If you’ve ever played Mini Metro, but thought your solo subway planning adventures would be dramatically improved by having another pair of hands in the mix, then make sure you book a seat for Unrailed [official site].
Unrailed, styled as Unrailed! as if it's being shouted at you with excitement, is a co-op rail-planning puzzler from Swiss developer Indoor Astronaut that will be pulling into Steam Early Access later this summer. I played an early demo at PAX East last month, and I had so much fun I almost missed the stop for my next appointment.
“The core mechanic is super simple,” Indoor Astronaut’s artist Hendrick Baatz tells me. “You have to place tracks and you have to place them faster than the train can catch up. The environment is made out of blocks, and you need to chop the wood and mine the iron to make the tracks.”
It sounds simple enough, especially when your wonderfully toy-like steam train is chugging along at such a snail’s pace. Each map is randomly generated, but with plenty of trees and mountains nearby to cut down and mine on our initial demo course, I thought it would be an absolute doddle. Then the bandits arrived. While I was busy whisking away an armful of logs back to the train, these cheeky buggers came and scooped up all the resources I'd left over from my tree-cutting spree and mercilessly chucked them off the sharp, cliff-like edges of the map, never to be seen again.
Very inconsiderate, if you ask me, but it's an important part of the game's challenge. After all, it would be too easy to just mow down the entire landscape and have everything ready and waiting for you, and it helps ensure you don't waste resources, only taking what you need. And if bandits weren't enough, later on you’ll have to deal with errant cows, ghosts and even angry yetis as you move through the game's different environments.
“You want to plan it in such a way that's efficient and uses as few resources as possible,” says Baatz. “You also don't want to take it through a narrow space where you can’t manoeuvre.”
Indeed, being able to access your train from both sides is hugely important when you’re up against it, as you’ve not only got to keep the track pieces flowing by placing wood and ore on the back wagon, but you’ve also got to keep each individual carriage nice and cool by regularly chucking buckets of water on them, which can be tricky when there isn't much space to move or pass by your team mates. If they get too hot, the carriages will burst into flames and explode – and the fewer carriages the train has to pull, the faster it goes.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but it’s manageable as long as you can delegate duties efficiently, conjuring the same hot, under the collar pressure cooker environment as Ghost Town Games’ pair of equally nail-biting Overcooked games – which Baatz says were one of Indoor Astronaut’s big inspirations when they first sat down to make Unrailed. He also confesses to having played a lot of Mini Metro as well. Good man.
“We're huge fans of Overcooked and wanted to make a similar experience with co-operative gameplay,” he says. “The game was originally a university project. Each year they have a different programming topic. Last year's topic was Alfred Escher [pictured above sitting in that comfy GIF armchair], who founded the first railway in Switzerland, and you're actually playing as Alfred right now!"
Unrailed's art style, however, is all its own: “I really like voxel art,” Baatz explains, “but one of the main factors [in choosing this style] was also to keep the game very visually distinctive so you know at all times at a glance what is what. You're concentrating so hard, so you have to know what everything is right away.”
That instant recognition will be particularly important when playing Unrailed’s endless mode. Here, you’ll be guiding your train as far as you can possibly go while stopping off at stations along the way to unlock new areas and upgrade your train.
“In Endless mode, you get to upgrade your train when you reach a train station using screws, which is the currency of the main game. You can get new wagons, upgrade your train, unlock new biomes. We're also working on a co-operative competitive mode where you have two teams competing against each other.”
One of the wagons I was shown in the demo was a ghost one, which very handily lets you pass through it (natch) in order to get to the other side much faster than trundling all the way round the outside. These will no doubt act as crucial shortcuts when your train starts getting a bit longer, giving you more room to manoeuvre when you need it.
There will be even more wagon varieties once the game launches in Early Access, too, which at the moment is scheduled to arrive sometime this summer.
“It's our first game, we don't know everything yet, so we want the feedback,” says Baatz when I ask him what the team hopes to achieve during their time in Early Access. “What we want to do is add further biomes,” he adds. “We've got four at the moment, but we want to add a fifth one before Early Access, and then we want to add as many as possible to keep the gameplay feeling fresh. We also want to add challenge maps. Right now, the maps are all randomly generated, but we want to do specific challenges as well. And if we have time, also to make an editor for players to make and share their own maps.”
It’s an ambitious list of objectives for such a young team, but with Daedalic Entertainment already on board as the game’s publisher, it looks as though Unrailed is in pretty safe hands. Provided there aren’t any unexpected bandits or stubborn cows causing havoc up ahead, here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long before it powers (slowly) toward a final release.