I’ve always been a sucker for rail management games. Going back to the Railroad Tycoon series, to the delightful Sid Meir’s Railroads! Remake from the mid-2000s, and up through Railway Empire, these types of games have always tickled my fancy. Indie developers Minakata Dynamics have been hard at work building their own take on the genre, Railgrade. It marries many of the classic rail sim concepts to a bleak, cyberpunk future where survival is tied to the fortunes of a single colonist.
In space, no one can hear you choo choo
Railgrade drops players right into the action upon starting its demo. You exist as the lone-remaining employee of a faceless mega-corporation, stranded on a nondescript colony. When upper management bungles things to the point of the colony’s collapse, you are tasked with building out, optimizing, and maintaining railways to collect and deliver goods the will ensure the colony can thrive once again.
The initial map of the campaign is a rather simple affair, tasking players with transporting water from a few pumps back to a zeppelin dock. Ultimately, the water will be transported by air to help start the rebuilding process on a nearby colony. You have the tools to lay out track in straight lines or curves. Track may also be built up inclines in order to circumvent the geographic limitations of the map. When there is track near the pumps, dock, or any other structure, stations may be placed. These allow train cars to be loaded and unloaded.
Once track sections between structures have been completed and stations installed, you can buy train engines to begin carrying cargo. The train purchase window is also where the type of cars for each resource is chosen. The opening mission requires water cars and there is a timer that counts down to urge players towards completion. Upon meeting the requirements of the mission, an overworld map is shown and you can fly the zeppelin around freely or over to the next colony area.
The second colony area has its own tasks and resources to complete. A small settlement needs water in order to grow and must be connected to pumps. Oil pumps are also scattered around the second map and must be connected to a power plant near the top of the playable area. The settlement will demand energy from the power plant upon completion of the water contract, thus the need for more track and trains.
Delivered loads pay out upon unloading, which further funds expansion of the rail system and train roster. There is also the option to take out loans from a bank when running low on cash. Completing missions will earn player tickets that can be spent to unlock new types of trains or additional music tracks that play in the background.
Oddly enough there are some core functions of most rail games that were missing (or I couldn’t find in the demo). There are no junctions, so multiple trains on a single line doesn’t seem to be possible. You must lay lots of auxiliary tracks between locations to increase productivity and the maps start to fill up quickly. There doesn’t seem to be any way to make tunnels, though you can build up over mountains.
Railgrade has a lot going for it, the cyberpunk/dieselpunk aesthetic is certainly fresh in the genre and the interactions with the company are delightfully dystopian and cold. The game is slated to launch later this year and promises a campaign with 30 maps to conquer. You can give it a spin now as part of the 2021 Steam Game Festival to find out if it toots your horn