LGR – A-Train – DOS PC Game Review
This is drugs.
This is Lazy Game Reviews on drugs.
A-Train is one of those Maxis titles
that has always flown under the radar.
Waaaaay under the radar.
It didn’t sell well at all,
but I remember seeing it in all those Maxis catalogs
that came with the other games from them.
A-Train came out in 1992
right as other Maxis games like SimAnt and SimCity
were reaching new heights in popularity.
Maxis started to expand the company’s line
and one way of doing this was
licensing and publishing games
from outside developers.
A-Train is a Japanese game developed by Artdink.
It’s actually the third game in the series
with the Japanese version known as Take the A-Train III.
But since it was the first to
get much reception in America,
they just called it A-Train to make it more aggravating.
It was released on PC, Macintosh and Amiga formats,
but despite their best efforts,
the game never caught on,
and is one of Maxis’ first failures in retail.
I’ve had the game in my collection for quite a while,
and recently I finally took up the
initiative to learn how to play it.
I decided on the DOS version of the game,
since that’s what I would have
played at the time it came out.
I took one look at the manual and…
good grief, this looks boring.
Balance sheets, building guidelines,
downtown reorganization, expenditures,
subsidiaries, specialized income,
real estate reconstruction,
personnel fees, taxes.
This sounds more like some
economics class, not a game.
There is no in-game tutorial,
but you get a very nicely written tutorial in the manual.
This is one of those games where
the manual is an absolute necessity.
Trust me, I tried to figure out the game without it,
and about put my head through
a trash compactor as a result.
After about 30 to 45 minutes of messing
around with the tutorial and game mechanics,
I finally got the hang of it.
Here’s my take on the game’s focus.
A-Train is a local economy simulator
based around the idea
of running a citywide mass transit system
in order to boost businesses and population
in the near vicinity of train stations.
Eh, in simpler terms, it’s not so much
like Railroad Tycoon as it is SimCity.
You’re not building a transcontinental railroad
or learning the history of trains,
you’re helping to build a city
by heading up your own transportation business.
When starting the game,
you begin with a single train station
and a central railway,
which runs directly through your city
and connects neighboring cities.
Trains will come through at certain times of day
to deliver two of three important
commodities in the game:
people and supplies.
It works kind of like this:
the point of the game is to make money,
and you get money by getting people
to use your trains and services.
But you’ll need supplies or construction materials
in order to build those services.
These materials are the life-blood of the city.
They allow you to build things
and allow your city to build itself.
So the first order of business is to get these supplies.
The trains that come into your town will
leave you materials at your main station,
but you can’t just treat them like
resources in a strategy game,
hidden in some imaginary vault somewhere.
The materials are only available for use
in the area around where they physically sit.
So you’ll need to make ways for
the materials to be transported
from one spot to another to grow your city.
Now this is where the trains come in.
You build a railway and then build a station.
Then, of course, you’ll need to buy
and schedule a freight train
to transport these materials to areas
that need development materials,
but can’t yet reach them.
You will also need to make sure
the people can get these materials,
so you’ll need a passenger line
to transport them as well.
Once you get a nice system of transporting
people and materials to a new area,
the area will start to get interesting to the population,
but they’ll still need places to live and work.
You’ll then need to play the real estate market
in order to make land available for building,
since undeveloped lands aren’t yet owned by anybody.
Once you buy the real estate around
your stations, the value will go up,
and then you can sell it to the people,
who will then start building using
the materials that you provided.
You can spur this development
by building all sorts of buildings
like apartments, factories, office buildings, golf courses,
and even theme parks and baseball stadiums.
And the more people you have,
the more money you’ll make,
so as long as you keep your
ever-growing rail system in check,
everything will be fine.
You can upgrade the stations, upgrade the trains,
buy and sell real estate to make
things work how you need them to
in order to assure progress.
There are also plenty of little tweaks in the game
and advisors which will give you ideas
of what is going on and what may be in demand.
Like in SimCity, you can also take out bonds
with the bank, in case you need cash,
but you can also play the stock market,
which is an extremely interesting addition to me.
Say you’re building a lot of offices.
Then management firms will start to rise in stock price,
so you can play off of that.
But remember, these services are only open from 9 to 5,
Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.
That’s because the entire game
takes place one day at a time.
That’s why at the default setting
you’ll keep seeing things go from light to dark
going through a day cycle.
A clock clicks down constantly,
which will determine what you can do and when.
You can turn the day cycle off, thankfully,
because it can get annoying real quick.
You also have seasons which come and go,
which is a welcome occasional change
to the already good-looking isometric graphics.
In fact, Maxis thought the look was so awesome,
it went on to use A-Train as the inspiration
for the look of SimCity 2000.
You know, a lot of the game actually
reminds me of SimCity 2000.
Of course, there’s the obvious:
it looks like SimCity 2000,
especially on the Macintosh version,
which even has the same interface.
But more of the feel of the game reminds me of SimCity.
Once you get past the steep learning curve,
the game is incredibly fun
and is just as addicting as any other Sim game.
No matter how many times it happened,
I still found myself enjoying the fact
that a new train station starts to bring a new area to life.
Eventually, you get bustling metropolises
and the feeling of fulfillment is really quite exceptional.
There are plenty of little things that could be better,
especially in the DOS version,
like the lack of decent sound effects,
some annoying repetitive music,
and the sometimes confusing menus.
For instance, why is the cash display
hidden unless you bring up a menu?
If you’re not careful, you’ll run out of money
and get a game over screen
without even knowing what happened.
The Mac version fixes this,
so obviously they knew it was a problem.
But an even bigger problem is sometimes
you’ll have a train station set up
and need to make a change to the line,
somebody will building an apartment or
something in the way before you can get to it.
And then the whole system becomes usless
because there’s no bulldozer tool.
So, you’re screwed.
‘Cause you can’t get rid of this
building in the way of the line
when you have a broken city.
Now you can fix this if you got the
optional A-Train Construction Set.
Some versions of the game came with this included.
It’s really the same thing as the
SimCity 2000 Urban Renewal Kit’s
Place & Print function.
You can edit anything on the map,
including those annoying buildings in the way,
and then continue your game in peace.
It’s not necessary, but it can
save you a lot of headaches.
There’s also some bugs, in my version at least,
where sometimes the save game
just doesn’t save,
and you’ll quit the game and you’ll
come back to a half-empty city
and that’s kind of annoying.
So always make sure that you
save your game twice, just in case.
But when it comes down to it,
A-Train is a great game, in my opinion,
even with some of these bugs.
It’s very well-made, has plenty of
options for you to experiment with,
it looks great,
and the gameplay is honestly nothing short of addicting.
I would still recommend the Macintosh version
if you’re really wanting to play the game,
but the DOS or Amiga games are just as fun
if you just get used to their quirks.
If you’re looking for a good city-
building sim with a unique twist,
why not give A-Train a look.