What if there’s a city builder where your mode of transport for people to travel far distances are trains and only trains? That’s the pitch for Sweet Transit, a “train-led city builder” from one of devs and 3D artist behind Factorio, Ernestas Norvaišas, and published by Team17.
It’s a simple twist to the city-builder genre: don’t build highways, make a train network instead. And for the lovers of locomotives and games where logistics and automation play a vital part, you’d be in love with Sweet Transit even in this Early Access state. But if you’re a city-builder player who has no idea how trains work like I am, it’s still a fun game, but will require you to bang your head around basic concepts that the game assumes you know already.
First off, Sweet Transit has some sweet graphics. The sprite work done here for this isometric game looks amazingly detailed, bringing life to the world inspired by the wild frontier days of the early 20th century where trains rule the world. It looks great up close at the highest zoom level, and the far-out overview where all the buildings and train network is highlighted in bright colours is mighty useful when you need to see the big picture.
And there’s also something for you Factorio fans. You can see some smoky smog clouding your view thanks to the tank engines and locomotives choo-chooing around. The choice soundtrack really brings out that wild west flavour that colour Sweet Transit’s world.
Gameplay-wise it’s already solid. But can be weird to wrap your head around firsthand. There’s definitely a learning curve. There are efforts made to ensure the curve be as smooth as possible, but there’s still a few bumps in the early game.
So, the first thing you build is a warehouse to store all the goods and materials. Then you pick a place to start your first village. Then you plop down houses individually, and lay down some local roads and other amenities (which includes a House Of Worship, where these folks worship… the Great Train). Then you have to start putting the residents to work by making workplaces. The fishing place is easy to plop as you can just lay down one near the town’s source of water.
But there are other workplaces that are outside of the village. You’ll then need to harvest coal at a mine, and it’s always going to be a place far out of town (it has to, you can’t build mines too near your village). Then you need to start laying down railroads, and build trains, and here’s where the time sink begins.
The city-building aspects of Sweet Transit are well tutorialised, and you will always be guided on what to do thanks to a list of objectives that guides you to unlock new buildings to plop down. Though I don’t feel like it has enough depth to be a satisfying city-builder as it is right now. I hope the balancing act of placing the right buildings at the right places goes, well, places, as your village grows into a town and then a city later down the line.
But what about the train logistics, the heart and soul of Sweet Transit? This aspect feels like one more fleshed-out feature. However, it is not tutorialised well enough. I tried going at the game blind and seeing how much I can figure out how to play the game on my own and it was a rough time. But then as I went through the tutorials, I don’t feel like the game taught me enough, in particular how to build trains and railways.
I wish Sweet Transit splits the train and railway aspects of the tutorial into its own separate lesson, instead of putting them in the “basics” section. Having a dedicated tutorial on city-building is cool, but having a dedicated tutorial on showing players how to build trains, how to design a railway network, and other best practices (like placing two railways adjacent to each other that goes opposing ways) is something I believe would be incredibly useful for new players. Especially when they have no idea how trains work in general.
I strongly believe this can work because there is an example of this already in the game. The tutorial on rail signals, which divides railways into segments so that trains don’t hit each other, is brilliant. It’s an important concept when building railways in Sweet Transit (and from what I gather, works similarly to how it is in Factorio), and the tutorial is very good at teaching you how to use it. I love that it turns into a series of puzzles that you have to solve, that’s a good way to get people to learn it.
I may have been scratching my head a lot when building my first railway network, but it’s the good and sort-of satisfying kind of head-scratching. Sweet Transit operates in systems, and you can learn these systems through trial and error.
Having enough instances of two trains colliding or getting stuck opposing each other on the same track got me to learn how to effectively use those rail signals, and eventually make the railways strictly one-way each track. Not knowing that trains don’t magically U-turn at a terminal station taught me that you can make trains where they can have train heads at both ends, allowing them to drive forwards or backwards (just need to remember to flip the other train head around during construction).
The tutorial for train-building could be better, but what I discovered so far is a very robust system that allows you to create creative and/or cursed solutions for your railway logistics. It made me appreciate the amount of engineering work that’s required to make trains go around, thanks Sweet Transit.
Another aspect I hope Sweet Transit can address during this Early Access period is smoothing out the UI. As it is right now, it’s kind of weird. You never have universal access to all the buildings and amenities you can plop- it’s all localised to specific places. If you want to build something in the village you need to click something on that specific village to access its building menu. This also applies to stations, which have their own modular options you can build.
If you’re building a train station, with the way the UI is designed, it’s implied that you need to lay down the tracks first, then build the station around them. Because you can’t plop down railway tracks while on the station building menu, you need an extra click to get to the railway menu, then click back to the station should you need to fine-tune the station’s modular bits now that the tracks are laid out.
The UI is a bit quirky yet usable. But that doesn’t mean that it cannot be better. Veterans familiar with logistics tycoon games should be able to find all the functions needed, but newcomers might get lost in the UI.
The foundations of Sweet Transit are already rock-solid in this Early Access version. The city-building part is fun although a bit too linear right now. The trains and railways system, the star of the game, is a well-oiled system that’s in-depth and full of potential.
All it needs is a bit more fine-tuning to get city-builder fans on board with learning all the geeky things about trains, and some improvements to the UI to make building stuff more straightforward.
As it is right now, Sweet Transit is on track to be an excellent train builder game and a decent city-builder. Should you jump on board right now? If you are loco for locomotives, you definitely should hop in.
Played on PC. Review key provided by Team17