Combining the frantic feel and multiplayer experience of Overcooked! with the crafting abilities of management games such as Minecraft and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Unrailed! is a chaotic 1-to-4 player game that once you have found your footing, can be quite addictive in short bursts.
So, what is it? On paper, it sounds pretty simple – get your train from one end of the track to the other, but there is more to it than this. In order to build the track, players must craft train tracks by mining resources out of wood and stone, two assets that are in a big supply around the entire landscape. Bridges must be made over water in order to continue rail building, and obstacles must be avoided.
The first few levels are quite simple, but once you start to get into the swing of the gameplay, it starts throwing curveballs in the form of bandits who will help themselves to your resources, an ever-increasing train speed, changing weathers and landscapes, blocked paths that require dynamite to clear, and your train and its carriages are prone to bursting into flames at regular intervals – the latter of which will require constant buckets of water at hand in order to control.
Upon completing each train journey, players are presented with an upgrade system. Points (or ‘bolts’ as they’re called here), are earned after successfully completing a journey, with additional bolts added onto your total for ticking off the optional objectives too. These bolts are then used to upgrade your train and wagons, many of the perks of these upgrades are essential in order to manage some of the trickier levels later on. Character designs are also unlocked every few levels.
Unrailed! offers several modes of play. For local players, there’s the choice of a quick game if you would just like to briefly experience what the gameplay is like, versus for you and one other friend, endless, which provides an AI player to help you through each journey, and lastly, their sandbox mode, a less-chaotic choice that allows players to build and mine at their own pace. These modes can also be accessed via playing online with you and three other people.
Playing with a friend or two, whether that is online or via their local play option, is a lot of fun, and a lesson in working together, too. Delegating tasks to each player helps to keep the train moving smoothly – for instance, one can be in charge of laying the tracks, others can be collecting resources, loading them into the train for rail production, taking out those pesky bandits, moving obstacles and tending to the regular fires. As the game progresses, levels not only get more hectic, but the duration increases too – you could find yourself building an epic track for an hour for example online, so be mindful of this if you just want to ‘take a quick session’ in an online game.
Aesthetically, the game includes simple but sharp blocky graphics which are pleasant to look at. The chirpy soundtrack which fades in and out on regular intervals matches the colourful landscapes, and it genuinely feels like a nice game to add to your rotation of regular games you and your friends enjoy playing together.
While the game is undoubtedly fun, Unrailed! does have a few minor issues. After playing the first hour or so, it became clear that this game was meant to be experienced with others. The experience coupled with an AI player just isn’t that fluid, or as fun, for that matter. For me, I found that the AI player had difficulty completing all the tasks I commanded them to do, and in the speed required in order to keep the train moving. For instance, ordering them to build the track only resulted in the track being built in the wrong direction, sending the train back along a longer route when we were only about 5 or 6 track pieces away from the station. It also feels a little isolated and is much more satisfying to complete journeys when there are others who are mucking in and helping you to achieve it. Despite their simplicity, the controls may seem a little clumsy at times, especially when the pace has been increased and the pressure is on.
It can also feel a little frustrating when you realise that the train itself is a bigger obstacle than any bandit, cow or rock formation. It is very easy for a player or AI character to get stuck in the landscape as the train passes over the tracks, which can prove to be quite stressful when a fire breaks out and you have no way of getting past the train to fill up a bucket of water. The axe, pickaxe and bucket are very easy to leave behind too – once the train moves past part of the landscape, it is impossible to go back and collect again. This often results in a failed level, as if these aren’t carried at regular intervals into a place in front, it becomes impossible to save the train from burning or create new resources. This all emphasises how important it is to cooperate with those around you, and isn’t too much of a problem when players work together.
Despite some occasional clumsy controlling and a somewhat redundant single player, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Unrailed!. The gradual increase in difficulty leads to a chaotic and frantic experience that somehow retains the peaceful, cheerful feeling that micro-management games often have. The success lies in its simplicity on the service, which makes it pretty all-inclusive for new and experienced gamers. Combine this all with a bright design and great soundtrack, it is definitely worth playing with a few friends or family members.
Unrailed! is out now on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Steam for PC.
Kayleigh Wingate is a Games Writer for ICUGamer.com. Follow her on Twitter – @8_BitGirl.