by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Cleaning? For Fun?
Judging by its title, Train Station Renovation is not a game that I should like. Trains? I donít ďgetĒ the excitement people seem to have for them. Renovation? If I didnít live with someone else, my bedroom would be filled halfway to the ceiling with unfolded laundry. Simulators? Simulators can be cool, but the tidal wave of ďironicĒ simulators about intentionally mundane things that have flooded the market over the last half decade have made me, at best, skeptical. Now that Iíve spent my time bringing back derelict train stations, Iím happy to admit that, in its own, weird way, Train Station Renovation is a pretty good time.
We at Hooked Gamers just released our Games of the Year articles a few weeks ago. We donít have a category for Most Descriptive Title, but, if we did, Train Station Renovation would be an early favorite for next yearís award. The game opened asking me to name and color the logo for my new train renovation service, then I was off to take care of my first property. Though each station looked different and had a few unique objectives, the general goal and gameplay loop was always the same. When Iíd first arrive, the play would be an absolute dump. Each station has a few different areas or small buildings, and each one starts out covered in busted furniture, random trash (and, to the credit of whatever drifters were making these stations home, some bags of pre-sorted recyclables), graffiti, various environmental hazards, and a bunch more nonsense. From there, each level becomes a sandbox. While there are always a few specific objectives, theyíre always simple and can be done in any order. How to tackle the overwhelming mess is up to the player, and itís in this freedom to improve that the simple endorphin-spiking pleasure comes.
Pick Things Up and Put Them Down Again
The actual clearing and repairing are simple and straightforward. Small pieces of trash and recyclables are automatically stored until a bagís-worth is filled, at which point a colored bag drops and must be put into the appropriate trash or separated recyclables bins. Larger items, like old barrels or tires (why are there SO MANY old tires scattered around these train stations?) need to be carried individually to their proper disposal bins, and the largest debris, like old cabinets or bathroom stalls, get dismantled with your handy crowbar. The crowbar isnít the only tool at your disposal, though. Various tools, including sandpaper scrapers, brooms, wrenches, and paint rollers all serve to clean their various forms or messes, from cleaning cobwebs to sanding rusty rails lines and everything in between.
Thereís a wholesome, almost zen ďvibeĒ that I found myself falling into throughout the course of each station. On one hand, thereís no doubt that the cleaning is repetitive. While each station has a few unique elements, I was sweeping the same piles of cigarettes and hauling the same chunks of concrete no matter where I was. At the same time, though, it just felt good to watch something improve in a measured, recognizable way. Thereís a pleasure to be found in looking around a clean, empty room, and shifting thought away from ďewĒ and towards ďwhat would look good there?Ē Itís not for everyone, and itís not even always for me; there were a few times when I booted up the game and almost immediately turned it off again because it just wasnít the mindspace I was in at that moment. I came to think of it less like a game, and more like a breathing exercise or visualization activity that worked to help me just chill for a little while.
While cleaning is a big part of the game, putting in new decor and making everything look nice is equally important, but, unfortunately, I didnít find the creative portion of the experience to be as relaxing as the deconstructing. Each section of each station (whether it be a separate building, area, or room) has a list of required objects, including things like seating, decorations, office goods, storage, etc. These are acquired via the shopping tab on the playerís tablet. I think that thereís a ton of potential here, but just found it all to be frustratingly bare-bones and lacking in quality-of-life elements that would have made everything work better.
My complaints actually start with performance issues. Iím running this game on a GTX 970, which, while dated, runs everything but the most demanding games at medium to high. During the clean-up phase of each station things ran perfectly smoothly, even with hundreds of interactable items scattered around. Once I cleared them out and started adding in objects from the shop, my framerate was constantly dropping down to 10-15 frames per second. Iím not talking about after Iíve absolutely filled a room with countless objects, either. Iím talking about two or three benches, some plants, and a clock or two. I donít know what was causing this, but it happened in every single room in every single station that I added more than two or three objects to. My first thought was to go into the settings and lower the graphics settings, but, frustratingly and confusingly, all options are only available from the main menu (and changing them later didnít help).
Even when things were working smoothly, I was disappointed with the lack of customization options. Decorations include only a large handful of plants and a bunch of Christmas decor. Wall, floor, and ceiling patterns are uninspired and few. The rest of the categories are similarly bare, save for what is an admittedly nice selection of signage. It would also be nice to get some quality of life features to make placing items easier. There isnít any object snapping except for a few wall elements like clocks, no copy or delete options, and no favoriting items in the shop. That being said, how much time you put into this part of the game is up to you, and itís totally possible to focus elsewhere. While the clearing part is more mandatory, I had no problem hitting the minimum item request in each room, redoing the building exteriors, coloring the trains, and moving on.
Not for Everyone, ButÖ
I give Train Station Renovation credit for being the straightforward, generally pleasant game that scratches a gaming itch that I didnít know I had. While I may have been disappointed with the ďrebuildingĒ half of the renovation process, there was methodical contentment in the cleaning of these abandoned train stations that I quite enjoyed. This is absolutely not a game Iíd recommend to all, or even most people, but, if you know what youíre getting into, itís a solid enough entry in a niche market to be worth some of your time.
Cathartic cleaning, unique locations, no unneeded bloat.
Too few design items and options, some performance issues.