It’s a mystery to most Western gamers, but Japan’s always had a fetish for games based around choo-choos. One of the more distinguished in the genre is A-Train, last seen in ye olde days of the Amiga, and 505 Games (importers of all things weird and wonderful), have decided it’s time it made a return to our shores.
To begin at the beginning, A-Train HX doesn’t have a tutorial mode. This is a foolish move, because the game is simple once figured out, but seems like a mess beforehand. The term ‘train simulator’ doesn’t do A-Train HX justice - it’s a city builder that’s very concerned with where you lay the train tracks.
Considering the game is based around these tracks, they have some annoying flaws. Building routes is hampered by an interface that seems better designed for a PC, and too few types of line. Forgive us going all train-spotterish for a moment, but junctions and changeovers are limited in types and functions, and make it difficult to organise an awesome pattern of criss-crossing locomotives (which is surely the point of controlling timetables in the first place, isn’t it?).
The town building system isn't much better, but it's saved by the fact that a lot of it’s automatic - you can build one station with an office block next to it, and as long as there are enough materials nearby, the necessary housing, roads and facilities spring up magically and develop on their own. All you really need to concentrate on is the rail network that supplies materials and busy little workers.
It’s very focused, and it’s where A-Train becomes surprisingly compelling: if you had to build a city in this game, it would be a clunky and boring experience. But what you really have to do is build the outline of a city and then watch it grow with a little bit of tweaking - and once you’ve figured this out it begins to suck you in.
A-Train HX proudly trumpets “High-Definition 720p” under the game name, and in the top left corner of the screen throughout. Well, it is. But it’s 720p of PS1-era graphics. Boxy polygons ahoy! It’s no great shakes graphically, although it goes some way to making up for this with some bizarre, but very good, short tunes that occasionally burst out for no obvious reason.
And that’s your lot. If you’re really into micromanagement (and trains) and can look past the amateurish controls and graphics, A-Train HX has pleasing depth. It’s unlike anything else on the 360, but to get the most out of it you’ll need to be sympathetic about some pretty basic failings.
Mar 13, 2008