Trains, I love them. Not just any trains mind you, my love is reserved for steam engines. I’ve spent far too much time mindlessly driving the steam engines in two Red Dead Redemption games. I’ve built vast rail empires in Sid Mid Meier’s Railroads. Neither of those quite scratched the itch I have for what trains could be in games. I want to drive a train, sure. But I also want to do something beyond just making the train go “choo choo”. Enter Bounty Train.
Bounty Train tells you that it is very important that you do the campaign rather than just opening up free roam and driving your train about. The campaign is about the young intrepid protagonist, Walter Reed, attempting to buy fifty-one percent of a railway company. I’ll get back to the campaign in a bit since it doesn’t affect gameplay in any major way.
On the surface, Bounty Train plays like a commodity trading game. It immediately reminded me of the free version of Port Royale I found online in middle school, only transplanted to the eastern and midwestern United States. The best way to earn money seems to be ignoring the optional missions and playing the economy. Which would be fine, except your train’s measly engine can only pull one car at best. I should have seen this coming. Bounty Train’s marketing is focused on the train’s engine rather than the train as a whole. The phrase “Control true to original locomotives” is true, but only strictly so. Commodity prices are stable enough to make trading profitable. For the most part, you can make good money trading jewelry and steel. Both of these goods are resilient and aren’t highly flammable meaning they’re likely to survive bandit attacks.
Bandits are a complete annoyance in Bounty Train. I’ve found either the encounters to be easily handled or completely overwhelming. What I was led to think was tactical combat, consists of positioning your gunfighters so the one you want to be shot at the most is in front while the rest of your team lazily returns fire. Your crew can’t leave the train which means every shot that misses them is a shot you’ll have to pay to repair later. Plus your train carriages occasionally burst into flames. If an enemy has explosives, you best pray your fighters aren’t in a cargo carriage or the engine. Under the best of circumstances, your repair costs will be a significant portion of what the bandits were demanding in order for you to pass unmolested, plus a pile of time wasted.
Bounty Train is partially set during the American Civil War. This results in a few very problematic moments. The first of which is that the conflict is very whitewashed. Any reference to the war is devoid of any mention of the reasons for the war. Furthermore, there is a section of the main story where your character’s brother won’t let you progress unless you help him smuggle steel from the Union to the Confederate States. Of course, the game doesn’t bother pointing out this makes you both a war profiteer and a supporter of a regime that rose to power because of slavery.
I understand that given the era in which steam trains existed, any historical game will have to make do with the political realities of the time. But let’s not get caught up in the train romanticism that we literally participate in the support of slavery. This was the final straw for me.
Bounty Train is not fun. It’s boring and tedious. The UI is inconsistent, some screens show you the distance to your next stop, others time. I constantly found myself bouncing to the world map screen, which is a convenient loading screen away, to see if I could make the next stop in time rather than find the correct UI.
The game could have been better. The combat should have been closer to the combat of XCOM, trains should be allowed to have more than one fully laden carriage, and frankly, the game should have taken a more serious tone given the times it was dealing with.
Bounty Train retails on Steam for $34.99 which is laughably high for what you’re getting. I managed to get it 90% off during the winter holiday sale. I would pay anything to get the time I wasted playing it back.