Train Frontier Express Impressions

When many of us were kids we either had a train set or at least knew someone who did.  It was fun for awhile, but eventually we grew older and moved onto other interests.  There are, however, a number of people who never gave up on that hobby and became model train enthusiasts.  Train Frontier Express from Team Train Frontier seems to be targeted at those individuals.  I’m talking about the people who have entire towns laid out around their tracks, creating a living world full of tiny details.  I recently took the time to give the trial a spin.  While it didn’t exactly tickle my fancy, what the game does it does well.

The developers have billed this game as a train simulator/landscape modeler.  As to the former, you’re tasked with constructing a railway in any sort of way you see fit.  There are no goals here.  You don’t even have to create a safe and functional railway.  I did find the lack of a tutorial disappointing.  The game throws a tip at you here and there, but it’s really on you to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  It’s only through trial and error that you’ll find out you made a turn too sharp or that the land wasn’t flat enough to sustain high speeds.  Hopefully this is something that can be addressed in a future update.

Once you’ve laid down some track, you can switch modes to pilot the train.  I actually found this quite enjoyable as you have control over the throttle and brake, a forward and reverse setting, and a switch to pick which track to ride on if you have multiple paths at a crossroads.  There are also multiple camera views to switch between including an in-car view.  You can customize the number of train cars behind the engine as well as pick the style.  Nothing creates an epic wreck like a string of half a dozen cars or more.  You can also share your maps with friends.

Train Frontier Express

Ride your train in multiple views including in-cabin

In terms of the landscape modeler, the most impressive feature is that you have control over terrain elevation.  You can select a spot and either raise or lower it.  If there happens to be track already located in the location, it will either rise with the land or automatically create a bridge for you if the ground is removed from beneath it.  It’s fun in a sandbox sort of way.  You have a full toolbox of structures to add as scenery including factories, farms, fences, etc.  I imagine that when you can really spend a lot of time and sink yourself into designing a really fleshed out town it’s really rewarding to sit back and your ride your train through it.

For a game that allows you to spend so much time designing, you’ll probably spend a fair amount of that time fighting the controls.  Without a doubt I would’ve picked the game up if it were on PC and used a mouse and keyboard.  It was far too frustrating using the Xbox controller to move the camera around between areas of the map quickly.  I could never zoom out as far as I would’ve liked to get a more global view of the track.  Very quickly I’d lose track of where my rail line started and hence had issues circling back to it to complete the circuit.  I feel like that the use of a mouse and keyboard would’ve shaved off a good percentage of the track design time by allowing me to place a piece of track exactly where I wanted and at the angle I wanted.  These are all issues you can certainly work around with a bit of practice, but to a new player it’s a bit of a turn off.

As mentioned, these are only impressions from the trial, which I played through about half a dozen times.  I’m not just trying to spin a positive tale when I say I like the promise I see in a game like this.  However, it feels like there’s still more work for the developer to do.  In the end you might not even enjoy the game because it’s really on you the ‘player’ to determine how much you get out of the experience by how much you put in.  Because we’re an indie site and I believe in supporting indie developers, I still feel like everyone should go give the trial a try and see for yourself whether you agree.

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Author:Brandon Schmidt

Brandon is the founder and managing director of The Indie Mine in his free time. His preferred medium is video games and he's not shy about his support for the indie development community. You can follow him on Twitter @TheIndieMine.

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