Published by UIG Entertainment
Developed by ARTDINK
The A-Train series has run for many years now although for those of us outside of Japan it’s difficult to fully appreciate just how popular it’s been over the last twenty years. The Train Giant is actually the international release of A-Train 9 which was released in Japan about two years ago and it’s a release that will be welcomed with open arms by loyal fans of the series that have had to put up with some versions of the game being released in Japanese only. It’s a series that can initially be deceptive. Take a look at a screenshot of an A-Train game and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s another game in the SimCity vein but that would only be partially true. In fact there’s much more to the A-Train series than meets the eye and in some respects it’s a more engrossing experience than you might initially suspect.
In The Train Giant you’ll play as the owner of a rail company but instead of simply looking after the running of the rail company, you’re concerned with the general development of the city in which your rail company operates. To a certain degree this makes a lot of sense because if the city you’re operating in is firing on all cylinders then it will attract more people and business will boom allowing your passenger and freight services to make large profits. You will be laying train stations and train lines (including elevated and underground train lines) and managing both passenger and freight services but you’ll also be laying roads and providing bus services as well as having your trucks ship goods to various areas of your city that have no access to materials from train stations for one reason or another. You can also take on grand construction projects and dabble on the Stock Market buying and selling shares in an attempt to bring in extra income for your company.
The three main resources in The Train Giant are money, people and materials. You’ll begin with a different amount of money for each scenario but regardless of how much you begin with, you’ll want to make sure you’re turning a profit as quickly as possible. If you go into the red in The Train Giant it’s game over so running at a loss should only be a short-term measure whilst your city is finding its feet. Victory is achieved when you amass 100 trillion yen in each of the game’s scenarios, although you are given the option to continue to develop your city when this goal has been achieved. As we’ve already mentioned, people are attracted by the state of your city so if it’s developing nicely people will arrive. Materials made in factories are essentially the building blocks for your city. Most of the buildings in the game can’t be constructed without the necessary amount of materials (stations, tracks and material factories are the only buildings you can build without materials), so getting a steady supply of materials made and delivered to your warehouses is absolutely essential. In addition to these three main resources you’ll also need to make sure you’re providing enough power to your city. Without power your city will be in the dark at night and this makes it uninviting to the people. Of course there are many options for generating power ranging from the environmentally friendly to the pollution producing.
As with any urban development simulation you have to take care not to be too wasteful, particularly during the early phase of a city’s development. It’s too easy to build too many facilities too early and run up expenses that you can’t hope to afford. It’s a fair bet that early in your city’s development that skyscrapers, cultural centres and historic buildings for instance are not needed so you may want to leave these until you’re turning a healthy profit. If your power stations are generating much more power than you need you’re going to end up making a big loss so you’ll want to make sure the amount of power you’re generating is appropriate to your city’s needs. Likewise you won’t want to have too many passenger trains running to begin with as they are likely to be mostly empty and that’s going to be ridiculously expensive. Thankfully you can enable the option to have a greater degree of control over your transport and you can restrict your passenger trains to only travelling at certain times, such as running on weekdays only for instance or simply running at specific times of the day, allowing you to be more economical.
What I like about The Train Giant is that you don’t have complete control over how your city develops. AI companies will purchase your materials and construct their businesses and you’ll see homes appear on your map when you’ve made the city attractive enough for people to want to live there. Should you want to sell a business you can and in return you can purchase businesses that the AI has created, if you deem them to be profitable enough that is. The ability for the AI to get involved means you never quite know how the city is going to develop and that really helps the replay value of the game.
The Train Giant isn’t just simply an Anglicized version of A-Train 9, although for fans of the A-Train series that would have been more than good enough. One of the problems I had with the preview build of the game, and indeed it appears to have been a problem with previous versions of the A-Train series, is that the game didn’t do a good job of explaining itself. The Train Giant doesn’t ship with an interactive tutorial, which is a shame, but care has been taken to include a manual which does cover the basics and gets you up and running with the game. A handful of extra scenarios have been thrown in for good measure too. One of the more interesting of these sees you becoming the manager of the European Central Bank and it’s your job to take over the running of a bankrupt Greece and help it recover by encouraging investment from the Chinese and lucrative trade from other nations.
A-Train 9, as I mentioned earlier, was released two years ago and in truth it wouldn’t have been considered visually splendid then, let alone in 2012. Thankfully however, the game does look good enough for a city builder especially as for most of the game time you won’t be zooming in close enough to notice the rather bland textures on the buildings. One of the benefits of the game not being too stressful on your graphics card however is that the game manages to maintain a solid frame rate even when you’re dealing with a large city. There are basic weather effects here too, including rain, fog and snow as well as a day and night cycle which can be switched off if you prefer. There is no speech in the game and all of the information, such as objectives, financial reports and scenario information, is given visually, primarily through the use of text and numbers. As a result the game is absolutely fine for deaf gamers.
The A-Train series has always been a solid and often impressive alternative to SimCity over the years and The Train Giant (aka A-Train 9) is no exception. The tutorial information provided in the manual compensates for the lack of an interactive tutorial in the game and will help those who are unaccustomed to the nuances of the A-Train series. Those who are used to the series will find that not too much has changed and the same core gameplay principles are present here. In short it’s an impressive experience that fans of city building games and games such as Railroad Tycoon will really appreciate and lose many hours to, as you become obsessed with making your railroads and cities as profitable as possible.