Swiss developer Urban Games latest transport management simulator, Transport Fever 2 enters a niche marketplace already full of complex city and transport management games. Does this sequel to the 2016 Transport Fever have what it takes to lift its head above the crowd?
Unless you are EA’s ill-fated 2013 Sim City reboot, city and transport management games are a complex affair and, in order properly to engage their audience, they need to be. Transport Fever 2 is no exception.
Transport Fever 2 is not for the feint-hearted. The easy-on-the-eye visuals and refined menu system hides a very complex transport network simulation bordering on nosebleed-inducing. It can be used as just a train set, but to get the most out of the game, players will need to get their digital hands dirty and try their luck at transportation engineering.
EA’s Sim City reboot, in trying to broaden the genre’s appeal, oversimplified matters resulting in a game that, whilst fun, marginalised its core audience. Colossal Order’s 2015 Cities: Skylines, on the other hand, continues to evolve and is widely considered to be Sim City’s spiritual successor, expertly mixing city building with complex transport infrastructure management.
Whilst Cities: Skylines focuses on the transport needs of a city, Transport Fever 2 has more in common with the excellent Sid Meier’s Railroads!, in having a regional focus. By no means less complex, Transport Fever 2, however, leaves the cities to themselves, to thrive or struggle based on how the player’s transport services see to their needs.
The basic gameplay involves setting up networks connecting nodes to one another to create supply chains. Sources of raw materials need to be connected to processing centres and the products shipped off for either further processing or to a town that needs those products. People also need to get from A-to-B. How you move stuff depends to how fast you need to and what its value is.
The fastest route with the most expensive equipment may not be the most cost effective. Players are running a transport company and so it’s important to make a profit.
The game has a campaign mode that offers up a series of scenarios packages into chapters. Set across a range of locations the game tasks players with providing transport links via mission task with some optional task thrown in for good measure. The campaign serves as a tutorial introduction to the game’s facets, but is more than that. For many, working through the campaign chapters will be the game experience.
For me and, I’d imagine, many others players, the fun is in the free mode. Here players can create random maps, customised to suit. Players can choose from temperate, dry and tropical ecosystems and vehicles from Europe, USA and Asia. The game ranges from 1850 to 2000, with free mode allowing players to select any start time. There’s also a map editor allowing players to take complete control of the game experience. The addition of mods can be used to turn the game into sandbox with an infinite supply of cash.
The learning curve is extraordinarily high. Whilst the campaign does a good job of introducing players to the nuances of the various transport modes, the game often informs players of network issues in the most esoteric manner.
Several times I was confronted with issues that took half an hour to figure out what was going on. The game doesn’t hold your hand, which I respect, but a console dialogue giving a little extra guidance wouldn’t go a miss. Accidentally putting a cargo transport on a passenger route will throw up a warning, but with no further pointers toward what is an easy mistake to make.
Playing the game on a vast map, the vehicles must cover huge distances. Even with time set to the fastest setting, trains, boats and planes just don’t move quick enough, making for some incredibly sedentary gameplay.
The un-modded free mode requires the patience of a saint in order to succeed, as you are not really given the cash to build an efficient transport network. Without restraint it’s easy to jump straight into building an expensive train system resulting in overstretching investment, cashflow issues and eventually bankruptcy.
Even with the included mods on to give unlimited money, the early game is still a slog, very rewarding, but a slog. There’s almost a need to sandbox the game just to test and gain competency with all the transport modes available prior going “live”.
The game’s complexities are a double-edged sword, though. Unwieldy and punishing as they at first the mechanics, once mastered continue to provide a worthwhile challenge.
As your complex amalgamation of transport networks comes together the game provides an incredible level of satisfaction. You can spend hours just watching your transport fleets dutifully carry out their assigned tasks as you modernise and upgrade vehicles and routes.
Whilst the sound effects are good, the actual soundtrack is a bit grating. Games of this ilk usually have pretty bland muzak that tends to be easy to ignore. Transport Fever 2’s soundtrack is a little more in your face and, depending on your tolerance levels for bland ditties, you may find you need to turn it off.
Unusual for games as technically focused as Transport Fever 2, the visuals are quite polished and nice to look at. All the vehicles are intricately detailed and fantastically animated. You can view the map from high above to look at your network and examine data and via layer selections. You can then zoom right in and take a look at your individual trains, boats, planes, trucks and buses.
All-in-all, Transport Fever 2 is a very accomplished effort. Daunting at first, the game eases in players that are in it for the long haul. The result is a game that is as complex as the player wants it to be; from a train set/transport sandbox to transportation empire-building. If this is your thing, you’ll have a lot of fun. If you are looking for your first transport sim, Transport Fever 2 is also a good place to start.