Neither a sophisticated world-builder nor a faithful train sim, Tracks: The Train Set Game is sort of a digital toy version of that most basic and evergreen of playthings, the wooden train set. I don't know about you, but whenever I see one of those fancy European wooden toy train layouts at my local toy store, it's hard not to be drawn in. The appeal of endless little track pieces and lots of scenic elements with which to play is almost primal. Still in early release, the developers have been adding a steady trickle of new features and pieces to Tracks but there is obviously lots of content yet to come.
There are a couple of ways to play Tracks. There is a free form/sandbox mode with no specific goals and a big empty space, you craft the ultimate toy train set. There is also the Passenger mode, which tasks the player with building an increasingly complex train layout with a number of specific requirements. Multiple station platforms and branch lines, and meeting timetables are made more challenging by building around, over, and through various living room furniture pieces at different levels.
Whether playing in the neutral empty space, the empty space at night, or the living room setting, the player begins by arranging various straight, curved, intersecting, and height-changing sections of wooden track. The layout is playtested in a first-person, inside the locomotive control view. Of course, just a plain track is pretty dull, so the layout can be enhanced by several dozen scenic elements. These include various old-world European-looking buildings, windmills, clock towers, fences, lamps, trees, fountains and more. Everything looks appropriately simple and authentically handcrafted, like something you'd pay big bucks for at the local boutique toy shop. Everything is accompanied by a tinkly lite-jazz piano track that, quite frankly, gets a bit repetitive. Overall, the presentation is excellent.
This isn't Rollercoaster Tycoon, so of course the tracks (despite being free from many physics-based limits like the need for track supports) don't include crazy inverted designs or banked curves. Given the limitation of the wooden toy train aesthetic, Tracks looks lovely, cleanly designed and almost has a Zen-like simplicity. It fits well with the relaxing experience of playing the game. What's missing right now are options, such as the ability to control mouse sensitivity when laying down track, or a variety of design tweaks, like being able to repaint structures. There is no doubt that additional levels and settings will appear at some point before the final release.
I found that meeting the goals in the Passenger mode was unnecessarily frustrating, due to the imprecise and not flexible enough nature of the building process. The frustration wasn't nearly as much of an issue when just endlessly dinking around in the free play mode. There are a number of bugs that still need to be squished and I wouldn't recommend trying to use a controller to play the game.
There are dozens of train, transportation and building sims on the market but Tracks: The Train Set Game has definitely found a very specific niche and is "on track" to filling it quite successfully. It's still just a bit limited at this point in development but indie developer Whoop Group has nailed the look and feel of an iconic toy. With the possible Steam workshop and even VR support somewhere on the horizon, not to mention additional levels, modes and elements to play with, Tracks shows a lot of promise.