Games centred on the theme of war usually amass to the typical Michael Bay-style epic actioners with the likes of the Call of Duty franchise. Then there are those few instances of video games which incorporate intelligent gameplay loops and meaningful practices to deliver emotional, character-driven ventures that examine the horrors of conflict. And it’s even rarer to see games which focus strongly on tactical gameplay with punishing grit and brutal engagement. So, when Last Train Home premiered earlier this year, it piqued my interest with its mix of varied RTS components, Commando-style gameplay, and of course, Trains!
Did Last Train Home arrive in spectacular style? Or was it worse than being delayed for 4 hours?What is Last Train Home?
Last Train Home is an epic period piece, centring on the fallout of the Great War (or WW1 before WW2 came along). Having seen the horrors of the war, from the rat-infested trenches, massive loss of life and vast decay or ruin having taken over, a legion of Czechoslovak soldiers have only one thing on their mind, to come home.
However, they have one final frontier to cross, equalling a journey over 5000ml to the glory and warmth of their homeland and loved ones. Doing this by foot is surely impossible, so the best course of action to take is to complete the journey by train. Mixing RTS elements, and train management gameplay, Last Train Home offers an insightful and engaging venture through hardship, trauma and death to reach what everyone holds dear in their heart. A safe place to call home.
So, imagine this the most intelligently, methodically constructed version of Metro: Exodus (fantastic game by the way), or a WW1 version of The Animals of Farthing Wood (a rather haunting British children’s animated show from the 90’s). But much, much harsher in the grand scheme of things.
Last Train Home doesn’t mince words, or actions, and delivers a thoroughly thoughtful, yet at times devastatingly hard venture to overcome. With compelling Real-time strategy gameplay and intense resource management, Last Train Home became one of the most ruthless experiences I’ve played with intense tactical decision-making, which made for a truly immersive and rewarding experience. All aboard to freedom
The historical reimagining of a journey home through war-torn states by Czechoslovak soldiers has all the right notes to it. And while riding a train home over a grand scale of atrocities and post-war decay, along with civil war aftershocks shouldn’t be a cakewalk, it is indeed a fantastic setup for a tightly woven strategy game where every decision matters. Last Train Home covers the journey through multiple means, be it managing your locomotive towards home, and the people on board. But then stopping to find fuel and other resources, to push forward through the harshness of Russian landscapes.
You are introduced to the various mechanical counterparts which eases you in, from managing your train and the people to making a stop to find supplies to move on forward. You will aid your troops on the train, providing care both physically and mentally to ensure when the train makes that next harrowing stop, they will brave the cold and unknown to do what’s needed. But as the journey continues, the challenges will intensify.
Everyone has a purpose in Last Train Home, which kept management on the train engaging, as you would oversee all the different roles, from the stokers who shovel coal into the furnace, engine workers, the cooks to prepare food, and of course the doctors to heal the sick and wounded. But a game focused on resource and people management wouldn’t be so, without factors such as hunger and rest being involved. And even things such as working shifts through the night and day, also count towards your routine. Making for a fascinating and immersive management experience that really does pay off when everything comes together.
Although I was hoping there would be more dynamic events during the train sections, as you do get from time to time the odd rupture in the engine, a leaking pipe and so forth. But nothing truly dramatic and fierce. I’m not expecting a train-on-train fight, but something like a saboteur sneaking on board and setting a bomb would have been immensely heart-pounding, and still be in keeping with the tone.
You can start to see the intense and at times, overwhelming nature of Last Train Home. And yes, I can see many people already breaking into a cold sweat just by reading the above list of duties for the train, before learning of the combat/exploration sections when the train stops. But the formula is rock-solid, and when everything clicks together, it just plays out so beautifully.
Making a stop for search for resources has its own barrel of laughs, as you command squads to go out and scout, gather resources, trade with locals brave enough to risk life and limb for some coin, and even manage to grab a quick pint at the only standing pub to help boost morale a bit. But venturing out also has its risks, encountering those who see you as a threat, and will willingly open fire, to wound or kill. And from time to time, even harder decisions must be made, impacting things on a narrative level.
Even with the lowest difficulty, Last Train Home provides a gruelling journey, of managing hardships and making tough choices. Which in the grand scheme of things, made for the most engrossing adventure I could ask for. It was heartbreaking having to cruelly manage the well-being of my troops, deciding who gets the last bit of aid, and having to send them out to potentially die at the next stop.
But the sense of comradery and surviving each encounter with the rogue red army, fleeting diseases, hunger, and the cold, made the journey and the end of reaching home, all that more bittersweet. Plus the gameplay loop of train management and scavenging really does flow quite well, as one lends into the other seamlessly. And the cinematic styling of the world and story will keep you invested in the people in your care until you reach the end of the line. The long journey home
Last Train Home presents a rather lengthy campaign, that is beautifully presented, oozing with gravitas and being highly cinematic overall. Everything from sound design, graphical fidelity, and story presentation, all meant I had visually stimulating, if not depressing, to embark on. And the live-action cut scenes, added a nice layer of cinematic drama, without feeling out of place, and captured the great quality of the product, like something from an HBO drama. The UI itself is fine, if not a little tedious to navigate at times, and while not cluttering the screen, can be a little strenuous on the eyes, especially for someone like me who hooks their laptop to a TV to play their games.
But what also makes Last Train Home seem like a grand epic, so dense and utterly compelling, is the intimacy and depth of mission planning and execution. From start to finish, no matter how well you evolve your squad and the train home, you will be taking each step and action with the utmost care and consideration.
Stealth is a massive saving grace early on, but also benefits later in the game, even when you upgrade your gear and soldiers to better tackle the threats ahead. There’s a great sense of progression for your troops and locomotive, and the scale of threats does increase significantly, always keeping you on edge. Even the XP system has its own little twist, where you can award metals to soldiers, giving them a much-needed boost and improvement in their field. Upgrading the train felt quite wholesome, seeing your work go into the vessel that was taking you home in neat visual perks and cues.
Where I feel Last Train Home falters is with the combat, which doesn’t rally much for innovation, or generally feels somewhat underwhelming and unbalanced at times. While I do understand this is going for a more grounded sense of combat like many other RTS games, it just doesn’t do anything to make each fight enthralling, and instead, a few small issues here and there make them a little annoying.
AI can be dumbfounded for both enemies and allies, while the game decides to spike the difficulty just to introduce gauntlet-style moments, which drain your resources. And scavenging for resources, needed for the train or now can either provide much-needed hope or completely cut you down. This, along with the steep learning curve is what can make Last Train Home a rather daunting game, even just writing this, I’m breaking out into a cold sweat.
Last Train Home does indeed offer engaging risk, and reward gameplay, with challenging obstacles that feel immense once you’ve finished them. Yet there is a sense of grind to many of these combat encounters, particularly in the late game which does feel too demanding, and even with a couple of small mistakes, you will find yourself in a situation which feels like an endless minefield. You can indeed power through and depending on what resources you find, your chances will improve. But when the spike in difficulty comes from nowhere, or resource management depends on prior knowledge of where key items are, then it does feel somewhat of a sucker punch to the gut.
Especially when the locomotive and troop care is much more interesting on so many levels, be it providing morale, ensuring medical supplies and food are in stock and just the vibe of being on the train is something else. But don’t get me wrong, there are some great missions which do pop up in the campaign, taking you to different places and tackling various situations. It’s just the difficulty of combat, can be rather infuriating.Overall?
Never again will I complain of a lame train journey home after traversing the 5000-mile venture in Last Train Home. The gruelling hardships presented here are on another level, making for a heartbreaking yet highly rewarding adventure. The mix of train management, troop management and scavenging gameplay brought about a highly engaging experience, that made you think about every choice you had to make, and think 5 steps ahead for the betterment of your people and locomotive. While it would have been neat to see more dynamic events, a learning curve is much less steep, and a little less for the difficulty spikes. In the end, I still really enjoyed Last Train Home for its grand presentation, and compelling mix of gameplay elements, and the management side was totally engrossing and enriching from start to finish.
It's a tough game, one that can and will break you eventually. But like the long journey home, it’s worth the hardships overall, to experience a fantastic RTS experience rarely seen nowadays.
++ Great presentation and storytelling.
+ Engaging and thoughtful management gameplay.
+ Highly rewarding and enriching tactical gameplay.
-- Steep learning curve.
- Some immense difficulty spikes and clunky combat.
- Could have used more interesting dynamic events.
A review key of Last Train Home was kindly provided by publisher THQ Nordic.