No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to an arcade. Inside one of Tokyo’s multi-story shrines to gaming you’ll find fighting games that won’t release elsewhere for years, music rhythm games that take hundreds of hours to master, and, uh, train simulators.
You might scoff, but I’ve always been fascinated by the simulation scene (the genuine one, not the one about goats), especially with these giant cabinets, riddled with buttons and switches that I’ll never be entirely sure what are for. There’s something very satisfying about them; a dedication to providing the real experience of something that many people wouldn’t find all that fun. There’s also the allure of exclusivity; you couldn’t possibly ever hope to have one of these in your home.
That is, of course, unless you have a VR headset.
Derail Valley is a game that made me feel like I was sitting back in front of one of those machines, curiously poking at buttons and flicking at switches. It’s not quite the same experience; rather than running a busy line running from city to city, you’re instead shifting cargo in a peaceful countryside, but the same feeling of finding your feet and gradually getting to know the control panel is alive and well here. It just comes with the bonus of feeling like you’re actually in a train which is, y’know, amazing.
A demo for this new game from Altfuture is available now, and it’s coming to Early Access soon. You probably already know if this is your kind of thing or not but, for what it’s worth, I definitely think you should check it out.
Your space in the front of the train fits your room scale specifications. There you’ll have everything you need to get the wheels moving, switch tracks, and couple up carriages. There are also some clipboards to the side to tell you what does what. It’s a brilliantly non-intrusive way of getting you to grips with the game; once you know how to operate the train you won’t have any UI invasions other than a slight visual representation of your controllers. It gives you the sense that this is a game that expects you to know every inch of the control panel, and the intricacies to knowing where and when to use a particular function.
You’ll have to enjoy getting to used to these controls with finesse if you’re going to enjoy Derail Valley as it’s meant to be played. While simply driving the train across a peaceful countryside scene is refreshing, the real game is in the precise, calculated movements you’ll have to make in order to get the ride carriages in the right order.
That requires moving out ahead of a set of junctions, stopping, adjusting the tracks to take you where you can to go, slowly reversing into a carriage you don’t need, pulling it out, switching tracks again, placing it out of the way, then returning and grabbing the one you do need. If that sounds tedious to you then, well, you’ll probably find it tedious, but if you revel in the slight, in the knowing precisely when to apply the breaks and how fast you need to go, then you might get a lot of joy out of Derail Valley.
All that said, there’s also fun to be had in anarchy here. Pushing the train to maximum speed is a thrill, and one that will likely send you spinning off of the tracks. That’s kind of uncomfortable in VR (the train actually topples over), but there’s a hilarious air to the disaster.
What I really like about Derail Valley is how it virtualizes a genre that previously depended on elaborate hardware to play. Oddly enough, it kind of makes me want a new Steel Battalion game too, now that VR can replicate that fantastically busy controller that confined it to obscurity.
The Steam page for the game makes it sound like there’s plenty to come. Taking aspects like weather and track conditions into consideration could make the game an even more methodical experience. I’d definitely like to see the graphics pick up too; there was a lot of pop-in with the build available now, but there’s a ways to go yet.