A-Train The Game
Let’s start with the technical stuff. The game can be run in Low Res on any system from KS1.2-KS3.9 with 1Mb of memory. A High Res (interlaced) mode is available if you have a further 512K of Fast memory and can stand the flicker. The game comes on two disks marked as Lo-Res and Hi-Res both of which are required, irrespective of mode, but you must boot from the appropriate disk. The game supports external floppy drives so disk swapping is not an issue and has a hard disk installer though you can just copy it manually and start from the appropriate Hi/Lo-Res icon. There is also an option to print out game maps.
So far everything smacks of a quality production and starting the game does nothing to dispel this view. The game itself is played on a grid rather like Sim City 2000; an elevated, oblique viewpoint. In general the Graphics are good and the animation of the train sprites are fluid without any jerkiness. There is a day and night mode selectable to denote the passing of time and likewise the gfx change dependent on the season. Soundwise the game has some nice spot effects and reasonable in game music which, like all good games, you can turn off.
Sounds Okay, but what does it play like?
Well, The game is more than the title would suggest as, far from being just a railroad sim, to get anywhere and make some cash you will have to manipulate the built in business model. By no means an easy task, but then this is a management sim so I don’t see anyone who likes this genre of game being dismayed by that. Options available to you are to buy and sell, property, land, businesses and stocks and shares. Of course your core business is the rail network and stations you build but these will only make money if people use them. So whether you like it or not you will have to dabble in these other areas even if only to stimulate growth around your stations. If you don’t, not only will you soon be bankrupt, game over, but you will miss out on most of the fun to be had in playing this game.
Let me illustrate this by explaining some of the functions available in buying and selling businesses. You can buy and sell Office blocks, Hotels, Commercial (Shops) and leisure items such as stadia, golf courses, and even ski resorts provided you have some hills available on the map to place them on. So, say you decide to build a hotel, well you can sit back and rake in the money but this won’t go on for ever since, as in real life, there are bound to be competitive hotels established by the computer AI at some point. What you do then will obviously depend on both the impact these competitors are having on your hotel profits and value. If the impact is large it may be best to sell up, or you could decide to tough it out albeit with reduced profits or even at a loss. Of course since you run the railroad some judicious rescheduling may turn your hotels fortunes around. By the same token should you see a computer controlled business up for sale which is making a healthy profit it may be worth buying it. This is really the heart of the game, making money by buying and selling at the right time.
Difficulty wise I would rate this game harder than Sim City 2000 and Railroad Tycoon for in those games once a stable annual growth rate is established you will find it hard to go bust. A-Train’s business model is very lifelike and stable profits one year can soon change to losses the next. This doesn’t mean that the game is overburdened with facts and figures, far from it. For instance, calling up a list of the residential properties you own will show at a glance which are making and which are losing money together with their market value. Simply put, if it’s in the red can you make enough money from selling it, bearing in mind that you have to pay taxes on any profit you make annually?
Control wise the game shows again that thought has gone into the design with all controls a mouse click or two away and sensibly laid out. Even without a manual these controls are easy enough to get the hang off though if you do so you will have a much harder learning curve. I mention this because the game is legally available to download free on the Internet but minus the manual of course.
A-Train Get Building