Review: Bounty Train25 May 2017 0
Review: Bounty Train
Released 16 May 2017
Bounty Train recently shed the skin of its Early Access 'it'll get fixed' privilege to become its own fully-fledged title. After almost 18 months in that state, it's time to deliver a decisive verdict. Can we make a living for ourselves as a goods smuggler in 18th Century America, or are we doomed to add context to the 'Ghost Train' legend? These steam trains aren't all too speedy, and those mounted bandits brought all the ammo they could possibly need to swipe our steel and set fire to our cotton.
As you boot into Bounty Train for the first time, you're met with two options or a fairly limited set of configuration choices. Career mode is your go-to campaign, while those well-versed in pawning off merch from the back of a train can head straight into the 'free' mode. Free meaning you're not tied down by scripted events ruining your race to riches like in the campaign. For new players, however, it's best to stick to the traditional method of play and let the events of the campaign play out to brief you on the inner workings of this delicate operation.
With your Father recently kicking the bucket, a number of his subordinates looked to make good use of his railroad riches for their own gain. In order to protect his hard work, his assets were frozen in the hopes that they may eventually go to their rightful heir - you. But with nothing more than a few of your father's stocks acting as conclusive identification, you're more or less on the tracks with a simple locomotive capable of carrying you and around 5 crates of produce between the city-states. While the long-term aim here would be to make a name for yourself by peddling merch across the country, there's all sorts of obstacles to take into consideration; train capacity, railroad permits, contraband checks, coal prices and even the flammability of what you're carrying.
Bounty Train, from the get-go, was seen as something akin to 'FTL on-rails'. Not 'on-rails' as in automated, but literally down to the fact you're occasionally expected to micro-manage a train, its carriages and the people on-board in a desperate struggle for survival. The road between Portland and Boston may be safe one day, but should a pack of bandits catch wind of approaching cargo, there's a solid chance to end up in the midst of a fire fight on-route to your destination. In these situations, the game becomes less about choosing whether to peddle steel or tobacco across the boarders for a quick buck and more about deciding who's going to keep shovelling coal into the engine while any traveling companions whip out their revolvers or tend to a break-out fire gearing up to turn your locomotive into an impressive, if otherwise useless, hotbox.
It's an interesting concept to come across; yet not without its fair share of problems. While both ideas caught my attention as I fired it up for the first time, I came out wishing it was one and not the other. Keeping a close eye on each city's markets and making informed choices as to what to buy and sell across each rail route plays out so smoothly that it becomes an almost calming situation. But when you have to factor in the likelihood of flipping into a micro-management mini-game or risk losing it all, the idea of sinking away into the markets after a long day at work can quickly vanish. And it's not all about the difficulty, either. Having modest tweaks for such settings means these kinds of events can be scaled down relatively well; but it’s the lack of detail to the system as a whole that amplifies its rage-inducing qualities.
While one 'heist' went along smoothly, another posed a far bigger problem. The game's tutorial system repeatedly kicked in and most certainly advised me to keep up my speed, use the timed 'boost' ability and pull the train's whistle to startle equestrian-bound hustlers into backing off a bit. Despite my best efforts to do so, however, each attempt ended in disaster. Fires broke out and bandits boarded my train. Even with two paying customers on-board, my player character apparently had no choice but to propel us forward in the hopes we'd outpace the. But it didn't work. Stopping the train and focusing on shooting the buggers before they could even get close, however, worked a charm. There's something to be said when a game's tutorial seems to want you dead. If you're trying to teach the player anything, make sure it actually applies well to the situation at hand.
Spending time with Bounty Train might not have been the joy I wanted it to be in the long run, but it wasn't a disaster - far from it, actually. The visuals aren't over-simplified and are, instead, dignified enough to paint a respectable picture of its 18th century basis. Conversing with passengers on the platforms displayed a certain degree of charm, whereas potential recruits felt void of any. When approaching a potential rail buddy and asking to check out their equipment and qualifications, you're met with the exact same dialogue line as the last. If I'm going to be spending weeks traveling the country on a smoky locomotive, I'd want some worthwhile friends joining me on the ride; not just some guy or gal with a shiny peashooter.
It's difficult to understand why those looking for a ride to the nearest city would be given unique text while those you're expected to pay and recruit for the long-haul are completely void of any real charm. You'd think someone would have something to say about armed bandits shooting up your produce - but no; it's deathly silence throughout your railway adventures save for some catchy (if not repetitive) music that seems to disappear in a longer skirmish. Too many times did I pull the breaks to deal with a volatile situation only to be surrounded by an awkward air of silence – save for the moderate pop of gunfire.
Bounty Train certainly stands out with its interesting premise and under-used setting, but it seems void of polish or consideration is areas that some might consider key. Strategizing which route to take with particular produce for the greatest return can be a somewhat soothing experience for those wanting to play the markets across key American city-states, but the lack of attention paid to adding any sense of personality into this otherwise drab setting mean things start to feel shallow and repetitive before long. The career mode offers a sliver of a story to aid the situation, but it just means going into 'Free Mode' soon after means losing one of the game's more redeeming qualities.
If you're looking to make a life for yourself as travelling salesmen while shovelling coal for days, this likely isn't the game for you. But if the idea of factoring in a potential fight to the death just to deliver whiskey and wine to Philly leaves you wide-eyed, you might find something of worth in Bounty Train. Strategy certainly plays a key part in every aspect of what Bounty Train is about, but the lack of detail in specific areas leaves it feeling a little un-loved and half baked. The price, however, isn't all that bad.