Every so often a game comes along that, if not entirely unique and original, at least uses established mechanics in a unique way. Such a game is Bounty Train. When I saw this appear in the list of possible previews/reviews I was interested and did a bit of research. What I found was enough to make me bag this one. If you like stories from the early age of steam trains in nineteenth century America, you will love this. Simple as that.

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Oh, apparently I’m supposed to write more. Well. This game essentially puts you in charge of a start-up rail network. There’s some stuff about your father leaving you the train and wishing you well on your journey to mega tycoon-dom, and then you’re away. There’s a tutorial which introduces the game’s mechanics, which I found useful when it came to actually driving the train, but, as with all good tutorials, it can be skipped.

Welcome to mid-1800s America.

Welcome to mid-1800s America.

The core of the game is trade. You start at a city, where you can load your train up with cargo and passengers. You then travel to a different city and sell what you have brought and unload your passengers. You can’t just go anywhere though, you have to buy a license to use the railway lines to get to your destination. The first one is free then after that you have to pay quite a substantial chunk of money.

Travelling between cities is done via a world map. On that map you will also see possible encounters on your chosen route. More often than not these will be bandits, who you can choose to avoid by paying them the money they want or by fighting them, in which case the train controls you learned in the tutorial come in to play along with the gunfight controls. So if you want to play as a peaceful trader you can do, and if you want to play as a fearsome gunslinger you can do. You can also recruit train crew to help boost your chances of winning or upgrade your train to carry more cargo.

This is how to shoot people who are shooting at you.

This is how to shoot people who are shooting at you.

There are four main factions in the game – the native Iriquois, the Confederate States, the United States (this is the time of the Civil War, remember) and bandits. Your standing with each faction will affect how people react to you, for example if you get in good standing with the bandits (mainly by paying them what they want) they will be less willing to attack you. Other factions will offer unique missions. The game is of course still in development so not all of these are fully in place yet.

The above is available to you as part of a sandbox mode. Should you wish to play the main story there are quests to undertake as well. As I said above you have inherited your railway from your father, who was seeking to block a plan to steal land from the native Iriquois in order to expand the rail network. To prevent this you need to reunite the remaining members of your family. Thus begins a search across America.

Sorry, I wasn't listening.

Sorry, I wasn’t listening.

Gameplay-wise, Bounty Train works fairly well. The important information – how much money you have, how much coal you have, how many passengers and cargo you can take, are all presented very clearly. There is a day/night cycle which has an impact on what you can do at stations – for example the town hall is closed during the night preventing you from turning in delivery missions. If you’re impatient you can fast forward time but this of course takes time away from your other goals.

Combat and train controls are explained very well in the tutorial as I mentioned earlier. Should you get into a shootout there are lots of things to prioritise, for example keeping the engine stoked with coal or putting out fires on the train as well as actually shooting at the enemy, and there is a pause function to let you catch your breath. Of course the more crew members you have the easier this becomes. Or you could just give up all your hard-earned cash and avoid it completely.

Looks like it's time for lunch!

Looks like it’s time for lunch!

Even though this is still an early access title there is a lot to like. Visually it looks impressive – the detail in the various screens really stand out and you can clearly see what is happening. Also I didn’t really notice any bugs which is always a good sign. But one thing I really liked was the music. The title screen has a traditional rendition of Yankee Doodle and the main game has jaunty, catchy western style tunes.  I would definitely be interested in obtaining the soundtrack for this game should it become available separately.

This is the sort of game that rewards time and effort. Usually it takes me two or three attempts to fully invest in a game like this – the first try is normally to see what the mechanics are – but I am confident that, given enough time, this will join the list of games such as Elite Dangerous and Sid Meier’s Pirates as games I keep going at until I feel like I’ve done everything there is to do. If you like sandbox trading games such as the two I’ve just mentioned or you just want something different then definitely give this one a look.