Nice, sedentary music and gentle patter from the various talking head tutorials and interjections at the bottom of the screen. Soothing, if a bit unremarkable.
Being able to seamlessly zoom in and out of the map to admire details up close is quite impressive, and it all feels authentically of the 1800s. The sepia-toned map and UI are neat and uncluttered, too.
Developer Gaming Minds has done its level best in adapting Railway Empire 2's various shortcuts and options to a controller, and laying track is (mostly) straightforward enough.
There's infinite replay value here, but wrapping your head around it all can be difficult. The sheer amount of detail is dizzying, and the tutorials don't offer enough help.
Completing all seven tutorials feels like an achievement, so it's fitting that you get a trophy for doing so. Milestones are duly rewarded, but this is a workmanlike list.
May 25, 2023
Have you ever dreamed of becoming a rail tycoon? A titan of industry, laying down lines between towns to transport valuable goods and resources from place to place? No, neither have I, but, in Railway Empire 2, you can do all of that and more, if you so desire. Exactly the type of game that has, for years, been stranded on PC, Railway Empire 2 is an insanely detailed simulation, enabling you to develop cities with their own transport hubs, amid the Industrial Revolution. It's a game that might seem impenetrable to some, but give it a chance and you'll find a deeply rewarding experience.
It doesn't much help that Railway Empire 2's tutorials aren't the most welcoming. You're presented with a lot of information to absorb, and it's all relayed to you in quite a dry and fusty manner. Some tutorial objectives seem like they don't make much sense, while others demand that you wait for an interminable amount of time. I've never been defeated by a tutorial before, so Railway Empire 2 is something of a first for me. It's essential that you start with the tutorials, too, as the game is extremely difficult to figure out without some sort of primer. And yet, the various tasks put before you require management in such granular detail that it can be hugely off-putting.
Your locomotives need to be maintained; their water, sand, and oil levels need topping up, and your rail lines have to be set up in a very specific way, otherwise they simply won't function as they should. And while there have been clear improvements, by developer Gaming Minds Studios, in streamlining the various systems and mechanics at play – signals now being automatically placed, enabling you to simply choose the direction your trains take on each track, being one such example – there's still an awful lot to take into account. It's enough to make your head spin.
Any game that includes a balance sheet gives you a clear sense of where its intentions lie, and keeping a steady stream of revenue going, while being sure to meet the specific needs of various 19th century historical figures during the five-chapter campaign, prove paramount. You'll need to keep tabs on that balance sheet and ensure a supply of goods to meet demand, be it grain, livestock, lumber, or whatever, and research upgrades, new locomotives, and other useful stuff to help bolster your enterprise. The game’s Free Play sandbox mode removes such requirements, allowing you to freely build a rail network without constraints.
It's remarkably easy to become so distracted by perfecting routes and lines, connecting towns and cities as efficiently as possible, while adding gridirons, supply towers, and building upgrades to your network, that sometimes the objective can become obfuscated by other overriding concerns. During the campaign, I became so hypnotised by railways and trains, while striving to get everything connected and working properly, that it escaped my attention that I was meant to be transporting sugar. Thankfully, you can pause the action, while preoccupied with building your infrastructure, then speed things up when you're sure that everything is running nice and smoothly, like it should. And quick saves can also be handy, enabling you to revert to a pre-fail state should your efforts go awry.
Once your operation is raking in enough cash, you can start participating in property auctions to buy up businesses, and there's a great deal of satisfaction to be had from laying a neat rail route, easily terraforming to create bridges and tunnels where necessary. It’s even more gratifying to monopolise the whole map and own the whole gamut, like some sort of Victorian-era Jeff Bezos. If you want to share and revel in the glory of success as a rail tycoon with friends, you can join forces with up to three other players in co-op multiplayer (squabbling guaranteed), and build an empire (a railway one) together, which is a nice touch. Finding like-minded pals to create train lines and deliver freight with, however, might be a bit of a tall order for most. It’s not exactly a Call of Duty session, is it?
Deep, complex, and difficult to crack, Railway Empire 2 is a management sim that rewards perseverance with an entrancing, almost relaxing game of trains. Clearly something that makes a modicum more sense on a PC, best played with a mouse and keyboard, Railway Empire 2 nonetheless works surprisingly well on console. Tools and objects are easily accessed via R2, while setting down track and tinkering with what you’ve created is about as intuitive as you could hope for. That said, there are times when connecting up routes can be frustrating, and uprooting your work to make adjustments can lead to all manner of headaches. Or, at worst, a necessary restart.
Regardless, anyone willing to push through the dry and staid tutorials, then invest time in getting to grips with the myriad intricacies of Railway Empire 2, will eventually find something here to enjoy, even if only for a few hours.