While fighting a losing war in a conflict that destroyed much of Italy, Mussolini was proud of the fact that his trains still ran on time. Now, you might be thinking: “There’s really no academic proof that Mussolini said that”, or “Why did you open your review for a transport management game with a quote from an Italian dictator?”. To answer the latter: even in a Europe devoid of any conflict or war, in Transport Fever my trains definitely did not run on time.
The crux of Urban Game’s Transport Fever is efficient route management and urban planning. Beginning in 1850’s Europe or America, the player builds a massive transport empire over a large map. In a game spanning 150+ years, new developments and vehicle types are unlocked to help the growth of your burgeoning empire. Over time, the beautifully detailed vehicle models rust and decay as they get older, indicating a need for upgrade or replacement. The attention to vehicular detail is stunning; the 120 vehicles are all passionately rendered, and it really helps to convey the atmosphere of the game. Transport Fever offers a nice campaign in both European and American themes, both routes are narrated nicely and they help to introduce players to the mechanics of Transport Fever. However, therein lies my first problem with game: none of the first missions (nor the tutorial) explain how to manage multi-track routes. This mechanic is critical to the game, yet is never explained by the tutorial. I had to look through multiple guides to understand how switches and junctions affected the behavior of my trains.
On to my second issue with the game: making money is far too easy. On easy and medium difficulties I had already accrued more money than I could ever be bothered to spend by 1890. I spent over half of the game spending carelessly because the current economic system doesn’t present much of a challenge. The real challenge and enjoyment comes from making sure all of your lines are as profitable, and functional as possible. Over time, cities will grow and develop around your transport industries. These growing cities will demand more service forcing you to expand your current stations and lines. In my most populated city, I had to bulldoze half of the roads because I didn’t anticipate the natural growth of the city and roughly 200 people had built houses inches away from my station. The cities grow with the services that you provide them, this mechanic is wonderful and I wish more games did it. If you deliver industrial materials, only the industrial sector will grow, if you deliver goods, only the commercial sector will grow. Everyone has workplaces and preferred shopping outlets, some cities may have developed a larger industrial sector and as a result many people travel across the country to work there. I once had a man take my cross continent supersonic plane because he wanted to shop in Normantown. Transport Fever forces players to adapt and predict the requirements of a growing city. I can’t credit this system enough, it honestly feels like you’re developing a living breathing train set.
As a historian, I can appreciate the love and appreciation Urban Games has put into the history of Transport Fever, however there are a couple of fumbles: plastic and oil, for example, are available as industries from day one in 1850. In reality, both of these industries did not exist until the turn of the century.
Aside from the sparse tutorial, monetary difficulties, and some historical gaffs, Transport Fever is a definite improvement from the previous Train Fever. The improved track laying mechanics and the diverse sets of planes, trains, boats, and cars are beautifully rendered. The natural growth of cities over time as a reaction to the players is amazing. Transport Fever (much like a real fever) has kept me up for a few sleepless nights while I planned out new lines and watched my virtual train set in action.