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Game Info:

Bounty Train
Developed by: Corbie Games
Published by: Daedalic Entertainment
Released: August 25, 2015
Version reviewed: Build ID 745637
Available on: Windows, Mac OS X
Genre: Simulation, role-playing game
Number of players: 1
Price: $24.99

Thank you, Daedalic Entertainment, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

Imagine this – you own a train and it's the mid-1800s. Your job is to ship people and freight all across the developing nation, maintain a crew, and fight off bandits and Native Americans. At the same time, you need to find your siblings and gain control of the company that your father started. If that weren't enough, your travel will be impeded by events that shape the nation, including a brutal civil war.

Does that sound interesting? That's the premise behind Bounty Train, the debut game from the Canadian company Corbie Games. On top of the delicious premise, the game is coupled with gorgeous graphics and a wonderful soundtrack that fits the time period quite well!

It's just too bad that the game runs out of steam almost as soon as it hits the rails.

The game sports a nasty difficulty spike right off the bat. I started three games, and in all three of them I failed to make it into the fourth city, simply because I ran out of money, and opportunities to make more.

You play Walter Reed, an Englishman who has inherited a train and a couple railroad cars from his father. Starting in Portland, Maine, he needs to find his siblings in order to complete his father's dream of creating the first intercontinental railroad – preferably without disturbing the natives in the process. You can do this by completing quests, which will give you experience and money. You also can get money by purchasing cargo from some cities and selling them for a profit at other cities. In addition, you will have to deal with attacks and ambushes from bandits and Native Americans as you travel the rails. 

Bounty Train
Highlights:

Strong Points: Good graphics and music; interesting premise; historic elements helps with educational aspects
Weak Points: Difficult game, even when not on hardcore mode; some wonky AI issues; occasional issues with starting up
Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco references; violence

Unfortunately, making money is easier said than done in this game. For starters, you have to pay to unlock some of the rails. You only start with $500, and although you can pick up quests from the beginning of the game, a lot of these will require you to travel to cities you do not have access to at that point in time. After your first fight, you'll discover that you need to hire others in order to defend your train. If you – or your allies – take damage, you have to pay to get them healed, and if one of your hirelings gets killed, you'll have to try to hire another one. Or two. If you fail to deliver cargo in time, you'll take a steep penalty and lose money that way, too. And, of course, there's the constant demand for fuel – you need coal to keep your train going. To top it off, there's the constant time pressure looming over your head – not just of the quests you pick up, but you need to meet various destinations in a timely fashion in order to keep the main quest going. Sadly, with all the time pressure and the purse strings constantly getting tighter no matter how hard you try, the game turns out to be more frustrating than entertaining. Although the news feeds about states seceding and other historical events are nice, they turn out to be more unnecessary distractions than efforts to immerse the player in the game world. 

Fortunately, the developers seem to be aware of the problems and, as the game is still in early access, are working to balance things out. A patch was actually implemented while I was writing this review. I started a fourth game, and was able to progress quite a bit further. Quest opportunities were more relevant to the areas I had unlocked, and I was able to pull in more money and experience from delivering people to different destinations as well. There are still some rough patches – some of the randomly-generated combat encounters seem too ruthless – but at least it's easier to make money than it had been. I would imagine the game will continue to have additional improvements as they get more feedback from players. If they want to really emphasize the educational elements of the game, different difficulty modes might be a good idea, so younger players won't get overwhelmed and frustrated at some of the more difficult elements of the game. 

In combat, the AI could use a little work, too. I've had it happen where I give one of my characters an order to shoot at an opponent, and he just stands there dumbly, continuing to take damage, without even trying to fire back. It's possible that this could be indicative of the character being stunned or scared – if so, a little icon indicating his state would be appreciated (now that I think about it, that would be kind of a cool mechanic to put into the game – after all, the grizzled soldier should be able to keep a cooler head in a fight than the merchant – both characters that you could hire to help you on your trip). 

Bounty Train
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 72%
Gameplay - 12/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 88%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

In addition to juggling economics, fighting bandits, and trying to make deliveries on time, there also are four different factions to consider. These are the Indians (Native Americans), bandits, the Union, and the Confederates. I would imagine that the last two factions will come into play later in the game, once the civil war is in full swing. As for the former two, it seems that there are very few options to improve your reputation with these groups, and when encountered, the only option is to attack, which lowers your reputation. Perhaps this faction system is another aspect of the game that will be patched up in the future.

I did have the game lock up on me a couple of times when starting, and I had to force-quit and restart Steam to get the game to work again. Although the game never crashed on me, getting it to begin sometimes was an issue. 

From a moral standpoint, the game is surprisingly solid, especially given the subject matter. People do get killed in the game, but merely fall over and lie on the ground. It is possible – and encouraged – to trade alcohol and tobacco, but the usage of such substances isn't displayed in the game. Bounty Train also is, surprisingly, vulgarity-free from what I've seen so far. Given the subject and the difficulty, I'm pleasantly surprised with how kid-friendly the game has been. It's possible that smuggling elements could be introduced in the game as well, since some of the cargo indicates that the items may not be allowed in certain cities. But I have yet to run into this as an option.

So, Bounty Train is an interesting mashup of edutainment, real-time strategy, economic simulation and role-playing game. It shows quite a bit of progress in this early access stage, but still needs more work before I feel I could whole-heartedly recommend it. I look forward to seeing how it develops, though!

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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