Unrailed! offers the most fun when you play with your friends, whether online or in person. However, in spite of having 4 different game modes, there’s little variety in the gameplay, so it’s worth holding out on a sale to get it.
Type: Single-Player, Co-op
Genres: Survival, Management
Developer: Indoor Astronaut
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release date: 23 September, 2020
I apparently got Unrailed! (UR) back from the January 2020 monthly Humble Bundle, and forgot all about it. When I saw it being played on YouTube, the game looked interesting, but I wasn’t aware that I already had it myself. It only came up as other friends of mine wanted to play it online, and they pointed that out to me. So, that’s what led to me loading it up and playing it both by myself and with them, and I’ve had differing results from the experience.
The goal of the game is fairly straightforward. Navigating through various terrains, you’ll mine resources to build railroad tracks, even as the train continually moves forward, having to stay a few steps ahead so it doesn’t break down. The environments aren’t accommodating though, meaning you’ll have to build bridges over bodies of water, clear forests, and even tear through mountains to keep the choo choo chugging on. Though you only have a few variables to keep track of: ax, pickax, wood, iron, bucket, water source, tracks, and the train, the need for always making progress keeps you on edge the whole time.
There are 4 different game modes to play in. The default is Endless, and as the name suggests, you’ll continually move forward through the different biomes, with the game becoming more complicated as you progress. Sandbox lets you pick whatever engine and train cars that you’ve already unlocked from previous runs, and try out the biomes with different combinations. This could be the chance for you to learn what works best to get past a section you struggle with. Versus splits the screen horizontally, with each side having to navigate their train to see who can either survive longest or get to the station first. This isn’t a bad idea, but since it puts everything on the same screen, each side gets a very small area to work with compared to normal. It’s a bit overly cramped, with this being such a handicap for both sides that this becomes the biggest hurdle than even the other team. Quick simply presents you with a single station to get to, with the goal being to do so as fast as possible. It seems almost pointless to me since it ends after you either succeed or fail.
If you play by yourself, you’ll get an AI partner that will follow your commands. These specific instructions include chopping wood, mining iron, building tracks, getting water, etc. You’re also able to direct which location it’ll do these tasks. For instance, you can tell it to start at one portion of the forest and chop its way to another area. It’s smart enough that it’ll move around where there’s enough space to get through, but it can get caught up on animals that you’d otherwise shove yourself through.
UR allows you to play with either the keyboard or a controller. When I used the controller, everything responded well. The ‘L joystick’ moves the character, and ‘A’ picks up and places objects. Obtaining resources is done automatically, you just stand close enough for it to work. Both ‘triggers’ bring up a list of emojis, which you use to communicate with your allies or give orders to the AI partner.
This isn’t a game that has any story features to it. You simply keep a train going indefinitely because otherwise it stops, and you don’t want that to happen for reasons unknown. The same goes for the antagonistic forces trying to stop you from completing your objective. What do they have to gain or lose from it?
UR uses voxel graphics, which are nice to see every now and again. They’re a simpler form of 3D graphics, which can still be quite effective when done right. With the movement and action in this game falling into simpler motion, such as an advancing train or swinging an ax, it doesn’t allow much room for screwing things up. I think it works as a cute, charming element in a game centered around trains.
The music in UR is fairly pronounced, with each biome having a few tracks that’ll play. Many games like this tend to rely on only a single song for each area, so I appreciate some attempt to change it up and have some variety when in the same biome. With the action of the game being fast-paced, the music fits this with a fast tempo, and I find the tracks to be well composed. There’s some sound effects you won’t hear with the music playing, such as obtaining resources, but it’s not something I feel is lacking.
- The game is charming in its simplicity. Though the mechanics of the game become somewhat varied as you get into later biomes and get new train cars, the basic tutorial lays down all the essential information.
- It’s easy to get caught up in the game and keep playing, particularly when you’ve got someone else to play with.
- The main downside of playing by yourself and having the AI ally is that you always have to give it new orders. It’ll never take the initiative and respond to a crisis or upcoming situation. This means you’re having to pay attention to more factors than if you simply played with another person, who’d have enough autonomy to think for themselves.
- I’m not fond of how the checkpoints work, as you only earn one upon not just reaching a new biome, but getting to the first train station in the new biome. Not knowing this has burned me a few times.
- Although I like the aesthetics of the menu screens, they’re a bit too spartan. It took me a while to figure it out, and I’m still not certain I know what all of it means.
- When creating the pathway for the train, you usually want at least 1 free square you can walk through on each side, but it’s essential for at least one side to be clear. That might mean dodging unbreakable rocks or building bridges, but it’s very worthwhile. Additionally, the train itself can block your path moving forward, so bear this in mind, especially as you add more cars to it.
- A straight line is the fastest path, but you don’t always want to go the fastest way. A few zigzags here and there can help stall for time if you have a barrier that needs clearing.
- For each area with a train station, there will be 1 bolt you can go out of your way to obtain. Unless it means failure, they’re worth going for.
I have to admit that my overall impression of UR is mixed. When playing by myself, it honestly becomes tedious and frustrating, as I have to keep track of everything the AI does and coordinate it with precision and good timing. This, on top of completing my own tasks, makes the experience cumbersome and tiring. If this was all the game had to offer, I’d be pretty turned off by it. However, amongst the different times I’ve played with others, I’ve found it to be surprisingly fun by contrast. We weren’t able to communicate with voice chat, but through other means, including the in-game emojis, we could get our points across to one another. In spite of this slight handicap, I found playing with other humans to be much less hectic or frustrating, as we’d alternate tasks based on upcoming needs and rely upon one another in a way that the AI simply can’t replicate.
Admittedly though, the times I’ve played with others with no verbal communication has always hit a ceiling, as we inevitably get stuck around the lava biome. There are ways to play with others both online and locally, so if you do have people who’d be available to play with you, I’d suggest giving this a try, particularly if you have the means to voice chat with each other. I don’t see it being a game you’d play indefinitely, as I’ve gotten a bit tired of it after only 8 hours, so I suggest waiting for a sale.