I don’t know what it is about those dark dystopian game settings that I love so much, but let me tell you that Dark Train was way more than I ever expected and at the very least, I didn’t expect it to touch my heart in the way it did. I’m not talking about where the story gets so sad that you sit down and cry, no, I’m referring to being able to connect and have a sentimental moment.
Okay, I’m going to be a bit harsh now, but I shall start the review on this note. My second last review was about Waking the Glares and while I did enjoy the visuals there, I remember that I disliked the story building and gameplay. In fact, it was one of the worst type of games I could write about, because on one hand it was nothing special and there was nothing I could get overly excited about … graphics are not enough. Bear with me, there is a point to my rambling. On the other hand, there wasn’t anything that infuriating, which would make me want to rant. All in all, it was a “meh” type of game, so hear me out Wisefool. I highly recommend you obtain this game – Dark Train – play it … AND LEARN HOW TO STORY BUILD EFFECTIVELY. If you want to do it subtly, this is the way.
In fact, let me prove a point I made in same review, I began talking about. I said that a game does not need to have some triple A high quality flashy graphics in order to look good and I claimed that I know pixelated games with more enjoyable graphics (and here can I get an amen for Hyper Light Drifter, which I will cover in the near future). Point is, Dark Train is one of those games. The game itself, visually, was built by hand drawings and let me tell you that when I watched the video of it happening, I was way more impressed than I’ll ever be with some high quality stuff. And do you want to know why? Because it is unique … and this is what it makes it memorable. When I think about a game with such HD graphics, there are millions other coming to my mind that are way more memorable and that’s because they captivated me with personality, not graphics. But when I remember this type of visuals, Dark Train will most certainly come at the top of my mind … maybe Sceal as well. Anyways, I’m going to leave this here and just say that Dark Train managed to create a very immersive atmosphere, with its dark themes and oppressive environments. And all made of paper! But this is not where the game impressed me most.
The only thing I disliked visually was the font. The title font is a mess. If I didn’t know that the game was called Dark Train, I probably would not be able to read it. Same with the menu font … yeah it’s elegant, curvy and gorgeous, but at the end of the day if my face has to hug the laptop screen in order for me to actually be able to remotely read what the hell it says … it’s a sign of being ineffective. It’s also a sign of me being blind, however I already know that.
Allow me to tell you now, why I had such a unique experience with Dark Train.
First up – story. Basically we are following the story of an inventor, who has achieved numerous significant creations. One day he got a contract to create a model of the human world, which would have changeable climate and thus change and adapt to it. And while he did so, the harder thing was to figure out how to transport it. And this is where we come in – the dark train. Constructively speaking, the train consists of 4 departments, which are meant to hold these 4 models of familiar environments, taken from the real world. And the best part is, that the train itself is self-sufficient and we play with the adorable, if I might add, ANN (here I will say that I believe that ANN is the model of the train, however I find her so much more than that and the name kind of grew on me). This is the little backstory we get from the official steam page, however, I feel like nothing is lost from the experience itself, if we do not know these details about the inventor. I never really had the urge to ask where I was going and was satisfied with the “when I get there, I will find out”. This is how much faith in the game I had.
Straight up speaking, when the developers say, and I quote “no hints, no help – solve it”, this is entirely true. The game just starts – there is no tutorial, no teaching of controls, no nothing. However, when in most cases I would have been confused as to what’s happening, here I quickly managed to adapt to the game and understand it, because I was looking at it with an open mind and instead of figuring things out, I decided to just let the game direct me. And it did a wonderful job introducing all the game elements one by one and in a way, teaching you how to use them. And it’s not only gameplay, but story direction too. Right from the very beginning when I got to wake ANN up, by starting up her little heart, right until the very end, where (I am assuming at least), her purpose was fulfilled and she lays down, where we first woke up and turn her heart off. Damn, I had a moment there …
The game itself involved a lot of randomization, alongside scripted events, which happen in a certain order. Truth be told, when we gather the pieces we need in order to progress, events happen, however we script them into being, and this is because, we ourselves control the train and we control the order in which everything pans out.
So how do you play Dark Train? It classifies as an adventure game, where our goal is to gather pieces of the whole puzzle, from each train cart, while simultaneously dealing with train maintenance and random events, happening throughout the city. Basically we have 4 carts (and the names I am about the give them are entirely made up by me, based on the contents of the cart and I am doing this for easier referencing further on) – the forest (represented by a leaf sign), the city (represented by a door or a window – take your pick), the church (represented by a Christian cross) and the frozen cart (represented by a snowflake). We mainly explore 3 of them, while our goal is to “defrost” the frozen cart and solve the puzzle there. Each cart is affected by the two next to it in terms of climate (at least this is what I noticed by fidgeting around with the carts), so in a way – there is no certain order by which the puzzles are solved. Yeah of course we do need some things for certain scenarios, which we do get from specific cart conditions, however, even if at the very core, it’s on the basis of get object A, to use it in location B, so you can get to object C and use it somewhere else, it never felt like that. To be honest, the progress felt like it had a natural flow to it and I never really thought of it as using them in such a fashion, rather than just collecting things, which I happen to utilize later on.
On that note, puzzles I would classify as mediocre in terms of difficulty. Some were less obvious than others, but I don’t think there was anything confusing in them. In fact, I managed to solve every one of them on my own, except one, where I had to trap another mechanical squid in a cage, but I didn’t know how to do that, because I didn’t know that my character becomes invisible, by standing very still in specific spots. Other than that I really loved the puzzles, because most of them made me actually think and I had ideas on what to do and how to solve them – not just randomly running around and clicking on stuff, hoping something would happen and for me this is a huge plus, when it comes to puzzle games. Top it off, you can view how nicely ANN stores everything in the inventory.
And speaking about the inventory, basically you can access it from the main menu and there you can see all the things you have collected. This is also where ANN woke up and it’s also the place where the little bird resides. Story-wise speaking, we find an egg at the very beginning in the forest cart and we start taking care of it, by building it a nest, collecting heat and a toy for it and it hatches into a cute mechanical baby bird. Apparently you can miss this event, but I was lucky enough to catch the actual egg hatching and I had such a moment there… Now, I have a bit of a speculation here – in terms of plot – I feel as if, and I am theorizing this based on all the blueprints I collected and the abrupt and vague ending, ANN’s purpose was not only to get the train to a certain point, but also to make sure the egg hatches and take care of the bird, until it is ready to fly and run the train. This is further concluded by the description of the game’s ending achievement.
Anyways, back to gameplay, beside the 4 car compartments, we have one, which allows us to manage our 3 resources, each of which has its own purpose. Before I go on and explain about them, I gotta talk about the random events happening. Basically there are 4 random events that can occur, which are strictly linked to collectables. We have random fires starting up, which we can help extinguish. We can pass through power plants and help the police capture Baron Abnormitron, by powering the second half of the bridge. Speaking of the crazy baron, he can come and randomly ram our train, who we have to dispose of and he can also force stop us at one of his factories. So we solve these random encounters, using one resource we have. First up, we have – electricity. This is the most important resource, because it keeps our train running and also can help power up the bridge at the power plant. Next, we have fire. We usually deal with the baron with fire. Last – water. It is used when helping the fire department with putting out fires. None of these random activities are actually mandatory to do – only the first time, when the game introduces each one of them to us and each resource. So how do we gather these resources? Lightning we stock upon from storms, water from rain and heat from our own breaks, by collecting the heat sparks they create. The storms occur randomly throughout the game and the lightning usually comes when we need it (hence we had run out of energy). To be honest, I feel that the resources are kind of underused. I mean it’s great that you use the electricity for the train, however I feel like heat and water should have played a bigger part in train management and not only for optional things.
Another thing you can monitor in this room is our baby bird from a window and also it neatly shows when and what type of storm is about to happen. The last important thing in this space is the periscope. Basically this is how ANN focuses on specific areas she wants to enter and with it we go and explore story areas or generally areas that can be explored in such a fashion. You use it by aiming first and then ANN goes and does her thing. This is also how we get to track the progress of the random events we do.
This happens in specific locations, marked by a distinct light blue neon sign, which we can enter and there we track what we need for achievements. And this helps to building ANN’s “personality”. I personally loved helping the city out and it made it even that more sentimental when her heart stopped. Top it off, your efforts are commemorated by a tattoo she gets towards the end of the game and the tattoo varies, depending on how much you have actually achieved. And the complete tattoo nets you an achievement as well. Strictly speaking you can track your progress in those rooms, but you need to put out 5 fires, destroy 4 of baron’s factories, destroy 3 of his cars and help the police on the bridge 2 times. All of these numbers include the time where the game first introduces them to you. Also I just noticed now, when I proofread this entire thing, I listed them in a backwards countdown fashion and that I did totally random.
The last collectable are the blueprints I mentioned. Basically you collect blueprints on specific locations, which by the way if you miss something, you can totally go back and get it again … most of the times (I’m not certain for one location only). You store your blueprints in the library compartment and you can actually view them there. I didn’t really find discovering them hard, because they are in blue envelopes and are pretty easy to spot, if you don’t rush around too much (maybe only 1 was difficult to spot for me). These blueprints detail how the train and the bird were built.
I’ll be honest with you, writing this review was a mess, because I was so overwhelmed by this game, I wanted to say so many things at once and it just came out all at once, however I feel like I covered everything I wanted to. So I will proceed to writing my conclusion and the verdict.
On all said and the few words left to say, I will give this game a 9/10. It’s totally a 10 material, however, there are a few things that irked me to the point of not being able to give it a full 10. First of all, controlling the squid was very wonky at times – she got stuck on random places; when I had to manually push something it was a mess; and most of the times, I felt directionally challenged when trying to face her a certain way. All I’m saying is, that controls can be worked on to make it a better experience. Also on that note, I have no idea why ANN wouldn’t listen to me at times, like I would push her to go somewhere and it would be as if a force is pushing me back (and I am not referring to those locations, where I know you can’t approach and something has to be done before you go there). Also, this game has very little replayability value, because you already know all the puzzles and Dark Train is basically constructed of smaller puzzle sections. But alas, let us end on a positive note, because at the very end ANN gave me this warm feeling, and even if I was sad that she turned her heart off, I feel like she had a fulfilling life and hey, who knows, she might wake up in the future again. So my positive note will be about the music and sounds. So immersive, so gorgeous, I had the volume on max all the time, clutching the earphones tightly. The devs did an amazing job with the sounds and I loved every single one of them. However, I have to say my favorite out of all was ANN’s heartbeat and the first moment where it beat slowly and sped up and then when it was beating so fast and her last moment where she got to turn herself off. I can definitely recommend this game and even if I had requested it a long time ago and didn’t get a response, I’m glad it finally reached our site. #noregrets.