Few modes of transportation capture the imagination quite like a train. Maybe because there’s just so much variety, from steam-powered and coal-burning locomotives to high-tech MagLev trains that speed across the countryside at 250 miles per hour. With so many options, game designers have an excellent wealth of resources to pull from when putting a train in their game. Whether it’s an expertly designed level filled with enemies and obstacles or a monolithic set piece that brings more character to a scene, train levels can be remembered years after the initial playthrough. Here’s 10 of our favorite video game train levels and why they still hold a special place in our heart today.
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
2009’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a fan favorite in the series, and for good reason. Not only are you introduced to new characters who stick with you through the sequels, but the level design and gameplay mechanics of Uncharted 2 only improve on the much-loved original. The most iconic sequence in the game is of course the train level, and it’s one that Naughty Dog tees up for you at the very beginning of the game by placing you in the midst of the train wreck as the cars dangle off a snowy mountain. It’s unclear how Nate got here, and by playing through the game you can experience all of the events that led to this death-defying train ride, making the moment where you jump from a Jeep onto the side of a moving train that much more exciting. This train level is huge and challenging, and the loop it runs is expertly designed to give you an infinite amount of time to clear enemies from each car while the scenery changes around you. As an excellent sequence in one of Naughty Dog’s most-beloved games, the Uncharted 2 train is a no-brainer for making this list.
2. Red Dead Redemption 2
Though not a typical level like other trains on this list, the classic western locomotive in Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of my favorite pieces of that world. Not only does it span much of the map, giving you a lazier way to get from Point A to Point B, but there are missions such as train robberies that allow you to ride right up alongside it while dodging repeater rifle fire and jump onto it. The Red Dead Redemption 2 world offers brilliant landscapes you’re sure to love, and the late 1800s-designed train that makes its way across the ethereal desert from town to town is excellent whether you’re chasing it down for a mission or just hopping aboard with some friends to take it over for yourselves.
3. 007: Goldeneye
What’s better than battling a fully armed battalion while aboard a speeding armored train? In 007: Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, the train level is part rescue mission, part escape attempt. This level has so many memorable moments: shooting out the brake units in each car, finally killing Ouromov, and using your laser watch to cut through the floor to escape. For an added challenge, try turning up the difficulty level to 00 Agent and see if you can make it out before the train explodes. To make this level a bit easier, don’t forget to pick up the RCP-90 that’s hidden in the crate in one of the first cars.
4. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire quickly became one of the most beloved Star Wars games on Nintendo 64. Though the campaign is relatively short, each level helped bring out the unique character of the Star Wars universe and give players a fresh face to get acquainted with in Dash Rendar. As it turns out, this game has one of the most memorable (and challenging) train levels as you speed your way to IG-88 through the junkyard. If taking down enemies and dodging blaster fire wasn’t hard enough, you’ll need to duck, jump, and even hop between trains to make sure you make it all the way to the end. If you haven’t played Shadows of the Empire in a while, fair warning that the controls haven’t aged as well as the rest of this game, and the platforming sections are frustrating at best.
5. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
Another Star Wars game to make this list, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order expertly blends swift and immersive combat with a story that shows you what the galaxy was like after the Jedi purge, with one of the early levels being a high-speed train. The game makes this sci-fi train a perfect place to… train. You’ll parry melee attacks, deflect blaster fire, and learn how to best use the environment to your advantage. Combine this with the gorgeous rendering of Cal’s lightsaber swinging through a downpour, and you get one of the most memorable train training sequences of the PS4 generation.
6. Resident Evil Zero
Though not the most fondly remembered game in the series, Resident Evil Zero has its moments, and introduces us to wrongfully convicted prisoner Billy Coen and the ever-charming and totally badass Rebecca Chambers. If you remember this game at all, it’s likely you best remember the Ecliptic Express: the train owned by the Umbrella corporation, which comes under attack by a swarm of leeches in the very beginning of the game. This environment takes close-quarters combat with zombies to new levels as you navigate narrow train cars looking for answers. Plus, this game gives players a better view of what happened to S.T.A.R.S. Bravo Team after their helicopter suffered engine failure and crashed, spurring the events of the original Resident Evil game.
7. Pokémon: Gold & Silver
Though not a playable level per say, the Magnet Train in Pokémon: Gold and Silver was a literal game-changing experience. The ability to cross between the Johto and Kanto regions on either the monorail or the ferry was a brand-new experience for 1999 Nintendo fans. Though the graphics and processing power are rudimentary compared to modern standards, this game introduced the concept of MagLev trains to many gamers in North America for the first time.
8. Splatoon 2: Octoling Expansion
Splatoon and Splatoon 2 do an excellent job of building a post war-torn filled with Inklings who compete in glorified paintball matches, and when you dig more into the lore you unlock more fascinating details about this bizarre and colorful universe. Enter the 2018 Splatoon 2 Octo expansion. Eighty levels of platforming, ink-splatting fun that puts you in control of an Octoling who gets to and from each level via the subway. On this train, you’ll meet new characters, as well as see some familiar faces as you battle through the underground. With the overworld map cleverly displayed as stops along twisting rail lines that intersect and unlock as you progress, the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion is a fun and engaging single-player campaign with a dark and gritty subway train at its core. If you haven’t played it yet but love Splatoon, it’s absolutely worth the investment.
9. Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII has no shortage of trains, from being used as a mode of transportation to the Train Graveyard. With the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake in 2020, a whole new generation of gamers get to experience this story and enjoy exploring Midgar by rail. The details included in this game are nothing short of impressive, and the train transportation makes you feel like you’re exploring a fully realized city. Do you have a favorite train in the Final Fantasy universe?
10. Star Fox 64
Though not a traditional train level like the other entries on this list, the Forever Train in Star Fox 64 was a memorable level that put you in control of the Landmaster tank. As you make your way through the level you have to destroy train cars and hit different switches to ensure the train follows a different track. This is one of the Star Fox 64 levels where your path can diverge, depending on if you hit all the switches or not. If you hit them all, the train will crash and Fox can move on from his mission, but if you miss one, you’ll enter a boss battle with Mechbeth and have to defeat him before progressing. Even decades later, the Star Fox 64 Forever Train still holds a special place in our hearts.
From training to transportation to combat and more, trains serve as dynamic levels that add more character to the game world you’re exploring. What are some of your favorite trains in video games? Let us know in the comments!