STATIONflow – Review
Go with the flow
Have you’ve been thinking about your daily commute via the subway lately? In these current times we can’t go out and do it, so it’s kind of the right time to step back and appreciate the little things.
STATIONflow comes out of Steam Early Access in quite the time the world is right now. But this little metro station builder/sim by Tak Fujii and the team at DMM Games is brilliant in highlighting the many things required in making people in metro stations go to point A to point B without much fuss.
Interestingly, STATIONflow has a rather simple, minimalist aesthetic. All the people are simulated in barely animated blobs, with the stations you build doesn’t show walls- it’s like a diorama or a building plan at times. It misses just a bit from being charming, but at least it’s not out of the way.
What’s out of the way sometimes, is, disappointingly, the UI. Some elements like closed station icons are hard to read (the opacity drop makes it hard to read the icon station number is, for example). And it’s very easy to have multiple UI elements layered on top of each other if you place some items to close to each other. Making sure the corridors connect properly, and items rotate and align just the way you wanted, can be a doozy. Corridors sometimes look connected but if there’s no dashed lines when you built it won’t connect.
I wish that there’s also a feature that snaps to a floor grid- not just snapping onto walls or next to existing plopped items.
But when you’re not wrestling with the cumbersome UI, it works like a dream. Plopping items and making the corridors in irregular shapes to your liking works fine.
A cool touch is the soundtrack. The beats are reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century, Dreamcast-era electronica. Simple, subdued, minimalist, and great as heck to have in the background. I love it.
STATIONflow’s goal is simple- make sure your commuters travelling in and out of the metro stations are as happy as possible. The happier they are, the more score you get to unlock more complicated items, and stations stops to connect to make it bigger and serve more people. You have a budget to work with too, so more people getting in and out quick means more moolah. It’s your classic city builder gameplay loop- and it works brilliantly here.
What amazes me is how the escalation of each unlock makes you more considerate of your commuters. Not only do you have to make corridors to connect the train platforms to the many exit points, but you also need to put signage. Ever felt lost in a subway because of little to no signage? Now you get a birds-eye view of how many people share the same frustration. And now you too have to be considerate on where you place your signage. It’s easy to only place signs that works for people who’s going to one specific stop, but not the rest.
And then, you get the many different commuters you need to cater to. Students and regular salarymen and women are fine most of the time. But then you have tourists that needs signage, as explained before. And later you start to get elderly people coming in, who can’t use stairs.
Now if you’ve been saving budget and forcing people to exercise (which is not a bad idea on its own), now you have to reconsider that view. And then later you have to serve people with disabilities that needs lifts. Now you start to panic that you didn’t plan ahead and now you need to spend time figuring out where to squeeze those in.
And then the station expands and now there’s another two train platforms. And then four more entry/exit points. It keeps on continuing. More and more.
What captivated me so much about STATIONflow is it manages to make you realise that, despite a metro station having a smaller scale than a city, there’s still so much that you need to consider in making your station flow well. Seeing the sea of blob flowing like water, in and out of the corridor without much fuss at x3 game speed feels like an amazing accomplishment in and of itself.
And stepping out and looking at the marvel of your well-planned station, or your messed-up labyrinth that somehow people seem to get used to, is satisfying. Even if it’s just floor plans with blob people moving around.
In terms of content, there’s not too much- but this game isn’t about the breadth of content. There are several maps you can take on, each with a different challenge that requires a different approach to your station building. The good thing is there’s a map editor mode where you can create your own maps, and then share on the Steam Workshop. So the amount of levels you can play is not an issue.
It’s a matter of taste. Do you like to keep on building, improving and optimising your station on hours upon hours? It’s the sort of game that definitely let you do that. But it doesn’t take long to unlock all the progression and unlocks and if you play the game as intended. But you can have all unlocks from the get go too. So if you’re here for spectacle or a cool story, this is not the game for you.
STATIONflow definitely scratches the builder/management sim I’ve been having. It’s satisfying to see your planned route works as intended. And the “oh no” moment when I unlocked elderly people but have no room for escalators was a great wake-up call feeling to have. STATIONflow can be both overwhelming and soothing as you hustle through the days. Even when you have no major constructions, you still need to watch if there’s any area needing more signage.
What hampered me a bit is the learning curve needed with the UI. It’s a curveball that can be overcomed, but I wish it was not hill to climb in the first place. But at least the music kept me in the zone, and seeing those blobs ebb and flow through the rush is mesmerising. I enjoy my time with the game despite some faults.
STATIONflow has its rough edges. But at its heart is a competent metro station builder/management sim. You will learn to appreciate the complexity and work of having a well-design station. It may not be for everyone, and it can be a struggle to make the UI work with you. But once those kinks are ironed out (or get used to it), it’s a competent builder/management sim worthy of your time.
Review copy provided by DMM Games. Reviewed on PC