Voidtrain is a bit of an odd duck in many ways. It’s been quietly bubbling away under the surface of the gaming community for a little while now, as you would probably expect from a game that combines trains and survival/crafting mechanics. While the game is still in Early Access, it’s finally leaping over to Steam, so we’ve decided to take a look at what it’s got going for it so far and whether or not this is another case of the gaming community getting a little bit over-excited about a game with trains in it, for the meme.
What the Heck’s a Voidtrain?
If you’ve not seen the trailers doing the rounds at various award shows and revealing fests over the past year, you might be shocked to discover that Voidtrain is exactly what it sounds like. You play a mysterious train engineer trapped in an endless void, your only companion being your hand-cranked train and your limitless knowledge of cobbling things together and making them work. Your job is to… well, actually, that’s not exactly clear just yet. There’s a lot of talk about a scientist and an opposing faction who are hunting for him, but right now, it mostly seems to be about surviving long enough to keep barrelling ahead.
You spend most of your time hunting down resources to keep your train working properly and researching upgrades to make your train faster and harder to kill. As you start out, you must manually keep the train going with a hand-cranking lever, but as time goes by, you can unlock progressively speedier and tougher engines until you’re basically convoying through space on Snowpiercer, but with fewer hungry mouths to feed, but not by a lot. There's also the added benefit of the void being completely gravity-less, so you can just swim around it like you're flying.
Much More than a Mechanic
As well as upgrading and building your train, you’ll have to keep yourself alive, uncover more about what is going on with this whole Voidtrain thing, and uncover new technology to help you navigate. Most of the time, you’ll do this by following the step-by-step instructions laid out for you in your notebook. In the early days, these are usually constructed out of simple materials, but by the tech tree’s mid-to-late stages, you’ll have to work hours to assemble them, mostly because some ingredients have a long process to create them.
Another element that bears talking about is the outposts you find along the way. Every so often, you’ll stumble across an outpost or depot staffed by soldiers out to get you. At outposts, you’ll need to take down your enemies to remove the gate and progress, but at depots, you can actually upgrade the main body of your train, adding length and even major upgrades like steam engines and new brake and transmission levers.
Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Staying Alive
As you expect with most survival games, Voidtrain features mechanics that require you to stuff sustenance into your face at periods, or you’ll die. Well, actually, in this example, you won’t die, as Voidtrain does quite a lot to simplify the survival experience. Instead of separate food/water meters, you have to track, you have a single Satiety meter. This can be filled with food or water, and it makes the need to keep yourself living a much simpler affair than normal, though since you’re tied to a train, that’s probably for the best in the end.
Another factor that’s important when keeping yourself going is your armor. You can unlock various pieces of armor and equipment that let you hold more resources and reduce the incoming damage you take from the enemies you encounter at Depots and Outposts. You have to keep these topped up with consumables, just like you do with your health, but they’re considerably cheaper to produce. The only slight niggle with the combat aspect is that it takes a long time to get a gun beyond your basic revolver while you’re facing down against upwards of 10 enemies with machine guns, which feels a bit unfair, I have to admit.
The Actual Voidtrain Experience
In all, from a pure gameplay perspective, Voidtrain actually doesn’t have that much to offer. At first, the concept of being in the void on a train sounds quite cool, but in reality, it’s mostly just limiting. As you could probably expect, if you know anything about trains, they have to stay on track. This means there’s not really too much in the way of exploration to be had. You can’t venture further than a few feet away from your train to gather resources for quite a long time, and even then, once you unlock the ability to move away from the train, it's limited by resources, and there's only something worth looking for in specific locations.
This is probably understandable, as having too much freedom would have made it so easy to get lost. Then again, at least it would have been a gameplay challenge. Currently, not only are you limited to building on the train itself, but when you die, you always respawn on the train with your items dumped on the ground or void that you left them. Obviously, if you’re a big survival game fan like I am, you’ll know this is pretty standard. However, since you rarely go more than a few feet away from the train, losing anything is nearly impossible, or at least it should be.
Bugs, Bugs, Everywhere
Voidtrain is an Early Access release, meaning it earns some leeway for polish. Then again, if you think about it, they are actually still charging money for it, though, so they don’t get that much leeway. The game is buggy to a fault. Not only is the AI on enemies rudimentary, but you’ll often find yourself glitching through geometry and getting stuck or losing random items that have spawned through a wall that you can reach. It’s not altogether too common to find a bug that forces a restart, and even when you do, you don’t normally lose too much progress, but it’s still a massive pain.
On that same note, there are also 0 concessions made for gamepad users. You do get full controller support, but the inventory menu systems can be incredibly clunky. I found stuff as simple as eating food to keep my sustenance bar up painful, and it got even worse when I was trying to move a huge amount of items around my storage containers. Incidentally, tier 1 containers only having 4 item slots is far too few.
Voidtrain and the Co-op Conundrum
There is one aspect of the game that I’ve been avoiding up until now. Voidtrain very much feels like the sort of game that is intended to be played with other people. A lot of my complaints about the game being linear and getting dull and clunky very quickly can be assuaged by playing the game with other people. Then again, lots of things that are boring on your own are fun with other people. At the very least, there should be something of a decent solo experience here, and it wouldn’t be hard to add in the future.
As something of an expert on soloing games intended for multiplayer, I can safely say that, right now, there’s not much here to attract someone playing on their own. You’ll get bored of following the rigid instructions and simply moving forward on the same piece of track all the time. Outposts are almost the same after a while, and the same goes for Depots too, for the most part. If there were some interesting tidbits to discover or, hell, just anything new and exciting going on in these locations, then it might be different. We won’t know if that’s the intended goal or not until the game’s full release, but so far, I’m putting my money on the co-op gameplay being the focus, which is far enough in many respects.
The Final Thought
Voidtrain shows some promise as a unique co-op survival experience, but on its own, the game will struggle to stand under its own power. There’s technically plenty to do, but the entire game is also literally on the rails and provides very few surprises as you keep going through it. With future updates, there’s the potential for both a great narrative and gameplay experience here, whether you’re going solo or playing with your friends, but I, for one, will not be holding my breath to see this come to fruition. Either way, if you’re super into trains or voids, then Voidtrain is at least worth taking a look at.
Voidtrain was previewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the Developer over the course of 20 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of preview.