre: Simulator
Developer: Gaming Minds
Publisher: Kalypso Media
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Tested on: Switch

Railway Empire (Switch) – Review

Site Score
6.0
Good: Offers more depth than most other train simulators
Bad: AI doesn't play by the same rules as the player
User Score
3.0
(3 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 3.0/10 (3 votes cast)

Railway Empire is another late arrival on the Switch. The game originally released on PC, Xbox One and PS4 back in January 2018. It made the jump to the Switch in Japan four months ago, and it’s now finally available on the Switch in the West. (There’s probably a joke about a train delay in that release schedule.) Simulation games are often tricky to port to console, so how does Railway Empire hold up on Nintendo’s hybrid? 

Story

Railway Empire stands out from most train simulators through its setting. The game takes an in-depth look at how the American railroads were built. Spanning a 100 year period, between 1830 and 1930, the game takes a deep dive into the Wild West, when steam-powered locomotives were an exciting new sight across the prairies. The railroads were the lifeline between various communities, bringing supplies and building materials to small towns and helping them expand into large cities. This is reflected in the game: as time passes and you take on new missions, cities you encounter expand and become more advanced.

Railway Empire takes on a mission-based approach, similar to most Tycoon-style games, meaning there isn’t an overarching story arc. Of course, the order in which the missions are played is still chronological, but each mission is a standalone affair.
Historical context is provided at the start of each mission and the game goes into a lot of detail about how and why certain technological advancements were made. History buffs will really enjoy this approach, although it does feel like an educational game at times. 

Graphics

Railway Empire really knows how to present itself. Everything you see on screen, from the trains themselves to the menus have been carefully designed to capture the right atmosphere. At the beginning of the game the sparse environments might not look all too appealing but when you start filling up the empty plains with buildings and railroads, you’ll discover you have access to a very detailed world. The character designs you encounter in the menus are a bit on the cartoonish side compared to the more realistic things you’ll see in the world, but they don’t contrast so much that they stand out as jarring. Of course, the Switch isn’t the graphics powerhouse that the other platforms are, so the game loses some visual fidelity in comparison with its bigger brothers, but overall it holds up very nicely, even if things can get a bit fuzzy if you zoom in too close. 

Sound

The atmosphere is key when it comes to Railway Empire’s soundscape. The music varies between relaxing and exciting. We did feel that the cheerful tunes didn’t really feel suitable for the frontier setting and perhaps more Western-inspired music would’ve been better, but the music itself is fine as is. It never overpowers the environment but is always present in the background as you focus on constructing the perfect railroad line between two cities. The background sounds make the environments come to life with soundscapes that blend the tranquil environmental sounds of nature with the buzzing excitement of the urbanized areas that your trains will visit. Finally, there is some decent voice acting here, especially the narration that explains the historical context at the start of a mission, though of course not everything in the game is narrated. 

Gameplay

As the title suggests, Railway Empire is a sim game focused on setting up and running your very own network of trains and railroads. The Western setting of the 1800’s America feels fresh and with an expansive campaign, various modes and a hefty chunk of DLC, we have to admit that Railway Empire offers a good amount of content. Although the core experience is in meticulously crafting your network of railroads, Railway Empire also puts a heavy emphasis on economic expansion. The towns and cities you are servicing require not just passenger transportation but a steady supply of goods as well. Efficiency is key here: businesses will choose the fastest route in order to either receive their raw materials or to get out their stock to customers. If you’re able to provide this service, you should see your own company’s funds grow steadily. This income can then be reïnvested in expanding and improving your railway empire in order to stay ahead of the competition.

At least, that’s what should be the case. In reality, the AI you’ll be playing against isn’t bound by the same rules that you are. For example, where you’ll have to add sidetracks if you wish to have multiple trains to use the same route (so that they can cross one another), your AI competitors don’t have to do this, instead being able to have their trains cross one another on a single track. We don’t mind a strategic challenge, but if the AI is blatantly cheating, it’s a different story altogether, and it can really ruin the fun, as no matter how well you manage to run your company, you’re always fighting an uphill battle. 

It’s not just the cheating AI that can turn Railway Empire into a frustrating experience. The game was clearly designed for PC and subsequently retrofitted for consoles. This is especially apparent when it comes to the user interface. Simple actions require too many button presses and looking up simple information can become a chore. The game relies on a ton of micromanaging, to the point that we feel it got overcomplicated. This is a game that was so clearly designed to be navigated with a mouse and keyboard that we’re frankly a bit surprised that it was ported to consoles. It’s still playable and functional with a controller, but be prepared for a very steep learning curve if you wish to master Railway Empire on a console. 

The core game does offer plenty of bang for your buck, with a lengthy campaign as well as several additional missions of varying difficulty. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you can even make the AI even more difficult in these missions. Then there’s a more relaxing sandbox styled mode where you don’t have to worry about competitors or money and you can just build the railroad of your dreams. The Switch release also comes with some DLC, which adds night and day mechanics alongside extra maps, and even more DLC is available for purchase separately. 

Conclusion

If train simulators are your niche, then Railway Empire has plenty to offer you. It’s a gorgeous-looking experience that really delves into the history of how trains shaped 1800s America. However, we really don’t get why this was ported to consoles, as the shoddy interface and awkward controls detract from the value of the game. We heartily recommend that you steer clear from the console versions and play the game on PC instead. 

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Rating: 3.0/10 (3 votes cast)
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Railway Empire (Switch) - Review, 3.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
Sebastiaan Raats
Sebastiaan Raats


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