The Xbox One is about to enter its twilight years, making publishers more than happy to release niche titles on the system. If something offbeat isnâ€™t going to find an audience now, it never will.
Tracks – The Train Set Game is a perfect example, giving the chance to create, customise, and decorate a wooden trainset before getting behind the controls and pootling around your latest creation in first-person. Apart from the â€˜Passenger Modeâ€™ providing timed missions to work through, such as picking up passengers â€“ simple wooden toys who hobble around â€“ and dropping them off at stations, thereâ€™s no campaign or story. Youâ€™re simply presented with a blank canvas to create the trainset you never owned as a child.
In addition to model enthusiasts, the developers were presumably hoping to appeal towards fans of Minecraft, Roblox and other construction games that allow imaginations to run wild.
While the toolset has its limits, itâ€™s still possible to create colossal trainsets with towns, farms, industrial areas and more. Trains have customisable colour schemes, and itâ€™s also possible to alter ground textures and the time of day. If only there was a way to directly share creations with other players. Right now, the only means of showing off your efforts is via the usual streaming services.
The tutorial is text-based and pleasingly brief, and while there is a learning curve â€“ mostly involving mastering the controls – it isnâ€™t too steep. Weâ€™re talking around 30 minutes of experimentation here.
Some thoughtful touches help keep you on track, quite literally in some instance, such as junctions generating automatically and a handy reminder of when progress was last saved.
Menus are rather bland, however, being more functional than flashy. At least nothing is locked away, with all items, environments (a choice of five are available, including a bedroom), and customisation options available from the outset. Some hidden depths also soon come to light, including a basic music editor for creating bell chimes.
Visually itâ€™s curiously appealing, too. The woodgrain textures are sharp and detailed, while trackside decorations are appropriately toy-like, unified by a quaint 1960â€™s village feel. You can almost imagine Wallace and Gromit taking a stroll down the high street. Or maybe a horrible goose.
Itâ€™s even possible to give your creation a Christmas makeover, changing the weather to snow (fog density is another option), adding strings of lights to shops and houses, and coating the train and carriages in gingerbread. Itâ€™s odd that this idea isnâ€™t expanded on fully â€“ a tall Christmas tree is the only festive trackside decoration (unless you count an igloo). Where are the snowmen, candy cane ornaments, and stacks of presents? Perhaps we should be grateful for the twinkling Christmas lights.
Still, and in general, a bigger assortment of items really wouldnâ€™t go amiss. Thankfully, it seems the developers are planning new content â€“ thereâ€™s already a â€˜pre-developmentâ€™ tab with water and other WIP textures still undergoing testing. This alone makes us confident that Tracks has a bright future.
The afternoon we spent creating a trainset was reasonably pleasant, placing items to make a town with a parade of shops and a circus, all while experimenting with bridges and such. But upon returning later we were at a slight loss at what to do next, having already seen everything on offer. The achievements are stupidly easy, lessening the replay value, and the additional environments donâ€™t really add much to the experience, save perhaps for a slightly different atmosphere and some clutter (furniture) to build on top of.
A vivid imagination is strongly recommended, as like other construction games before it, the only way to get the most out of this package is to constantly think of new themes and layouts.
Fortunately, Tracks has been available on PC (via early access) for some time. If ever in need of inspiration, the PC community has already created sizeable cities, seaside towns, and other scenic locations. If spending the cold winter evenings tinkering with trains and toy towns sounds enticing, jump onboard. This is about as innocent and inoffensive as gaming gets.