Bounty Train: Early Access Preview
Adding guns to any game to make it accessible is a bit of a running joke in the games industry but it neatly fits Bounty Train, a bright train management simulator-lite set in the early days of American railroad. Now available in Steam Early Access, what initially looks like an overwhelming stats-and-tax numbers game actually turns out to be charming, appealing and intuitive.
Left with a train and land licenses after a death in the family, your character is tasked with rebuilding the business from one single engine and a couple of carriages. By ferrying passengers and supplies across the States you earn money, allowing for (historically accurate) train upgrades and new railroad licenses that open new routes up on the Ticket-to-Ride-esque map. Unlike Ticket to Ride, there’s a threat of ambush as you traverse the lines with black suited gunslingers setting up blockades and storming your train as it travels between cities.
Aside from our initial misplaced feeling of being overwhelmed, Bounty Train looks fresh, especially after a tutorial explaining the various gauges and buttons taking up the screen. One of the best parts of Bounty Train is that the game allows you to drive the train (sort of) – the contraption in the lower right of the screen letting you control the speed of the train, careful not to over-exert the boiler. Hell, there’s even a steam whistle to use when the moment takes you. Unfortunately this is about the limit to driving the train – something that could do with being expanded in future.
There are three distinct sections to the game. There’s the world map wherein you plot your route between cities, taking note of threats on each line as well as the coal needed to get you to your destination. Then there’s each city, filled with passengers to take on board, supplies to restock (and ferry to other cities), a depot to upgrade your train and the overarching story to discover. Finally, your train itself, drivable as previously mentioned but also in need of protection. Guns-for-hire can be used to protect your bounty, each with timer-based special skills; proficiency with firearms, a boost with hand-to-hand combat and the like. During attacks, you must multi-task – keeping the train steaming ahead while fending off enemies and keeping a wary eye that your locomotive isn’t set on fire. Bandits will detach carriages if they board, losing you cargo, passengers and, all importantly, a damn expensive part of your train itself! Buying new carriages is about the most exciting part of the game – train battles become a chore given there’s not a lot to do during them as it’s ‘on-rails’ after all – but they’re priced so high as to be a pipe-dream.
Of course, there are still a few other things that need work. Some of the written dialogue contains the odd error or two and clicking through endless reams of text is dry. At present, the game is less train-focused and more a trade management sim, what with the ferrying of cargo across the USA. It takes quite some time to earn anything of worth and there’s always the risk that your progress will be undermined by an ambush. Likewise, hired hands are literally that; characterless, with no real incentive to keep them alive beyond protecting the titular train.
It’s all very similar to FTL, just transposed from the vacuum of space to the cities of America. Daedelic Entertainment have done a decent job adding real-world locations, buildings and details into the game and there are promises of new modes, gameplay tweaks and mechanics while the game is in Early Access. At the moment it needs a bit more personality injected into it as well as a deepening of the gameplay system – it just lacks any verve or thrill (unless trading is really your thing). It looks good though and there is plenty more to come according to the developers. As it stands, Bounty Train is well worth a look but it still needs a hook to stand out from the crowd.