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Voidtrain: All Aboard or Run for the Hills?
Avoid the void? I say YES. Dee says NO.
Dee and I first jumped into the Voidtrain demo when it was offered as part of February's Steam Next Fest. Since the game entered Early Access on May 9th (on Steam, as it's been in EA on Epic for almost two years), I wanted to pop up a small, updated review of our original thoughts on the game. I doubt that I'll ever do a full review after experiencing the demo; I never planned to buy the game myself- and even if I did, I definitely wouldn't drop $29.99 on it.
Voidtrain, as a refresher, sets you up as "...a crew member of an Interdimensional Express Train! Discover a new world full of mysterious creatures, enemies, and places."
Jordan: Graphically, it's a somewhat interesting environment with the whole void+train+weird critters thing. Of course, I can only learn so much from a demo or the two-hour Steam refund period. It strikes me as quite a similar setup to Raft. A bland existence of locomotion through the environment while acquiring materials in a mini-game fashion. For Raft, you hook things and reel them in; for Voidtrain, you air swim out to them on your little safety line. My issue with the two titles is that it's a level of passivity that leaves me VERY bored-I don't have to plan around resource acquisition-instead I stand around, and items mostly come to me/within easy range. (As you progress in the EA game, you can acquire resources easier: by sending out your little AI critters, called Rofleemo, to gather for you.)
Dee: The comparison to the gameplay of Raft is apt in that you advance and build up your vehicle rather than a fixed point out in the world. I liked that it was a train! I imagine building the train up and making it this fantastic, sprawling base.
Jordan: I don't want to nitpick too much about the train because it's my understanding (from dipping in and out of their community Discord) that many upgrades can be done to the vehicle down the line. But you'll find the 'building' aspect significantly limiting: you're here to enhance your train platform(s), and that's it. Also- trains run on tracks. So your 'exploration' only extends so far, though it does increase in range as the game progresses. Crafting was fine- nothing earth-shattering, dependent on work benches, etc.
Dee: There didn't seem to be much variety to the crafting either, though that could be because we only played the demo. The system of researching new recipes and benches was reasonable enough and - at the risk of being too repetitive - reminded me of Raft's system. Which is not a bad thing at all; it works and is easy to understand and progress with.
Jordan: The creatures I saw during the demo were visually interesting. However, while the ones that attacked your train provided a bit of distraction, I fucking hated the noise of the highly active & population-dense little floating dudes. Anytime they buzzed the train, I made a point of murdering them because their noises drove me bonkers.
Dee: Those poor little guys were just trying to live their best lives, and Jordan slaughtered them! My heart hurt for them!
Jordan: All's fair when bored in void! Combat in the game relies on guns, which is never my weapon of choice in any title. Relatively simple fire until dead for the initial critters you encounter- perhaps it skews more interesting once you get access to beefier weapons or more exciting enemies?
Dee: The critters flying around the world were also limited but still enjoyable to me. They were so stinkin' cute. Maybe too cute because I felt bad shooting them for mats. Related to this: the combat. It was... Fine, honestly. The game hands you a gun very early and then introduces a creature who attacks your train shortly after. You shoot it a few times, and it backs off. Rinse and repeat. The good part: the firing of the gun feels satisfying and effective. The bad part: it feels like any attempt at making the combat more complicated or difficult is a tall order. I'm not saying it's impossible, but at least from the demo's gameplay, I don't see it getting more complex than that. To me, that's unfortunate, but maybe to others, that's just fine! The world and underlying story were intriguing. I was interested to know more about this weird, surreal, seemingly endless void you find yourself in. Supposedly there were/are other people out there. That's awesome; I need to know more!
Jordan: You know me, I'm a big fan of napping through lore/backstory/story in my survival titles. I rely on you to point out who we're supposed to rescue, hate, or murder. The cut scenes and the way they conveyed information and moved you along with the bit of story/lore were cute. I find this 'survival' title a little light on relevant survival aspects, though, which seems shameful. It will be the 'nominal survival' dance of "shovel in food, don't die," I suppose. Definitely not something to snag if you're looking for an experience akin to Green Hell or The Long Dark.
Dee: The gameplay loop may become repetitive. The essential survival elements feel limited: slightly distracting in the background, you only think of them occasionally and can resolve them quickly! I don't enjoy that much: it makes them feel like they don't need to be there. So we'll probably put this title in our Nominal Survival subgenre.
Jordan: Or perhaps 'Narrative Survival' -you'll have to play it and classify it for us!
Jordan: In the end, I'm not the target market for the game. This would be a good pickup for someone that enjoys games like Raft or Valheim- reliant on the inclusion of others to have fun- and there's a minimal effort on survival outside of not letting aggressive AI nom on your face. Something to tool around in as you watch Netflix, or a manageable low-key title to play with a partner (co-op of up to four players) that's not into more demanding survival titles or mechanics. Conceptually it also weirdly bugs me to rely on the train and have it be the center of my gameplay- though I wasn't similarly bothered by the airship in Forever Skies. Perhaps because I can steer the latter wherever I want, and the train is more of a one-trick pony?
Judging by the roadmap, the plan is to throw in more (and more) void creatures, train upgrades, side quests, and story. So it may be worth waiting until additional content justifies the price tag. (This is similar to my current stance on Sons of the Forest.)
Dee: Despite some of the negatives we discussed, I had good fun with this one! Any game that hands me a revolver in the first half hour already has my attention, and the mystery surrounding the game's lore helped keep it. I could easily see myself playing more and diving further in - while being cautiously optimistic about the rest.