I pondered for longer than is reasonable over how I would write a review for this game.
To quote @II Loadsman, who was the first on the site, and most likely the world to complete this... "it's not a game, it's an interactive screensaver".
In short, on one hand it is an unfinished project, but with some decent potential to become a game worthy of some minor attention. On the other, it is a grossly over-priced, unfinished mess, released in a knowingly incomplete state, and where the basic processes barely count as a game.
Over the last two weeks, and reaching the point of maximum completion at this stage (at the time of writing there are apparently two unobtainable achievements)*, I have become more inclined to veer towards the latter of the two views.
The game itself has some character, and clearly borrows a lot from the locked “3D” viewpoint of simulation games from the late 1990s such as Theme Park World and Theme Hospital. Those games became popular through their simple mechanics, humorous and engaging characters, and their surprisingly complex underlying economic and social levers (adding extra salt to your fries made the next door soda shop all the more compelling). In short, like many simulation and strategy game of their era, and since, the key to attracting players and then retaining them, is to make the principle simple, but the mastery challenging but rewarding.
Effectively, this straight forward and long-established premise is where the ‘game’ fundamentally fails. On the first point, it is not as accessible as games in its genre should be. The tutorial is staggeringly weak (not to mention its triggers appear in *every* mission you play after completing it!), and wholly insufficient to explain the mechanics of the game.
Most importantly however, is the second point. The game could not be described, in even the most generous of possible terms, as a challenge. It simply is not. Every mission, whether described as ‘easy’ or as ‘difficult’ (as the game does), can be completed without utilising a single train or timetable. The income from vending machines alone is more than sufficient to not only pay the daily bills from a fully-kitted station, but also to pay off every loan available to you. This does have one inadvertent benefit however, in making the obscenely long and arduous achievements possible to complete by simply leaving your Xbox on for a night or seven, with the train line’s
customers victims spending their life savings on coke and chocolate to get your achievement over the line.
Talking of achievements, beyond the two that are currently unobtainable, the list is lacking in creativity, and instead opts for mindless grinding. One achievement alone - to get from 1970 to 2010 in Endless Mode - takes 240 in-game days to complete. Given that on the fastest setting which makes a day approximately 3m45s of real time, that is 15 hours of your Xbox simulating away without any intervention, assistance, or engagement. The rest are somewhat easier, but to complete the list it’s an easy 60+ hours of pointless electricity usage. At least the environmental catastrophe of crypto mining returns some degree of ‘value’ and sense of achievement...
A cursory glance at Steam forums and various discussion threads shows that the game has been in early access since 2017. That the game still lacks a full release, and that the console version is a number of iterations earlier in the development cycle is all the more nonsensical. At £17.49, the game is not cheap, and priced in a similar bracket to mature and exceptional simulation games like the Tropico series, which drop to that price not long after release.
Simply put, this game lacks any sort of challenge, and whilst it’s a decent concept, it utterly fails on almost every aspect of execution. The tutorial is lacklustre and unhelpful, the menu bar is awkward and confusing, the different game modes offer little-to-no variation, the achievements are ill-concieved, and the actual gameplay is tired and with zero of the character or humour that makes this genre successful.
All of the above could be forgiven if the game was released as it should be; a pre-alpha test build to gain feedback and prompt development. Instead, it’s a hastily adjusted game, pawned to the console market to make a quick buck. Presumably before the developer drops the game from support across all markets for good.
I have never wanted my money back from a game before, but this would be a first.
*This review is updated on 21 May 2021 to note that the unobtainable achievements have been fixed and the game can now be completed. This was resolved by direct communication from members of the TA community with the developer through a Steam forum. Acknowledgement should therefore be made, that despite misgivings on the game itself, the developer was highly responsive and engaged in constructive dialogue to resolve the issue.