November 28, 2023
Last Train Home is a historically adapted game that takes place over 100 years ago in the wake of World War 1. While the great war is over, the fight still continues with civil war breaking out as a legion of Czechoslovak soldiers struggle home on a train. It’s also worth mentioning that the journey is over 9000km. This certainly isn’t your average commute but how does a real-time strategy game fair on an Everest of a journey? Considering current world events, playing a game set after World War 1 has been quite an uncomfortable ride and one has to wonder if releasing this might’ve been delayed out of respect.
Real-time strategy games have always been popular for their focus on resource management, tactical decision-making, and planning moves wisely, providing players with a truly immersive experience. I’ll admit my experience with them has fallen by the wayside of late so my time with Last Train Home was in many ways a re-education as it was also a reintroduction to the genre. Before this majority of my time in the RTS genre was been spent with the Age Of Empires series. Thematically, Last Train Home is the first World War 1 RTS I’ve ever played.
Last Train Home is a historical reimagining of a 9000km journey made by Czechoslovak soldiers after the end of World War 1. On paper, a train ride home from the atrocities of war should be a walk in the park, except that park is Serbia, which is in the middle of its own heated civil war. Players start out learning the ropes on the train and how to survey the areas around the train line as you race towards Moscow. Managing the train takes some learning and this makes for an equally challenging coupling with the combat sections. When you’re not moving the train forward, you have squads of soldiers at your command. They’rr able to scout ahead, gather resources, trade and even drop into local Pubs to boost morale. After learning the ropes, Moscow is where the real shit starts to go down. After an uneasy standoff, the trains forces are fractured and it’s up to you to command the group and help find a way out of Moscow as well as another train.
I’ll admit the learning curve in the game was my most formidable opponent before the Russians. Management games are all about mitigating resources and stocking up where available and Last Train Home isn’t about to hold your hand. Players who know the RTS genre will likely take this in stride, but I found that even the tutorial sections weren’t enough to give me confidence in the game to complete the train upkeep and tend to wounded soldiers. The game’s UI does inform the player of the current stock levels of food, fuel and other resources but I was caught short on fuel the majority of the time. Having to deploy a squad to go rouse supplies became a necessary way to ensure the journey continued but often the struggle then became finding the desired resource. Some locations would have very specific resources meaning your squad would need to travel further to find the desired materials. This is likely due to my own inexperience in this kind of game but still it felt as if I was purposely being punished for my lack of knowledge.
“Early on, stealth becomes your friend.”
Last Train Home is a difficult game, too. There are multiple difficulty levels but even on the lowest setting, it is still easy for the systems to overwhelm you. The custom mode does help a lot, allowing for damage multipliers on enemies and even allowing longer to revive dying soldiers in combat but it’s still an uphill ride. Early on, stealth becomes your friend. If you can sneak in and steal resources or other supplies then you’ll find yourself more prepared and often have the element of surprise.
Last Train Home does feature quite a lengthy campaign as well with missions available to the player along the way. Using stealth becomes the main strategy as I mentioned earlier. Oftentimes planning out an encounter and positioning your troops ahead of time is most beneficial to your success in the eventual battle. The game forces you to understand just how gruelling this journey across Serbia was for troops that were already worn from the Great War.
As you do complete missions, your soldiers begin to level up too. This process happens after the encounters where the involved soldiers earn exp, but then you’re able to further give several an extra bump of exp in the form of a medal. Seeing the game lean into the exp process with their own spin was really rewarding to me as a player. Rewarding the soldiers who not only did really well but also were integral in a combat encounter felt really good.
Along the way, the train also undergoes improvements. After some early story developments it was interesting how attached I became to this relative barracks on wheels. I would’ve liked to see a bit more functionality in this space. At present, there were periods where I wouldn’t alter anything on the train till there was an issue at hand such as a breakdown. As a player, having to manage these events often posed a choice that would effect things later down the track.
I was quite impressed by how cinematic the game’s story is though this may also work against it. With the focus being on these impressive live-action scenes it was quite underwhelming to come back to the visual novel-style scenes. It feels as though the live-action scenes were a little bit of overkill that raised the bar a bit too high for the rest of the game’s narrative inserts. I would’ve much preferred a HBO miniseries of this story and yet I’m remiss for having to wade between the cutscenes by participating in gameplay. As separate entities, I see the game and the scenes as having more of a chance to stand on their own but it has to be applauded that the live-action scenes do build out this world in a way your usual cinematic might not be able to. The attention to detail in them with the actors looking like carbon copies of their illustrated counterparts was a highlight.
Last Train Home is certainly a long-haul game. It’s not for everyone, but there is solace in how an RTS game handles the historical source material with care and consideration. To depict a journey of over 9000kms is a mammoth task and yet the developers have humanised this band of sprites with a narrative and personality much unlike any other management game out there. While it’s a difficult one, the game does allow players to adapt the systems somewhat, but resource management is a hard task without significant in-game experience.
- Narrative drives the gameplay
- Live-action cutscenes could be a movie
- Many options to alter difficulty and playstyle
- UI is very tedious to learn and navigate
- Steep learning curve
- Limited train functionality past random events
War never changes; trains are always going to be running late, though. Last Train Home lets players experience the trials of band of soldiers on a 9000km journey home. This management game is no walk in the park and considering the subject matter this is for the best. If you’re familiar with RTS games then this is going to hit that sweet spot just fine. If you aren’t familiar with the genre but find the narrative compelling then be ready to play stealthy and fiddle with the difficulty settings. Last Train Home requires time but if you’re willing to persist and jump on the train, then this ride might find space within your real-time strategy game library.