The US might lag behind much of the industrialized world when it comes to public train transportation, but there’s no question we’ve got an awful lot of freight on rails over here — and playing a game like this helps one appreciate just how complex it might be to manage it all. Train conductor 2 casts the player in the role of a beleaguered conductor responsible for guiding trains through interchanges in Miami, New York, Nashville, Las Vegas, and across the Grand Canyon. Trains flow into these locations by the dozens, from two directions, and wouldn’t you know it but none of them enter on the same tracks they’re supposed to exit on. Managing one logistical nightmare after another is the task around which The Voxel Agents’ latest offering revolves.
Luckily, building connection tracks to guide a locomotive to its intended destination is as easy as tapping the train and swiping toward whichever track you desire to redirect it to. A successfully guided train nets one point on the player’s score bar, whereas a train that exits off course will subtract one point. What’s interesting here is that letting a train exit on the wrong track is less often a player error than it is a strategic choice of last resort for averting collisions, just one of which will spell “Game Over” and kick the player back to the level select map.
While a skilled veteran is welcome to handicap him-or-herself by trying to guide trains on the fly as they pass through, the unseasoned player will probably take advantage of the ability to stop each train onscreen and let it sit without penalty until a decision is made on how to progress. Even when all trains are stopped new ones regularly flow in, giving rise to impressive traffic jams that take serious amounts of care and brain power to unravel. Adding to freedom of play is a virtual button that switches between the game’s default speed and “fast forward.” While the game integrates Facebook score comparison and ranking functionality, Train Conductor 2‘s intuitive and free-form gameplay style is its biggest draw.
As might be expected of a casual puzzler, there’s precious little story or scenario to be found here, but the game does sport some shining personalities: those of the levels themselves. Rather than simply up the ante with more and longer trains as the player progresses, The Voxel Agents decided to use progress as an opportunity to expand on the basic premise. Sometimes this takes the form of geographical obstacles or multiple train types, but two levels throw the rulebook out completely and offer fun diversions with a supernatural bent. A painstakingly thorough – and optional – tutorial accompanies each level, so new twists on gameplay never throw the player for a loop unfairly.
Levels are unlocked one by one in linear fashion but it’s difficult to tell what the unlocking conditions are exactly. Each level appears to continue infinitely until a crash occurs, so oddly enough, failure is necessary to proceed. My guess is the player must rack up a certain number of points before failing in order to unlock the next stage, but the uncertainty I experienced with regard to this aspect of the game weighed on my enjoyment just a tad. After unlocking all the levels within an afternoon’s worth of play I found myself yearning for more specially crafted levels, but for better or worse, one’s extended enjoyment of Train Conductor 2 depends on how much one likes the idea of honing his or her traffic management skills within each of the available environments.
Music quality is mixed, ranging from unfortunately stereotypical boardwalk themes to spooky twangs and electronica I found quite catchy. The Voxel Agents welcome the player to second guess their music with separate control over background music and sound effects, so one can always pull something from an iTunes list before firing the game up.
iFanzine Verdict: A standout addition to the traffic management genre that should appeal both to action puzzle fans and the more methodical crowd thanks to its free-form play. Those in search of a really meaty, long-term experience will likely yearn for more, but it’s still an excellent bargain among lower-priced App Store offerings.