Last Train Home Review
Months before I got the review copy of Last Train Home, I read on countless websites stating that the videogame would be “a mix between Frostpunk and Company of Heroes 3”. The articles made it sound like players would be taking a train ride through the Battle of Stalingrad. It turns out (after playing the game) that they were lying, had never played either one of the titles listed, or just wanted to sound like they knew what they were talking about. In my opinion, I believe the writers regurgitated the press release. But what those articles were alluding to are the game’s two parts: the combat missions and the train management sections. But, before that, a bit of an explanation about the game.
Last Train Home is an RTS/management game telling the fictional story of a Czechoslovak platoon leaving the eastern front of World War I by an armoured train through Siberia to a ship home. Preventing them from passing is a full-blown civil war where shell-shocked Russian soldiers angry about coming home to the dumpster fire that was early 1900s Russia relieve themselves of their woes by going rogue, pillaging everything not nailed down and killing anyone who tries to stop them or get in their way. So, it’s not a stretch to say a train full of food, munitions, and coal travelling down the only railway to Serbia looks like a gold mine to opportunists and cutthroats.
You’ll command a team of troops with different ranks, classes, and abilities to achieve the main objectives of each mission. Fundamentally, these operations have you go from A to B (and even C when it gets spicy), leaving the way you get there in your hands. Riflemen are your generic soldier; next to the support class of medics, heavy machine gunners are used for ambushing and holding ground when the proverbial contacts a mounted Chauchat, and the scout/sniper is used for recon as well as sharpshooting. On missions, you can recruit allies who can become members of the legion if you can get them to the train safely.
The UI and combat can be called a Company of Heroes 3 clone, but only from someone without any knowledge of the RTS genre. It’s the equivalent of saying that Age of Wonders 4 is like Total War: Warhammer III because the over-worlds are similar. Coincidentally, Last Train Home has the same graphics, setting, and strategy as another title based around World War I, Iron Harvest 1920… minus the mechs. Both have characters speaking in their native dialects as the default (fluent, I might add), a well-crafted narrative, and run-ins with people exploiting the war. They also have the same issues as having to select individual members of a squad to use their skills, and troop movements sometimes don’t do what you’re told them to do.
Even though the sound design is very similar, the collaboration between the sounds of combat and the orchestral score works together rather than one overtaking the other. Furthermore, the sound effects and voice acting are my favourite passive storytelling techniques in this game. Every character (both friend and foe), weapon, and atmospheric noise are unique, letting the player learn more about the world as well as identify what’s going on without needing to send a soldier over to see. Even in the live-action segments between chapters, the audio didn’t bug out and was balanced correctly. I really can’t say anything bad about Last Train Home’s audio, a feat I haven’t seen in most games I’ve played this year.
The train management section is split into managing the durability and speed of the locomotive and the open-world map; in theory, the train can’t derail itself and explore the countryside. Staying on track, the gameplay manages to be the easiest thing to get a handle on. Your aim is to keep each carriage supplied by either sending parties out to markers on the map, trading with locals, or finding resources while on mission, as well as maintaining the durability of the train by allocating troops to work in shifts. While each character has a military-based role, they also have a role to play on the train, such as learning to be an engineer or cook.
And finally, the train’s speed dictates how far you are going and how fast you want to get there. Keeping a decent speed will keep the engine running smoothly, but you run the risk of being late for the ship home. Go Mach 1 on the rails, however, and it could end in disaster. I’m not sure why it lets you go full throttle when you could just adjust the speed of the game to go faster.
Returning to the beginning of the review, this is the biggest gripe I have with the articles — and why I said they don’t know their butt from their elbow. In Last Train Home, you have to micromanage the supplies you have, with the ability to give your team full, half, or no rations when food begins to run low. The train can be upgraded to pull more carriages, hold more loot, and insulate the troop carriages so they don’t freeze in their sleep. From these aspects, the writers compared it to Frostpunk. I think that diminishes the impact of Frostpunk as a whole. Last Train Home has a message that even at the darkest of times, when you are depressed, shaken, and worn from conflict and miles away from home, you just need to keep chugging away with the hope of sanctuary.
Frostpunk's message is that you’re only alive because that towering inferno that provides you with the only warmth felt on your frostbitten fingers hasn’t been extinguished by the endless winter, and child labour laws died alongside the majority of life — and that rock isn’t going to mine itself.
To finish off on a lighter note, Last Train Home sets out to do what it wants to do, and that is to tell a story not told before in the Western gaming market. What we are all taught about in school regarding World War I is mostly related to the winning side; this is coupled with a viewing of All Quiet on the Western Front at the end of the curriculum for the same purpose of showing both sides. Seeing a newer perspective shed light on how the war affected different people. But more importantly, Last Train Home is still a videogame; if it doesn’t work as such, it falls into the category alongside 11-11: Memories Retold.
Not once did I have any technical difficulties while playing (something I cannot say about Company of Heroes 3), so I highly recommend this game to anyone interested or a casual gamer. Though, for players interested in faster-paced action, they will grow bored of watching a train move slowly along the map and the strategy of moving troops silently without alerting the enemy.
Ashbourne Games (the developer) should be proud of what it has made.
Last Train Home (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Moral of the review, beware of copy-and-paste news stories and play Last Train Home unless you want a little faster action, you’re an opportunist, a cutthroat, or a Bolshevik.