Historical RTS Last Train Home Successfully Tracks Management Components With WWI Aftermath Adventure

Last Train Home
Reviewed On
Steam (PC)
Available For

On the surface, Last Train Home is a real-time strategy game with heavy management elements set directly following World War I. But this new title from developer Ashborne Games is actually one of the most unique strategy adventures released in a long time. It skillfully combines squad-based tactical missions in real time with a deep management component where players will need to carefully administer critical but limited resources like food, fuel and construction components to try and keep their soldiers alive and their train moving through a dangerous warzone. There are also story elements to contend with where some tough decisions will need to be made, and a historical plot to tie everything together.

The story for Last Train Home serves to tie the entire adventure together and is based on a true story. Although not completely historically accurate, its plot rings true enough and makes perfect sense in terms of the gameplay. Players take on the role of the reluctant commander of a small component of the Czechoslovak Legion, which was an army of soldiers recruited by Russia to fight for them during The Great War in return for independence as a country. They fought honorably, but following The Great War got stranded in Russia when the Russian Civil War broke out. They were unable to travel directly west to get back home because all of the roads and rails were blocked by the fighting between the Red and White Armies.

Instead, they were ordered by their fledgling new government to travel by train all the way across thousands of miles of the Russian mainland, including the frozen Siberian province, in order to reach the port city of Vladivostok in the east, where they could catch a ship heading home. Last Train Home is the story of one train, the last one, to try and make that impossible journey.

The setup of Last Train Home makes it so that what you basically have is a real-time strategy game on wheels, or in this case, on rails. But unlike most RTS titles where you are conquering territory and moving massive armies forward, your primary concern is simply getting your train through enemy territory in one piece.

The skirmishes that you fight are either to clear the tracks ahead of dangers, to obtain critical resources or to help the Russian people trapped in the middle of their brutal civil war. As such, many of the real-time strategy missions are optional, although skipping them will certainly make the management side of the game more difficult because of passing over the opportunity to collect weapons, supplies or even more legionnaires for your train. Some of the RTS battles are required because your train has to travel on tracks which can be blocked by enemies at key points.

All of the battles are small squad types of operations. Often, they only involve a handful of your soldiers, with a squad having a minimum of three people and a maximum of 10. Soldiers each have specialties which can be used to great effect during missions, and each soldier levels up and gains new and more powerful abilities, so you will really get to know your team as you play. This is especially true for your best soldiers, your “A-Team,” which you will likely be calling on repeatedly for the most difficult missions. It’s good to also nurture newcomers you find as you travel in case some of your veterans get injured or killed, but most players will probably come to rely on a core team of experienced soldiers for most critical missions.

There are several combat roles, each with unique special abilities to keep the tactical combat interesting. For example, the scout troops can use binoculars to reveal some of the hidden parts of the map and eventually can learn advanced camouflage and sniper skills. Grenadiers meanwhile can toss grenades and plant explosives while machine gunners lay down barrages of fire but need a few seconds to get their weapon set up for maximum effect. Riflemen are the core of most squads and are able to travel speedily across the map, eliminating enemies stealthily with their knives or skillfully with precision shooting. Finally, medics heal injured team members and can learn skills that buff friendly troops in a large radius all around them.

Your primary enemy in Last Train Home is going to be the Red Army soldiers. They can have the same skills as your troops, so if you see a machine gunner walking around at a checkpoint, you know that if you take him out quickly he probably won’t have time to set up his weapon. Surprisingly to me, the largest number of kills that I made, overwhelmingly, was with knives or bayonets while in stealth. Maps seem designed to support mostly stealth runs, with enemy patrols constantly walking defined patterns over and over. You can click on an enemy to illuminate what he can see (which is a red cone in front of him) and then plot a stealthy path up behind him for a quiet kill. Especially using riflemen with their speed boost and maybe a scout for spotting trouble at a distance, skilled RTS players can likely conquer the majority of many missions without firing a shot.

While the real-time combat interface for Last Train Home is well-made, it also has a lot of little flaws that make it less polished than other similar titles. For example, enemy soldiers don’t react to dead bodies, so if you quietly kill someone while his fellow soldier is off having a smoke, when that individual returns, he won’t think anything of the fact that his friend is lying there dead in a pool of blood. In fact, he will try to keep talking with him as if nothing happened. Solders also don’t react to firefights that take place fairly close to them. On one mission I ended up going loud and using grenades and a machine gun to wipe out a roadblock, and when it was all over, I found another enemy soldier right around the corner standing there as if nothing had happened, just waiting for me to walk over and knife him while he looked down the street in the opposite direction. Those kinds of odd interactions sadly happen a lot during the RTS missions as the enemy AI is not very smart.

The tactical combat in Last Train Home is actually only one part of the overall experience. The other area where players will spend most of their time is with the train management tasks, which I very much enjoyed. You need to carefully manage most aspects of your train, which includes stopping from time to time to send squads out on foraging missions to find food, metal, wood, coal for the engine, cloth and sometimes other special equipment. Squads on those missions do not fight in real time battles, which are instead resolved through story elements that tell you how everything went, and occasionally give players a choice of actions which might affect the outcome one way or another. Once you obtain resources, you need to decide which train upgrades to make, like increasing the living space for more soldiers, insulating cars against the cold, making your engine more powerful or fuel efficient, or lots of other powerful choices. There never seems to be enough supplies to do everything you want, so carefully picking the right upgrades is a key to survival.

You also need to manage where and when people on the train will work. There are jobs like engineers, doctors, cooks and laborers which need to be filled, and soldiers can earn experience and level up based on their onboard jobs just like those in combat. So, you can have someone with a combat role like a grenadier who also cooks food in the kitchen car at night, with the soldier earning experience and rewards for both jobs. Or you can have dedicated train personnel who only work on the train, doing things like researching new weapon upgrades or simply driving the engine, and never going out for combat. And, of course, you can also train pure soldiers who just fight, forage and simply rest up in one of your boxcar bedrooms while not on a mission. Soldiers have limited stamina which needs to be replaced with rest (more quickly if you have upgraded their living spaces) so not everyone can do everything. It’s probably best to have dedicated train staff with separate combat troops if you can spare the manpower, food and space to support that kind of operation.

Finally, there are story elements where you have to occasionally make tough calls, like leaving someone behind or sacrificing critical resources for the good of the group. That part of Last Train Home is not unlike other management games like Surviving The Aftermath or Frostpunk where you need to make difficult decisions, but it’s done particularly well here, especially since you will get to know most of the solders on your train who those decisions will impact.

I had a marvelous time playing Last Train Home. It’s the perfect “just one more turn” or “just one more station” kind of game where the engaging story and surprising missions will keep you playing long past when you planned to stop. The journey east is certainly a long one, but those who like real time strategy, management simulations and compelling plots should enjoy every minute of this unique and exciting historical adventure.

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