Welcome to Bounty Train! A roguelike RPG adventure tale from Corbie Games and published by Daedalic Entertainment, where you get to be in total control of a railroad company's future starting in the early-mid 1800's. Will you keep true to your father's vision or stray from the legal path to make your fortune, and ultimately, save the Native American lands from the First Transcontinental Railroad that we know of today?
The game starts off in Portland, Maine as you, Walter Reed, get off the boat from Europe on news that your father died of suspicious circumstances. Awaiting your arrival is Jeremiah Sullivan Black, your late father's legal advisor/attorney. A dialogue box appears where you are given a few choices in how you will talk to him, asking questions regarding the reason you are here and what to do. The majority owners in the railway want to swindle the government out of millions of dollars by making the first Transcontinental Railroad twist and turn, going through Native American lands. Your father wanted a straight path, the fastest way to transport people and goods across the Wild West.
Along the way, you will meet many historical figures who will shape how you go about your ultimate goal of wrestling majority control of the National Pacific Railroad Company from Cornelius Tilberdnar. You do this by helping the people that you meet with whatever they need. Sometimes this is for the good of the country, but other times it might require you to deliver goods to bandits or the Confederate Army. Depending on your standing with the four factions (Bandits, Natives, Confederates, Union), the means your experience will differ with each playthrough.
There are many side quests that expand the story if you choose to do them, giving you hours of additional gameplay. However, you have to keep in mind that Cornelius will not stay idle while you try to help each Jane and John Doe that you run across. Spend too much time trying to acquire money and reputation, that elusive 51% shareholder status will wind up unobtainable and a new start will be required.
Since time passes as you play, the months will roll on by eventually and new innovations in train and car design appear. Will you rush to Washington to get the newest, greatest engine? Or will you bide your time, risking damage and degradation on your current setup? As you travel, you can have negative effects bestowed upon your train, whether it's slower speed or less cargo capacity, and will need to keep it in tip top shape so you don't fail a quest that could put you in the negative. Once there, it might be game over if you can't afford enough coal (which you have to keep topping up if you want to get anywhere) to get to a bank for a loan.
Coal is the lifeblood of your steam engine, but you can use it as sparingly or liberally as you want. Once you select a destination on the world map, a nice handy graphic shows up telling you how long the trip will take, along with a slide for you to choose how much coal to use. All the way to the right and you can use as much coal as you can to get you there faster. Slide to the left and numerous trips can be made with a single load of coal. Your engine of choice plays a huge part in how much coal it stores or how much it uses per day. Some are good passenger trains, letting you go from Boston to Nashville in a single bound. Others are specialized in hauling heavy cargo short distances.
If coal is the lifeblood, then trading is the oxygen that feeds it. Even at the early stages, you will be required to obtain a certain amount of greenbacks to progress in both the main story line as well as the side quests. Trading is by far the easiest and quickest way to do this. Every city has a newspaper that you can pay a monthly fee for and gives you access to the trade prices when traveling. Otherwise, when you attempt to buy an item to sell for a higher price, you will get the last known price or no price (depending on if you have visited a city's market yet or not).
Thousands of dollars in profit can be made with a short trip between Boston and New York, or you might run out of coal/money and have to unload your goods for a loss. Paying that $15 a month for a newspaper is worth it, even if it does add up mid to late game when you are paying for twenty or 30 papers. I once bought jewelry for $8 a piece and sold it for $375, with a cargo carriage of eighteen spaces for a profit of $6,600. Trade goods have realistic weights, measured in tons, with steel obviously being the heaviest and cotton being the lightest. The game will never let you leave a station if you have loaded more onto the train than the engine can pull, denoted in the bottom right of the screen. Watch out though, because if you enter a city where something is deemed illegal and don't have a way to hide them, you run the risk of it being confiscated.
If trading isn't your style, you can pick up passengers and ferry them to their city of choice, but you will have to be mindful of their needs. Many of them are in a rush and depending on your train, you will never be able to make it in time to complete their contract. Failing will result in lost money and negative reputation in both origin and destination city. Bring this reputation low enough, you will earn yourself a bounty by the locals. Get caught and you will have to forfeit any ill-gotten goods, pay a fine, and spend time in jail. Go to jail with unfinished timed quests, you could very well lose the game immediately. Jail is not a nice place if you didn't get the memo.
Of course, with any game revolving around trains, or at least the ones that do it right, bandits should have a place at the table. Once you obtain enough money to upgrade your cargo carriage, you can install smuggling compartments. These handy upgrades allow you to have a better chance at avoiding authorities and the army, but you can't just stack a train full of illegal goods now can you? Mixing illegal items in with their legal counterparts will increase the likely hood of success. Bringing those shiny new guns to the Confederate or Bandit factions through Union checkpoints will reward you with a hefty payday. On the flip side, there are always other bandits out there that want what you have and will do anything to get it.
Combat in Bounty Train is the only real-time event that occurs. At the beginning it will be enemies on horses, chasing the train down and shooting at everyone aboard. While you can hire gunmen to protect your train, they are expensive and require a caboose, with the larger ones allowing more gunmen to be hired. Each person has a specialty that can be used in combat (i.e. Sharpshooter or Melee Specialist) and as they survive trips/battles, will gain XP to unlock more skills and abilities. Some encounters will have you maintaining speed while not overexerting your engine until you manage to get so far away. Others require you to defend the train for a certain period of time during waves of enemies. Let them get too close and they will board your train and attack the nearest person, whether it be an employee or passenger. I have not been brave enough to see what happens if the attackers do enough damage to a section of the train, but I assume it is not good.
Once you complete the Campaign (upon the game's suggestion), you can play Free Mode, which strips away all the story elements and it's just you on the open rails, gaining fortune and reputation along the way. Personally, this is my preferred game mode because I am a sucker for trading games. It appears that each playthrough will give you slightly different options to which cities will give you the best buy/sell prices, but other than that, it's a race against the clock to see how much money you can acquire in the shortest time possible. Leaderboards are already in place and some of the numbers are astounding, though it appears a few of the top place ones are questionable as to the legitimacy of how they were obtained. But I am not here to judge whether or not people cheat (in this game at least).
All of this is well and good, but with so many positive things, there is bound to be some negative. The repetitive nature of these games can be a turn off for even the most ardent strategy gamer. Going from town to town numerous times just to get enough money so you can progress the story, especially in the early game where you only have two towns to visit, will be frustrating, even for me. While I personally love how they balanced this aspect, the people who watched me play repeated how much they didn't like it. The difficulty is perhaps another knock on the game. With five modes ranging from Baby Mode (very easy) to Impossible (lowest payouts, strictest contract terms, hardest enemies, no saves) you would think that it would be fairly well balanced for both newcomers to the genre as well as veterans. However, if you pay attention to trade prices and accumulate enough money, play it on the right side of the law, you can just pay off any bandits and never run into problems. The contracts you can pick up are optional, good paying but optional. Part of me wishes that there was some way to force contracts on players at the higher difficulties. Perhaps that is just me.
Visually, this game is exactly what I would expect from looking at the Main Menu. It is colorful, semi-cartoonish graphics wise. Corbie Games could have gone more realistic in their representation of the time period, but I feel that they made the right decision putting gameplay ahead of the super high graphics we are accustomed to seeing nowadays. Trains are more or less a good representation of their real-life counterparts. I haven't looked at every single train in the game to see how they hold up, but the few I have googled are pretty accurate as far as build. The colors add to the life and character of the game. The art style of the characters is a mix of oil painting and caricature. Some people you meet will have a portrait with greatly exaggerated ears, hair, or face, but others will be what you would expect from the time period.
As for the sound, I couldn't for the life of me find anything negative to say. The music is upbeat and positive, even while playing recognizable songs we associate with the 1800's. The typical saloon style music to My Country, 'Tis of Thee is played exactly how I envision they sounded back then. Whether this is strictly the influence of movies or fact is not what draws me in. Instead, how it fits in with the game and current situation you are dealing with. There is no voice acting that I have run into, but with as much dialogue as there is, I can understand not wanting to pay for a voice actor. Maybe in a few years, they will release an upgraded version with this included.
|+ Deep, engaging story||+ Very repetitive, especially early on|
|+ Well balanced gameplay styles||+ Difficulty selection doesn't change game enough|
|+ Good Replayability with random events||+ No voice overs|
|+ Excellent soundtrack|