The simulator genre is a very interesting and complicated place. Taking the scene from the usual gaming motifs and putting it squarely into reality, these games create incredibly complex and often realistic worlds that focus on some minute aspect, such as farms, zoos, or, as we’re about to talk about at length, trains and the transport industry. Starting you off in 1850, Train Fever focuses on the building of a transit empire, kicking off with steam engines, horse-drawn buggies, and trams as you seek to carve out your legacy among the rails. It is not an easy game, but it’s not as imposing or difficult as some of the other sims I’ve dabbled in over the years. Still, there’s an inherent toughness to getting a foot on the ground to begin, so I’ll sprinkle some of my tips for beginning your journey to master of the railways throughout this review.
Train Fever begins with a pretty sizable map, even on the ‘small’ setting (which I certainly recommend for first-time play), sprinkled with towns, mines, farms, and other industrial points. There are a few basic settings for your world before you jump in; for getting the hang of things, I mostly stuck to ‘flat’ maps versus the trickier ‘medium’ or ‘hilly’ options. The first thing you’ll need to do is get your bearings, check over the randomly-generated terrain, and use the available contour map to find two towns that are relatively near one another and connected by mostly flat, featureless ground. This helps in many ways, since you’ll need to start turning a profit quickly if you’re going to expand into the remaining world as the years tick by.
Once you’ve selected your targets, the first real step to Train Fever‘s concepts can begin: the construction of railway stations and your very first train line! You’ll need a station in each of the towns, and you’ll want to connect them with the straightest, flattest rail that you can lay in order to keep the speed of your engines at a good pace. Within each of the towns, you’ll also want a network of “bus” stops — remember, we’re in 1850, so your first road transport will be by horse and carriage. These will help people move between where they live, work, shop, or take leisure time, as well as making sure that locals can reach your station platform to ride the rails to the next stop. Once you’ve got this groundwork laid, it’s best to sit back and see if you’re turning a profit – once you are, then it’s time to expand.
As you grow your transport business, more and more factors come into play. Of course, you’ve got upkeep to pay on everything you’ve built, as well as interest on the initial loan taken to fund your business, new rails and roads, and, the most expensive piece, vehicles. Train Fever does a great job of giving easy, full access to your booming business’ finances, including a granular per-vehicle glimpse at overall budget performace, operating expenses, and everything else. It makes it pretty easy to keep a high-level view of your entire operation, and there’s a ton of information that, if used properly, can keep things running smoothly and soon your pockets will be bursting — or, you know, more trains and tunnels will carve through the countryside, whichever you decide to run with.
In full honesty, I’m going to admit that I did not do very well playing Train Fever. It was a difficult and, at times, frustrating experience for me to get the hang of it for this review, but I stuck with it as best I could because, despite my flagrant ineptitude, I got the sense that it was a good game if you’re into simulators. There’s a ton of features, tons to do, and an absolutely gorgeous setting in which to do it, backed with unobtrusive and fitting music and sound. While it’s not really my cup of tea, there’s a lot here to enjoy if it is, and I’d heartily recommend it to fans of the genre, though I can’t say as that I’d do so for others. Sporting a hefty $34.99 price tag on Steam (on pre-order sale as I write this for 10% off), it’s not something to jump into if you’re not sure, but probably worth it if you’re serious enough to be considering it.