I adored model railway as a child (yes, I was a big nerd) and I actually remember thinking that they would be a good basis for a video game. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, either. Flazm Interactive, an indie developer with a long history of locomotive themed flash puzzle games, was also on the same wavelength, and its latest title is an absolute blast.
Train Valley, recently launched on iOS and soon to become available on Steam, has been receiving rave early reviews. So, presented with the opportunity to cover it for WGTC’s next Indie Game Corner feature, I jumped at the chance. And I’m so glad that I did because while Train Valley isn’t a complex game by any stretch of the imagination, it does have one of the most addictive and entertaining gameplay loops I’ve enjoyed in a long time.
Speaking with WGTC, managing director Alexey Davydov said:
“The Train Valley development team was formed specially for this project. It was a big challenge for us and we ended up experimenting repeatedly with different track laying systems. After settling on cell-based architecture, we feel we’ve improved gameplay massively. Train Valley has evolved a lot, but importantly, it’s still full of railroad nostalgia from our childhood.”
So, what’s it all about? In brief, Train Valley is a puzzle game in which players must direct trains towards stations by building railway lines. Players are given a budget with which to build their railways, which sometimes require expensive demolition or costly track layouts. Built railway is also taxed, so the more you build, the more you’re going to spend, and advanced stages require a lot of strategy to avoid bankruptcy. The increasing volume of trains gives a real urgency to gameplay as they chug either toward each other or off the track entirely. You’ll have to frantically build alternate paths and intersections – that require constant attention to be correctly “switched” – in order to avoid collisions.
Gameplay is super easy to pick up, but boy is it challenging. You’ve really got to strategize before commencing each level, making sure to optimize track routes versus budget, and planning for ever increasing amounts of spawning trains. Each new puzzle adds more complicated obstacles and tighter budgets to overcome, and beyond just finishing a level, there are additional challenges for the completionists among us. I’ve only played a few hours of the game, but in that time I found myself having to rely on trial and error to beat harder levels, and there were plenty of objectives that were far too difficult for my little brain to overcome.
Train Valley certainly had me hooked, and there’s loads of replayability value thanks to the objectives within the game’s story mode. Beyond that, there’s also a sandbox mode which removes time and budget constraints, and a DLC pack set in Germany, adding new tracks and historic story content.
If I have one gripe, it’s that the game doesn’t offer too much depth in its building mechanics. I would have liked to have seen bridges and tunnelling as an option to overcome terrain, rather than just building a track around obstacles. But Alexey Davydov mentioned that there are plans to include these features in a sequel title:
“…in the future, we are planning to go even further. We have gathered a lot of feedback from our community and we hope we know what to offer to our players to make them happy. That includes a new multiplayer layout with the ability to build bridges and tunnels, and a level editor to make your own puzzles and share them on Steam workshop.”
You can definitely tell Train Valley is the culmination of several previous puzzles games, such is the polish of its gameplay. Prior to Train Valley, Flazm published dozens of hugely popular flash games – as in, over 1 billion games played popular – that make use of a similar gameplay loop, but Train Valley is a big leap in quality.
Alexey Davydov went on to say:
“Railway Valley was our first flash game, and it formed a great community of locomotive and puzzle enthusiasts. I always wanted to return to a train theme, but in order to take the concept to a new level, it was obvious we needed to take a qualitative leap and go 3D.”
And the leap in production value certainly exudes a quality that is reflective of that. Train Valley has a real polish about its aesthetic, menus and game modes that give it the feel of a highly refined package, which has been recognized at several indie game shows. In fact, it’s already won 3 awards since gameplay demos were initially revealed back in 2014.
Train Valley is successful because it does what all good puzzle games do: it takes a simple premise and turns it into an entertaining gameplay loop. The train theme rocks, but essentially it’s ‘ a traffic management game, and that’s the essence of what makes it fun – the historic locomotive setting is just a bonus. At its core, Train Valley is a solid puzzle game that ramps difficulty in a way that keeps you engaged but doesn’t overwhelm. Just don’t get too carried away playing it on your commute, otherwise you might just miss your stop.
Train Valley is out now on iOS and Steam.