Unrailed!

Reviewed: 05th October 2020 - 14:00

Cooperative games come in all shapes and sizes, whether it is creating various dishes in ridiculous kitchens (Overcooked!) or escaping prison together and looking for vengeance (A Way Out). Indoor Astronaut has brought a new addition to the cooperative genre in the form of Unrailed!, which can be played both locally and online with friends. The game was available in early access on Steam since last year and has now seen a full release on all platforms.

Unrailed! makes (up to four) players work together to keep a slow-paced train from crashing. You and your friends have to mine commodities (rocks, trees, cacti, and more) that you feed to a storage wagon. The crafting wagon will, in turn, craft new rail tracks from these commodities for the players to lay down. Laying down tracks can be frustrating sometimes, as my friend and I often found our tracks misplaced.

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To ensure that the train won’t overheat and catch fire, you will regularly have to cool it down using a bucket of water. As part of the default train set-up, the tank wagon will keep your train cooled enough for a certain amount of time. By upgrading the wagon, you can lengthen the duration of its cooling timer. Forget to cool your train down and it will catch fire, eventually covering the entire train. Each wagon that catches fire becomes unusable until you put out the fire.

Should you play alone, then you will be accompanied by a bot, who you can command to do certain tasks. The map moves slowly at the train’s pace while loading a new block every time you reach a new train station, however, skipping a train station is an option by laying tracks that don’t connect to the next station. Your train not only has to make its way through forests and rocky areas, but also traverse water. By using wood, you can create bridges to traverse these waters. Essentially, Unrailed! is an endless runner at its core.

The game comes with four modes: endless, quick, sandbox, and versus. Endless mode allows you to travel as far as possible with your train. In quick mode, you have one station you have to reach - do that successfully, and the game ends. Sandbox mode offers a chance to experiment with different train setups, as you can choose whatever wagons you like, as long as you have unlocked them in endless mode. Lastly, versus mode speaks for itself, as players can compete against each other. A minimum of two players will be necessary for this mode.

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The premise sounds easy enough: keep the train in one piece and bring it to the next station. However, once you factor in the randomly generated maps, different biomes, the day and night cycle, as well as the weather cycle, you will change your mind immediately. The day and night cycle will cause the map to be completely darkened, except for a small area around your character and the train. By adding the light wagon to your train, you can enlarge the visible area around your train.

When it comes to the weather cycle, the only type of weather that you won’t mind is rain. Rain cools down your train and has a chance of filling up your bucket - which is extremely useful. Snow, on the other hand, will fill up the map, which makes it very slow to traverse and hard to get through. It is also worth mentioning that your train will slowly pick up speed the further you make it without switching to a new biome - once you choose to swap your locomotive for a new one, its speed will reset.

As your train traverses the landscape, you can earn golden bolts by finding them in between each train station hidden somewhere on the map, as well as by completing the tasks given at the start of each run. These bolts allow you to upgrade parts of your train to help you on your journey. Alternatively, once you have four bolts, you can choose a new locomotive which will bring forth a new biome for you to travel through. In total, you can unlock 37 characters, and 50 wagons. The list of wagons comes with a fun variety, going from useful wagons such as upgraded storage, or an upgraded tank wagon, to a fun, but helpful ghost wagon that allows you to walk through the wagon. It sounds pointless when reading this, but trust me - it has proven very valuable in tight spots!

When you start up a new game, you get the option to enable checkpoints. By default, this option is disabled. Enabling this option will allow you to restart from the first station in each biome after you crashed. Should your train crash in the very first biome after 250 meters, for instance, you will have to restart from 0 meters. At each station you reach, you have the option to save the game and quit. These saves will only be available to load once, however, so you can continue your game, but not retry from the same spot should you mess up. While frustrating, it’s a fair way of dealing with that loophole.

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Playing together with others is a crucial element of Unrailed!, even though you can play solo with a bot. The bot won’t always act the way you would like it to, which can be frustrating. You can tell your bot a specific path to follow, but the pointer to write the path frequently ends up way out of view after not using it for a little while, which is frustrating when you want the bot to clear a path in front of you. Another frequent issue with the bot is that it ends up getting itself stuck. At some point, it just thought it was stuck, even though it could’ve easily walked through the ghost wagon. Bringing friends into the game makes it a lot more enjoyable, easier to play, and a lot less frustrating, as you can coordinate together.

In-game, communication comes in the form of a small list of emojis, which can be fun, but altogether does not give any satisfying form of communication and could be misunderstood. Unless you can voice chat with friends or teammates, communication can be a difficulty on its own. A different type or more expansive form of quick chat would work better, such as Rocket League offers.

There is an option to play together with random players, but when trying that out, I waited for fifteen minutes and still nobody had joined my lobby. While it’s a perfect game to play with friends, it does not feel like this game is popular enough to have online matchmaking.

Summary

Unrailed! is pure nostalgia that reminisces the good old arcade days, where the game has a simple premise with a difficulty curve that gradually increases the more you progress through it. Despite the pressure of the train crashing, the game is relaxing to play. The simplistic premise and gameplay may not be for everyone, but for my friend and I, Unrailed! is a breath of fresh air, as we didn’t have to worry about an abundance of features. Playing the game with a bot is doable, but it becomes a lot easier and smoother to play when you bring friends and voice chat into the equation. The price is not too ridiculous, although it can be a little steep for someone who isn’t sure if this is the game for them.

Positives

+ Simplistic gameplay
+ Relaxing
+ Replay value

Negatives

- Online matchmaking
- Can feel repetitive
- Price a little steep