Nowadays a lot of people are understandably using some of their newfound time at home to take up now hobbies and pursue new interests. Unfortunately, whether you’re thinking of trying your hand at bird-watching or attempting to learn a new craft, getting the materials you need to try out new hobbies can be quite a large investment and one that can be especially frustrating if in the end it turns out you don’t even like the activity you have poured hours of time and copious amounts of your hard-earned cash in to. That’s where Tracks comes in – a fun way to try your hand at train set building on PC and Xbox, without the hefty price tag!
Piece by piece
As the title would suggest, Tracks is a game centred around a virtual wooden train playset. After completing a brief tutorial, players are set loose in sandbox mode where they can create their own world entirely from scratch or set about massacring one of the beautifully crafted example maps thoughtfully included – presumably to provide players with building inspiration. The secondary ‘passengers’ mode changes the pace a little, pitting players against a barrage of sporadically placed stations and the thankless task of ferrying constantly spawning groups of passengers between from selected platforms to their destinations.
In both modes, gameplay is comprised predominantly by the placing of various wooden track pieces to create routes. This is a far more relaxing process than other sandbox titles, with pieces aligning themselves to a selected end piece of track and placed through the simple action of clicking. Pointing your cursor left or right lets you create bend pieces and scrolling the mouse wheel either up or down will raise or reduce the height of pieces to create tall bridges or steep declines. Joining a new track piece to an existing line will automatically create a junction or crossroad piece. If this all seems a little too automated for your tastes; an option exists to manually switch between pieces, to undo your placed track or to clear your current piece and select a new existing area of track to alter.
These track creation mechanics are the perfect blend of simple but powerful. They are intuitive enough to be accessible to anyone who just wants to pick up the game and jump right into playing whilst also providing enough depth to be a viable method of creating and managing more complex designs. The simple control scheme has the added benefit of allowing players to rapidly place track without having to worry too much about making any mistakes that could stop the line from working – an invaluable tool when you’re battling against some of the time-limited passengers found outside sandbox mode.
Making a scene
Of course, you are not just limited to placing track pieces, with a wide variety of props being available to provide some much needed decoration to the surrounding environment. There is a surprising depth and variety in the items on offer with a pleasing plethora of objects, buildings, vehicles and plants to choose from. All the decorative items follow a low-poly toy-like aesthetic and being able to spend some time meticulously creating cutesy little rural scenes is a nice change of pace from using the more speed-oriented track creation tools.
I found building up a few small villages complete with local shops, parks and cottages, all populated by wooden figurines, made the eventual act of joining them together through stations and lengthy railways considerably more rewarding. Some props, like the houses, come with a good number of alternate colour options which helps prevent props from becoming too samey when you want to place them in large numbers. You can label your creations through placing town signs, which allow the player to input and display a text, and when placing the little wooden people you can choose between a number of clothing options, each corresponding to a profession or seasonal style.
If you feel the included set of props are not enough for you, heading over to the Steam or Microsoft store allows you to pick up one of the Tracks DLC packs on offers. So far there is only one available, a free pack which offers a collection of more urban themed props; a nice addition to the more countryside oriented items of the base game. With more DLC and future updates in the works, it will certainly be nice to have the option of choosing objects from a few more themes in future.
In addition to placing items, players can directly alter the environment from a customisation sub-menu. You can change the colour of the backdrop, time of day, add grass or mud to the base plate, add fog and, best of all, activate a winter snowfall weather effect which coats your buildings in a soft layer of snow. Props with lighting elements, like streetlamps or the windows of houses, automatically illuminate in darkness which helps you create some really stunning night-time scenes. There is even the option to alter the colour of the train and a slider to add wear-and-tear to its paintjob. The overall level of customisation in Tracks is staggering and means it’s it all too easy to become wrapped up in creating your own little world.
Full steam ahead
After you have created your dream track, at the press of a button the player can enter the first person train driving mode. As you can probably imagine, piloting a toy train is a very simple task. The player can move the train forwards and backwards and choose to steer it either left or right at branches or junctions. There is also the option to outfit your train with a whistle which doesn’t serve any real purpose beyond adding an additional degree of intractability.
In spite of the controls being a little on the floaty side, which can become quite annoying at times, appreciating the intricacy your meticulously crafted miniature marvels from a fresh perspective is still an undeniably magical experience. It is unfortunate that the lack of an ability to control the train outside of the first person perspective can often be a little frustrating. Sure, you can jump into first person to set the train going at a certain speed before jumping back to building but there’s nothing worse than subsequently having to helplessly watch your precious locomotive speed off a section of track you had yet to finish building.
The addition of a secondary set of controls accessible from the building screen would completely negate this issue and add a quicker way to test out sections of track without breaking up the flow of the game by having to constantly switch between views.
On the right track
The soundtrack could too benefit from a few new additions. Although the title’s selection of piano melodies is excellent and contributes greatly to an almost overwhelming atmosphere of serenity and calm, its thirteen tracks all sound fairly similar and can become rather grating after a long period of play.
Furthermore, with the sheer power of the creative tools which are made available to the player, implementation of the Steam Workshop would be an excellent way for the community to more easily share their creations and download the work of others.
With charming visuals, excellent customisation options and an array of powerful building tools at your disposal, Tracks is an all-round great sandbox title. Serving as a perfect introduction to open-world gaming for kids and a nostalgic, calming experience for adults; creating a colourful railway system with Tracks successfully rekindles the child-like joy of creativity in everyone.
Just so you’re aware! In order to facilitate a review this product was given to our organisation free of charge.