Sunday, February 19, 2006

AIT Trains Review

AIT Trains, developed and published by AIT Games.
The Good: Easy to learn but still challenging, build and puzzle modes
The Not So Good: Outdated graphics and music, game doesn’t play fair, long periods of boredom in early levels
What say you? A railroad operations puzzle game that is fairly enjoyable but can be tedious: 5/8

Of all the old time technologies, it seems that trains bring about the most passion among people today; we don’t really see many horse and carriage or steamboat simulators. There are several train simulations out there, including Microsoft’s and Trainz, but there aren’t many train puzzle games. AIT Trains is a train puzzle game (surprise!) where you direct trains between towns to deliver goods and not crash into each other. Using a mix of strategy, base building, and reflex action, will AIT Trains recapture the simple thrills of arcade puzzle games?

AIT Trains has outdated graphics and sound, reminiscent of games seen for Windows 3.1. The game features simple 2-D graphics from a fixed view and no modern-day effects that utilize fancy video cards. This, of course, has some advantages, namely that the game is easy to play and the graphics never hinder playing through the levels. AIT Trains won’t win any awards for graphical excellence, but that’s fine as long as the game is playable. The sound in AIT Trains is along the same lines, utilizing some simple notification effects (for incoming or crashed trains) and MIDI background music. I haven’t heard MIDI in quite a while, and a lot of the songs are recognizable copies of popular songs by Coldplay and Madonna (to name a few). If you can’t stand MIDI (like me), you’ll probably just turn the music off. With the old graphics and MIDI background music, AIT Trains really feels like an old game.

The object of AIT Trains is to direct trains from the origin city to their color-coded destination without causing an accident with other trains. Each level has a set amount of time (10 to 60 minutes) during which trains spawn and travel along the tracks. AIT Trains has two modes: in build mode, you build the track and conduct the trains, while in puzzle mode the tracks are already built. I prefer build mode because it’s more satisfying and you tend to do more during the game. Each map has several cities of different colors that spawn trains destined for other cities, and you change the junctions and signals to drive them towards their destination. Trains switch directions if they hit a red signal light or a junction switch thrown the wrong way, which helps in avoiding costly accidents. The difficulty comes from having multiple and/or fast moving trains on the map, and this difficulty increases with higher levels. Also, increasing levels adds new towns, crazy trains (that don’t stop), the number of trees (which must be removed for a cost), more time, and consist length. The levels for build mode are semi-random; each level has a set number of elements, but their location may be different each time you play the same level, which adds to the replay value. The puzzle mode is the same each time since the track is pre-built. Thankfully, you can start from the last completed level when you restart the game. Building tracks is a simple affair, affixing pieces of curved and straight track together to furnish a complete line. Honestly, the game’s 2-D graphics make it simple to maneuver around the game, and it might be much more difficult (and unnecessarily so) if AIT Trains was in 3-D.

AIT Trains has interesting, albeit inconsistent, gameplay. There are times where you are scrambling to throw switches, build new track, and maneuver trains so they don’t crash into each other, and other times (especially in the early levels) you’re sitting there with nothing to do as a single train follows your path to its final destination. It almost borders on boredom, at least until you venture towards the higher levels. Crashes are extremely bad for several reasons. First, it closes a piece of track that can’t be traversed until it is repaired. Second, the repair trains travel really slow and can cause wrecks of their own. The game also seems like it cheats at times. For example, I had 2 trains appear on the map right as the time expired, so there was no way I could clear them without taking a major penalty. That’s kind of frustrating, and is the kind of thing that can turn some people off.

AIT Trains has a dual personality: it can be quite fun, exciting, and action packed, but can also be dull for far too long. The dated graphics and sound aren’t huge concerns, since the base of the game is still present and playable. It’s too bad that the introductory levels can be so dreary, because this is when most of the audience will be lost. If you stick around long enough to meet the higher levels, the game is quite enjoyable and difficult at times, which is always welcome. The game is very easy to play, building tracks is simple, and junction switches are clearly represented. AIT Trains ends up being an intriguing game that has moments of merit and should appeal to both puzzle and strategy fans.