Unrailed Early Access Review: On Track

Unrailed is a cooperative party game for 2-4 players. It is currently in early access and is available on Steam and Humble Bundle. Gideon’s Gaming receives a small commission if you purchase the game through the Humble link. Joseph Pugh conducted this review.

Overview

Unrailed is a unique cooperative multiplayer game that can be played with friends online or locally. To be absolutely clear, you need at least one other person to play Unrailed. There is no single-player option at this time.

Unrailed falls into the same category as chaotic co-op games like Overcooked, but the concept is incredibly unique. You must guide an increasingly faster train from station to station without allowing it to derail or crash. You accomplish this by cutting down trees and mining rocks, to clear a path and to use those resources to craft train tracks, forging the train’s route.

Players have control over the path the train takes, but they will also contend with the engine overheating, bad weather, nighttime, bandits and other hazards within the games various biomes. Sometimes even your friends can be your worst enemy.

Each biome brings a unique visual style and new challenges.

A poor layout can cut you off from reaching vital sections of the train. Dashing into each other is not just an annoyance but can make a player drop whatever they were carrying. And just like the game snake or Tron light cycles, you can run the path of the train into previously laid tracks, leaving you with nowhere to go.

You can obtain bolts while playing and spend them on upgrades and new wagons whenever you reach a station. The game is a roguelike at its core. While Unrailed has difficulty settings, a crash means you start over. You can enable an optional checkpoint system that resets you to the start of your current biome instead of the beginning for a softer experience.

The Good

The controls are very simple and Unrailed is easy to pick up and play. Most of the game’s actions are handled with just a few buttons and keys. Don’t be fooled though, being successful in Unrailed requires equal parts strategy, teamwork, and speed.

You can play a quick single station trip or a competitive versus mode if you have four players. Two teams compete and attempt to sabotage the other while frantically keeping their own train moving. The meat of the game, however, is the endless mode, where you strive to take your train on the longest possible trip from station to station.

Nighttime is just one of many environmental obstacles you will face.

Boiled down to Unraileds simplest ingredients, you mine stone and chop wood to make tracks, you then place those tracks to form your trains route. This isn’t always so simple. The maps are procedurally generated, some rocks cant be mined and you will need to build bridges to guide the locomotive over bodies of water.

Meanwhile, the engine slowly overheats, you must refill its coolant by filling a bucket with water and topping off the tank. If it overheats, wagons burst into flames and become unusable until you douse the flames.

Snow can slow your movement.

You actually craft the tracks using a crafting wagon being pulled by the train, bad track placement can quite easily block you from accessing the train, its wagons or even your tools. You can only carry a single tool at a time or a stack of resources. Moving quickly is important to keep your train from derailing, but proper planning will keep you from screwing yourself mid-run.

A “stage” is a run between two stations. During each stage, you have the chance to acquire three bolts. One for reaching the station and one for finding and picking up a bolt that is somewhere within the stage. Lastly, you get one for completing a specific random challenge. For example, the challenge might only allow a single player to pick up the bucket, or forbid you from killing animals.

Unrailed Upgradees
Each station allows you to spend bolts on a randoms selection of upgrades and wagons.

When you reach a station you may spend these bolts to upgrade existing wagons or buy new ones. There are quite a variety of wagons. A ghost cart will allow you to pass through it for example, while a dynamite cart can craft explosives for you to use. You can also buy a new engine for four bolts. This allows you to enter the next biome.

There is a lot of strategy and risk versus reward here. Upgrading and buying wagons is immensely helpful to your ability to keep the train intact. Yet the train increases its speed after each stage. Buying a new engine resets it to a degree. You must always weigh the options between moving on, or decking out your train.

The same weighted choice applies during the gameplay too. Can you spare the time to fetch the extra bolt? Can you complete the challenge without jeopardizing the safety of the train?

Each biome brings its own flavor of challenges and NPCs. Bandits will steal your resources, while camels will drink your water. Snow slows you down while the heat of the desert makes the train hotter faster. There is even a space biome where the train and bucket provide oxygen in a sphere around them!

Trains in space!

Unrailed plays exceptionally well, it initially seems very lightweight but opens up with more depth as you progress with an ever-increasing challenge and access to new upgrades. Teamwork and communication are integral to success in addition to good planning.

The Bad

Unrailed is an early access title which by definition means it is unfinished. There are five biomes and once you reach the last one, it’s simply a matter of how long you can keep the choo choo chugging before you inevitably fail. The game is not playable alone at all, you need at least one other player either online or beside you to play couch co-op.

The descriptions of the various wagons and upgrades aren’t always super clear. It always took a few tries to understand what it was I just purchased. At one point we bought a milk cart, it took half a run to figure out I had to attach animals to it. Then I had a horde of camels surrounding the train that got in the way and ended up costing us the run. This won me a rather eloquent tongue lashing from my partner about there being, and I quote, “So many ******* camels.”

Unrailed screen flipping
This image is not flipped, this biome frustratingly flips and tilts the screen randomly.

A couple of the biomes are problematic. It’s difficult to see what’s going on in the snow biome. Simply because the snow makes it hard to figure out where the actual rocks are and which ones can be mined. Another biome adds a quirk of tilting and straight-up flipping the screen upside down. Most of the difficulty curve feels gradual and consistent. Flipping the screen felt artificial and was frankly not entertaining.

And the Verdict

Unrailed is a solid cooperative title with a very unique concept. For the most part, it’s a smooth ride. It just has a few rough spots that are common with an early access game.

I really enjoyed its simplicity mixed with strategic intensity and constant teamwork. You always need to think several moments ahead. Do you have time to kill that bandit? Build that bridge to grab that extra bolt? Can we buy a new wagon or do we need to move on and slow the train down?

Unraield desert
The desert causes the train to overheat much quicker.

Each of the 5 biomes brings a distinct flavor and set of obstacles. Even if I enjoyed some more than others, I can’t deny how different each of them felt and I’m very excited to see more of them as the game progresses. It’s disappointing that you can’t play single player at all, but games such as Unrailed are rarely entertaining when running solo anyway.

The procedural generation makes Unrailed very replayable and you are always able to try new strategies with the upgrades you purchase. If you want some quick to learn but intense co-op fun. Unrailed is worth the price as is, and has plenty of room to grow in the future.

You might also enjoy my reviews of Overcooked 2, Tools Up and BFF or Die.

If you enjoy Gideon’s Gaming and want to help out, buy me a coffee via Kofi!

Pros

  • A fresh take on the frantic co-op concept
  • Simple to learn, hard to master
  • Difficulty settings present
  • The core gameplay is fun, chaotic and rewards teamwork
  • Each biome is unique
  • Plenty of upgrades and new wagons

Cons

  • No option to play alone
  • Descriptions of new wagons and upgrades aren’t always clear
  • Some biomes have visual issues and flipping the screen feels like an artificial increase in difficulty instead of a consistent one

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