The A-Train series is perhaps not one you may have come across; running since 1985 it is the longest running train-based city building simulator but with only 5 titles having made their way to Western shores the series remains shrouded in mystery to many. Unfortunately the games that have been released are notorious for their complexities, learning curve and general lack of a proper tutorial. Well A-Train 9 is upon us with the name Train Giant, here’s hoping they’ve learnt from a few past mistakes.
The best feature of Train Giant is the map construction that much like the well-oiled Sim City allows you to fully tailor your terrain to your choice; using heights to lower or raise your base terrain, create bodies of water and generous mountains you've the sculpting tools of a master. Even if you are a bit of a lazy creator, there is an auto creation tool to choose what you want on your map allowing you to generate various random combinations. Nothing different to Sim City 2000?! Well you are not limited to simply editing your terrain in Train Giant; because you've also got the full wealth of construction options available for free in the map editor.
Yes, that's right, so you've basically the option to create a city from scratch, no worry about costs, and the ability construct anything available during actual play which gives you the choice of over 150 buildings and 30 different transportation devices including commuter trains, freight trains, buses and trucks you literally have a blank slate with which to create a work of art.
Of course if you don't want to spend hours creating the city of your dreams there are plenty of pre-created cities all with varying difficulty, however the game runs as a sandbox; there are no missions, no scenarios, no career mode, just a vast city on the edge of your fingertips, and a whole lot of scheduling.
What makes the A-Train series very different to its competitors is one small resource that is the face of development in Train Giant; materials. All of your freight trains, and trucks will travel around your city from depot to depot to deliver building materials, these materials can be taken and used to construct buildings for the city. As well as placing your own buildings, the constant stream of materials throughout your city will ensue a thriving and evolving metropolis when the conditions are right of course.
Unfortunately unlike the recently released transport simulator Cities in Motion, there is no real demand for transportation in the world of Train Giant, you'll have no graphs or figures, no regions that are in desperate need of buses, and no populace that actually needs your help. So what is the game if there is no obvious desire for transportation? Well with the very neat scheduling manager it makes Train Giant possibly the most unique transport simulation around, because you can modify the routes of your buses, trucks and trains in real time and then fit this into a schedule; whilst the feature was always present in the series from the very beginning, the simple and straightforward manner in which you can control your transportation gives you complete control on how long a vehicle stops at a station, which turn to take on a junction or indeed how often to run the timetable.
With an intricate map editor, unique scheduling manager and evolving city Train Giant is stable enough to stand up to the big boys of the city management titles, but has enough changed of the series to warrant enough interest on what stands as one of the biggest niche transportation sims of all time? Well we’ll just have to wait and see.
Train Giant is currently scheduled for a release March 15th 2012, so far it’s looking pretty good, but fingers crossed a comprehensive tutorial is on the way to bring in a new generation of interested simulation fans to the Japanese game.