The tagline upon loading reads “Simulation Game, Railroad Management, Urban Development”. Now to me, that brings to mind a mix between two of my favourite simulation games during childhood: Sim City 3000 and Railroad Tycoon II, and as such those will be my yardsticks of quality.
Unfortunately, my first and overwhelming feeling for The Train Giant was one of confusion. As soon as you start the main menu is already focussed on the new game section, and you’re supplied with a list of possible scenarios to encounter with a brief summary of what’s going on. These are short and sweet, such as “Urban planning in a large zone is about developing part of a large area. Start by constructing flats. Doing so increases the demand for jobs in factories and businesses”, and that’s it. It’s a highly open-ended approach that I’m sure will appeal to many Sim gamers that just want to play and tinker to their hearts content without a set endgame, however, I personally prefer a game that gives you slightly more eloquent goals than what essentially boils down to “build town”.
Now being a veteran of previous Sim games (or so I like to think) I picked the first map and just dove right into the deep end… and promptly drowned in a sea of unknown icons, an inability to tell what I owned and lots of brightly coloured buttons with names like “Project” and “Report” which promise to house an entire world of graphs and statistics. But before I even decided to try these I had immediate difficulties with trying to move around the map. Cursors are obviously too mainstream (as is moving the mouse to the edge of the view), so you have a choice of clicking and dragging to where you want to go (which just feels painfully slow), or using the WASD buttons. The WASD buttons would be fine… if they worked logically, pressing W moves you forward (nothing odd there) however it moves you forward to where you’re cursor is pointing so that I occasionally found myself travelling in circles as my cursor was to the side of the screen.
After dealing with those difficulties I then moved on to attempt constructing a building. Using my summary as a guide I went straight for a block of flats which caused a floating head to pop up and inform me I had a lack of construction materials and to build a warehouse nearby and direct materials to it. A minor setback, so I select the warehouse from the construction menu and place it successfully, and then discover I had no idea how to get construction materials to it. Clicking on it only brings up a tab showing expenses, income and profit. I tried clicking on anything I thought could assist going through most of the menus before admitting defeat and opening the inbuilt manual.
Upon clicking the Manual section of the main menu I was taken to internet explorer and promptly told that it has been blocked from running scripts or ActiveX controls, an always promising sign. Getting past this is a stark list of choices such as “About the game”, in which the only information is that to win you need to make 10 Trillion Yen and to lose you just have to be broke. It also contains a large amount of sections that could have been combined to make one more informative section that is of more use, it seems over the top to require two separate sections detailing how to lay road and track to different cities. This is achieved through just extending a track or road to the edge of the map, in no way were two separate links required for this.
One of my favourite sections of the manual has to be “Station Types” the information found under this: “There are different types of stations. Which one you choose will depend on its location and purpose.” This is utterly useless; you would expect a list of stations, their benefits and where to use them. Instead you are left having to stumble along and try and discover it all for yourself. I feel that the problems I felt with this game could easily have been rectified by a simple series of tutorial missions that held your hand through a series of basic tasks that would enable you to at least play the game at it’s lowest form.
After extricating myself from the dangerous trap that was the manual I just wanted to build a train. Most maps come preloaded with at least two stations, track between them and a train operating on it so I thought this should be pretty simple. It wasn’t. It took trial and error to discover that I had to click on the Train heading in the game screen, and then click onto an empty box before it would give me the choice of purchasing a train. Once having purchased your train you then have to place it onto an available piece of track, which I managed. But it just sat there, apparently I needed to make a timetable, and for this I crumbled and crawled back to the manual to consult the timetable section. It was at this point I discovered the helpful pictures showing me the timetable assistant had all the information in a different language.
So in conclusion, after close to three hours of gameplay I had managed to place one train that liked to remain stationary mocking all the other trains in their futile rat race following the demands of the “man”. Imagine combining Sim City 3000 and Railroad Tycoon II then taking out everything that made it user friendly and fun and you’ll have my experience of The Train Giant. I’m sure people who have played previous titles in this series (at least I am assuming it is part 9 in a series) will be able to derive a world more enjoyment out of it as they actually know how to use it. But to people new to the world of train and urban simulations and are just looking for something fun you can quickly get into and get something out of, avoid.