Tracks Review: A Relaxing Train Ride, and an Easy 1000 Gamerscore

By Sam Quirke,
On my first pass through the game, I'll admit that I was mainly focused on the Tracks - The Train Set Game's achievement list. It looked pretty damned easy to complete, and it turns out that it was – it needs just a handful of actions on specific modes to finish it off, and it's likely to take somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours to get through them depending on how quickly a player gets used to the controls. But the achievement list does Tracks a disservice, as I did on my first playthrough. Beyond those basic requirements is a very relaxing and highly customisable experience, one that will tug on the hearts of anyone who had a little wooden train set as a kid. With its appearance on Xbox Game Pass and, potentially, on xCloud, it's hard not to recommend this simple relaxing simulator to players who won't even have to pay a premium to access it.

Tracks – The Train Set Game is listed as an xCloud Preview game on Xbox's marketing material and on the official list, but it hasn't yet turned up on devices. We'll update the xCloud games list as soon as it shows up.
One of the developer's pre-built scenes – a great place to start.One of the developer's pre-built scenes – a great place to start.

Tracks is a very, very simple proposition – with a blank canvas or with a handful of pre-made settings, players simply start laying down wooden tracks in any shape or combination they desire, and set a wooden train off around them. There's no real goal or objective in the game's basic mode; it really is just like a real-life train set, in that players can make whatever settings and scenes out of it that they choose. Rather than a complex set of gameplay mechanics, Tracks instead offers a complex set of customisation options for the scene you are creating. Players can choose terrain types, station types, buildings to put by the trackside, the type of passengers and passers-by they want to populate their world. They can choose to enhance the track with switching points, speed boosters and roller-coaster style corkscrews. On top of that, players can switch up the colouring on both the trains and – increasingly, through patches – many of the game's stock buildings. Once everything is set up, players can zoom into the train itself, operating the accelerator and pulling on the whistle. If that sounds simple, it's because Tracks is very simple; and there's a relaxing charm in how steadfastly basic Tracks remains throughout the experience.

You can put together pleasant little scenes like this in a matter of minutes.You can put together pleasant little scenes like this in a matter of minutes.

It's underpinned by a pretty, minimalist piano score which immediately calls Minecraft to mind. In fact the whole game is reminiscent of Minecraft – and we're talking the early, early Java Minecraft here, before Microsoft took over and gave the team enough of a budget to start getting crazy with customisation and features. There are no mobs to worry about in Tracks, though, or threats of any kind. The only antagonist in a game of Tracks is the track itself, sturdy and unwilling to bend to the player's demands for a tidy loop or intersection – just like the chunky wooden blocks of our youth.

Free Play seems to be the heart of Tracks, but there is a fledgling objective-based mode too – one that we're sure will be expanded upon in the future. (As of this writing, it has already been expanded slightly with the Day One release patch). The Passengers mode is currently only available in the Apartment - Day setting – a pre-made room that simulates the living and dining space of a small apartment, one that the player must navigate with a complex track in order to reach groups of passengers dotted about in improbable places. It's here that players just going for achievements will spend most of their short play through – more on that later – but it would be doing the game a disservice to only experience this slightly awkwardly implemented mode, that accentuates Track's faults rather than its successes.

In Passengers, you need to reach little wooden figures in improbable places.In Passengers, you need to reach little wooden figures in improbable places.

Yes, sadly, Tracks isn't devoid of issues – there's enough of them to turn off players who perhaps aren't as invested in its simple pleasures. Controls are mighty tricky on the Xbox One, and it'll take some time before players get used to them. The biggest obstacle to learning the controls is the inconsistency of the visual cursor – it's often difficult to work out where exactly an action like laying track is going to take place until you place it, and if it turns out to be wrong you have to remove it and take another stab. It's not a huge time waster, but those little moments of error can accumulate into a lot of frustration. Tracks also has a pretty wild approach to intersecting objects. Track can pass through the edges of room objects, which looks rough in itself, but on top of that the train itself sometimes can't pass through an object that the track is merrily shunting through. Launch the train off the track completely at the same object, and it can sometimes pass right through it. Again, it's not a game-killer; if you don't use the Apartment room template, it's almost a non-issue as the standard object set is slightly more reliable. But the delight of those childhood toy sets was their solidity and their thickness; in Tracks the pieces can just seem a little too flimsy and inconsequential. It also doesn't help that train tracks can be suspended in mid-air with no supports. It's a life saver mechanically in a game that struggles to convey height and depth to the player – but it does break the grounded immersion of playing with a weighty toy set.

A lack of consistent gravity feels odd, but it does allow for silly rollercoaster designs.A lack of consistent gravity feels odd, but it does allow for silly rollercoaster designs.

Things are already improving, though – by the time the game released on Xbox One there had already been a patch to tweak some UI issues, add more customisation options for the trains and their surroundings. Happily terrain can be resized as of the latest update; combined with the Alternate control mode which ties held objects to the viewing height, it's far far easier to put together a nice clean-edged megablock of terrain. We'd recommend starting off with a couple of the game's sample templates if you're feeling creative but don't know where to start – it's a lot easier to get to grips with the setup when you have a scene to build on from, whether it's a pretty Parisian promenade or an improbable rollercoaster complete with smashable Jenga towers. We can't claim Tracks will be for everyone – it's really tailored at a niche, looking to play with an old-fashioned train set but lacking the space in their living room. But if you are in or around that niche, you're going to enjoy yourself.

Now, it's time to talk about achievements. This is a really simple list, perhaps one of the simplest released in November. It's so easy, in fact, that SlyCooper20 has already posted a Tracks achievement walkthrough on site. You can probably work it all out on your own, but this walkthrough will definitely take you through the most efficient path. If you do strike out on your own, just remember that you do not have to complete the timed objectives in Passengers mode, which can be a little tight – as long as the passengers get to their required stations, that will be enough. You can skip through the tutorial in order to earn its related achievement, too – but we don't recommend that. The controls are tricky enough without deliberately skipping the part of the game that explains how to use them.

Summary

For a game featuring lifeless wooden blocks and figures on a big white void of a background, Tracks is a strangely heart-warming game – if you even want to call it a game. It's a virtual toy set, the kind that reminds us of grandparents and Christmas TV specials. Sure, it's janky in places and it needs a little more love in terms of its console control systems, but the developers already seem pretty committed to improving it. We like its simple yet comprehensive customisation options, allowing players to create their own picturesque scenes or develop over-the-top rollercoaster train trips. It's achievements are easy to knock out in an hour or two, neatly taking players on a quick tour of the game. This an experience that makes no demands, and expects nothing from you except peaceful, meditative creativity. It's total lack of meaningful progression won't be for everyone, but if you've been hammering at some stressful shooter all night, we recommend that you boot up a quick session of Tracks before bed to settle your nerves.
4 / 5
Tracks - The Train Set Game
Ethics
The reviewer spent 4 hours recalling his distant youth, easily earning all 10 of the game's achievements. The game was played across a standard Xbox One and an Xbox One X, and a code was provided by the publisher for the review.
Sam Quirke
Written by Sam Quirke
Sam has been a Newshound since 2016 and is now the Editor for both TrueAchievements and TrueTrophies. He loves gaming on all devices and in all genres. He remains a stubborn Assassin's Creed and Pokémon fan.