Being the son of a model railway enthusiast in the 1970’s came with its perks. It was partly a dream of every child to eventually own their own train set and one day that finally came true.
I can still remember it very well and it’s etched in my brain,mainly due to my fathers over enthusiasm.
One day, there it was, covering half of the front room! A Hornby train set of the Flying Scotsman locomotive, with coaches, placed on an oval train track that was assembled to precision and fixed to a large piece of board about half an inch thick! It was an exciting sight to behold – the power supply was firmly secured on one corner of the board and around the track, a set of signal posts were neatly fixed in perfect position by my proud father – a boy’s (and I guess father’s) dream come true!
Except, this little boy was rather too overwhelmed with the sight in front of him and decided to sit in the middle of the board and inside the oval train track so he could watch the train travel around the track and around him.
All was good for several minutes and then like most boys, whose interest and curiosity changes in a flash, it was suddenly time to get up from the centre of the board and walk off it, totally oblivious to stepping on every signal post and crushing it onto the board as he got off!
Apparently, it took my mother several hours to calm my father down in the kitchen, as I had unknowingly performed the ultimate sacrilege, and his face was the colour of a ripe tomato…he was livid!
Luckily with Tracks:Toybox Edition there’s no worries with floor space, boards or indeed accidentally treading on signal posts!
This game firmly stands by its title in that it’s exactly what it claims to be: a digital sandbox multi-piece train set and after loading up, an enormous one at that!
On the right track ?
From our base game, we get a choice from a number of environment modes for starters and fresh builds. Free Play is initially the mode to build any railroad from scratch and comes with a template that can either be set in the day or at night. There’s also a very novel and quaint couple of modes that are set in a house living room, where you build the set around household furniture. Or you can opt for a child’s bedroom night setting that’s themed around Christmas time, complete with household decorations and a Christmas tree!
There’s even a final theme set on the moon, where you can build a unique train set defying the laws of gravity!
A neat little addition to free play is the Passenger Mode availability on certain game scenarios. This is a bonus inclusion that allows players to pick up passengers from different stations within a certain time limit. Particular passenger types like business class transported to businesses stations is one example and adds a bit of extra normality and realism to the role of playing a train driver. Although this is clearly for fun as you won’t get penalised for not making train arrival times.
As just touched upon, Tracks includes the ability to act out the role of a train driver with completed train sets brought to life in a first person perspective, at the helm of the train, and all at the touch of a button. I can’t begin to explain just how good it is to drive through your created town high streets and countryside scenery and see everything in full perspective and all its glory.
Covering your tracks..
Building your set couldn’t be easier, especially when it comes to laying down tracks.
You highlight your first piece of track and by moving the right stick, you can lay down straight or raised and curved pieces almost instantly. Junction pieces connect automatically and before long, you’re building a huge amount of interlocked wooden track in all manner of designs you see fit to create.
When it comes to the theme and overall look of your environment, a left pull-down menu gives you a great range of options such as setting the colour of the sky, fog density, sun and weather settings and even changing train design from wooden, gingerbread or robotic.
Adding the scenery around your track is mainly fulfilled by pressing down the R trigger and selecting from the scenery menu.
Houses, shops, animals, people and everything from barns to skyscrapers, windmills, playground and camping items to trees, bushes and rocks can be chosen with the A button, positioned with the sticks, X to rotate a piece and A to place it. There’s also the ability to add raised block pieces to build higher ground for raised track and even the option to add mountains.
With sci-fi and suburban content adding more items to the inventory, it’s guaranteed you’ll spend many hours designing and creating your landscape in what is generally an addictive and fun experience.
If the thought of starting from the very basics seems too much for you, on the load / save menu, there’s the option to select level, and choose from a set of pre-built layouts including toytown and rollercoaster. These are perfect for setting a base and allowing you to build over or redesign as you please. Just please be warned that driving around rollercoaster in first person and on a full stomach is not advised!
Down the wrong tracks..
Whilst everything is pretty much catered for as regards the tools and menus to do the job simply and quickly, there’s a number of issues I need to address here as regards the layout and UI.
A tutorial menu is provided to take you through the basics but it’s just that..the basics.
Although I’ve spent many fun hours building and creating, I still haven’t worked out how to get the train through a train tunnel piece, nor have I found the answer. My overall experience was more trying to work out how to do it than actually doing it!
Take placing a scenery piece on the layout, for example. I can select it, turn it around into position and place it, but what if I want to change the piece’s position on the board? Why can’t I just pick it up to move it? Scanning the controls menu several times didn’t give me the answer. Eventually, I had to remove the existing piece, select the scenery menu to select another one, then place it in the new position but then I immediately asked, “Why do I have to do that and why is it so unnecessarily awkward?”
Things are not that simple with the load and save menu either. You can save your layout to a save file and name it and you’re good to go and ready to use again later. Build some more scenery then go to that save file to save it. It should automatically tell you to overwrite or save once the file is highlighted right?
No! Not here. You have to highlight, then move across to a list on the left and select overwrite from the options, but again, you ask why am I having to do this? It didn’t help either at one time, that I returned to my layout after saving, to find certain layout pieces oddly missing and having to rebuild them again. That’s almost certainly an issue that can be patched in a future update at some point.
Tracks of my Tears ..?
Overall, as a train set builder and virtual play toy promoting player creativity and imagination, Tracks does a very good job and delivers a fun and addictive experience package that I’m really enjoying playing.
It’s visually pretty impressive with trains, tracks and assorted scenery pieces of a high standard, displaying plenty of crisp detail and clarity.
There’s also a rather pleasant and calming piano soundtrack playing lightly in the background, and the whole game’s performance is above standard without any issues or setbacks.
It’s just a shame that it’s all held back from greatness by a design and build system that feels cumbersome and more trouble than it should be, a dated load/save menu that appears to want you to overwrite something you shouldn’t, and that odd glitch with missing pieces on reload.
For its price tag though, there’s still plenty of value as a base train set with many fun hours guaranteed. There’s just that little Oliver Twist voice in my head asking for more.
A future expansion with more fixes, scenery and the ability to upload your tracks and download other users creations to drive around? Now there’s an idea Mr. Developer!
Thanks to Excalibur Games for the code.