June 22, 2024
Deep strategy gameplay, engaging decision making and excellent World War 1 atmosphere make Last Train Home a compelling prospect. The Finger Guns preview:

Last Train Home follows the Czechoslovak Legion, a rather forgotten regiment of the First World War. In the aftermath of the Great War, they were stranded in Russia, caught between the civil war being waged by the Reds and the Whites. It’s a period fraught with political turmoil, desperate circumstances for survival, and ruthless brutality.

Which, as it turns out, makes for a fertile setting when it comes to real-time strategy, resource management and hard-hitting combat gameplay. Last Train Home nestles into this period of history with a strong sense of historical precedence and an intense ability to set the stakes as high as possible.

I was fortunate enough to be given a demo build of the game’s first two chapters, showcasing almost all of the elements it’ll be delivering on its full release. There’s only one locomotive remaining travelling through Siberia, is it worth getting a ticket to join this Legion left behind?

Tales From Our Travels

Last Train Home’s approach to storytelling is shaping up to be authentic and relatively hands-on. Dialogue is all delivered in the Czech’s native tongue, lending an immersive feel to the interactions between characters. There’s a mix of in-game and real-time footage used for cutscenes, which was initially jarring but it’s quite well done.

The story itself doesn’t appear to be aiming to move mountains or solve world crises, but it’s competently delivered and there are some engaging touches. As the newly appointed leader of the Czechoslovak Legion, you’ll need to guide your vagabond troops home to Vladivostok. The journey will of course be perilous, fraught with danger at every turn.

Much like similar titles such as XCOM, your units can fall in battle – permanently. As such, the impact of every decision you make feels immediate and powerful. One mistake on the battlefield and that loyal soldier is lost for good.

All of this culminates in a game which synergises the desperate period of history it’s depicting with the in-game choices you’ll have to face. I’m seriously looking forward to every agonising dilemma and the heartbreak of a tactical faux pas causing the loss of a valued member of the team.

Last Train Home preview

Last Calls For Resources

Your voyage to cross Russia and reach safety will, as the title implies, be completed via train. To this end, Last Train Home has a bit of a learning curve to running, managing and properly manning your mobile steel home. There are a variety of resources required to scavenge from points of interest you’ll pass on your travels, requiring the deployment of squads.

Every person on your train has health, stamina and morale to worry about. Send them on too many deployments, they’ll become exhausted. Only provide them with half-rations and they’ll lose health and morale. If morale in particular drops too low, you can fail the game altogether thanks to desertion. Where is the loyalty nowadays?

Between individual unit characteristics and traits, managing equipment and inventories, preparing sorties and configuring or upgrading your train, there’s plenty to sink your mind into. It’s genuinely enthralling, as every decision you make costs precious resources or could be the difference between an extra 20 bits of food, or starvation.

Unlike some other entries into the genre, the strategy and resource elements of Last Train Home feel fleshed out and fully incorporated into the core of the experience. I celebrated a pub trip with my troops to boost morale and lamented when I sent the wrong squad to a lake, as they came back empty-handed.

I imagine the full release will have even more to delve into and explore, and a campaign run is going to be long, so it’ll be interesting to see how early decisions impact later sections.

Last Train Home preview

One Way Ticket To Hell

During my four or so hours with Last Train Home, I was able to partake in around 5-6 battles, each testing me in unique ways. The control scheme is similar to virtually any other RTS, as you select and command your units across a small-to-medium-sized map. Combat is brutal, with a single poor move causing the permanent loss of multiple war-torn survivors.

Each soldier has a unique class, with accompanying abilities. Knowing when to use your Bayonet Charge to storm a dug-in fortress and when to use stealth for silent kills is essential. Go in all guns blazing from the off and you’ll either run out of ammo or expend all of your medical resources. Which, trust me, will go very badly for you.

Objectives varied from capturing locations, to defending villages (or not… it’s your choice), eliminating targets and capturing entire complexes. The strategy gameplay is both very challenging and supremely rewarding, as pulling off a perfect raid with no injuries is immeasurably satisfying. Resource-gathering during missions is also essential, as it’ll replenish your stocks of ammo and other stockpiles, incentivising exploration nicely.

I very much enjoyed the slice of this dense pie, but there were a couple of bites which soured the experience slightly. One is that having more than four or five units on a deployment is a pain, as the game struggles to command them into cover. The second is that a couple of levels almost made save-scumming a core mechanic, as a surprise attack or ambush would just wipe out my squad, but upon reloading, I could just set up in advance of the “surprise”.

Last Train Home preview

Light In The Darkest Of Times

For the purposes of the demo, I played Last Train Home on medium settings. On high, the framerate became unplayable, hitting single digits. There are a lot of moving parts to the game, so it’s fairly understandable, but something to be aware of before embarking. In terms of presentation, Last Train Home is generally very good.

Attention to detail on the maps is excellent, whether it’s a bombed-out city or a village razed to the ground. An effective personal touch is how you can zoom in on your mobile fortress to see soldiers animating as they rest or doing exercises if working. Given the settings I was forced to play on, it wasn’t spectacular in terms of detail, but on high I suspect that issue will be slightly less.

Sound, voice work and the delivery of the overworld map, with journal-like menus and objective screens, bring everything together superbly. Last Train Home is less about celebrating military success and more about appreciating the small moments of life in a world left devastated by global conflict. It really captures the sense of little, everyday victories, which enhances the connection to its themes and your digital troops.

In my few hours, I saw mostly countryside and city-based maps, so I’m intrigued to see how the larger campaign unfolds and whether there’ll be more variety in the landscapes you’ll be traversing and battling across.

Last Train Home preview

All Aboard

The first two chapters alone took me about four and a half hours to complete, which from what I can gather, is about a fifth of the whole game. Presumably, later chapters will have more encounters, side missions and points of interest. I think it’s a fair bet that a typical campaign will therefore take anywhere between 15-20 hours.

There’s a host of sliders and settings you can adjust at the outset to match the difficulty to your preference and skills too, which is appreciated. I played the demo on the default (medium, I guess?) settings and found it a pretty good balance between tough, punishing challenges and having enough leeway to have a good time without feeling oppressed.

Most of all though, Last Train Home’s authentic depiction of post-World War One Russia is what has captured my imagination. As soon as the demo came to an end, I was desperate to get straight back on board and continue the voyage to lead the Czechoslovak Legion to salvation. Alas, I’ll have a little while left to wait until I can.

Last Train Home will be available on PC, with a release date TBA.

Developer: Ashborn Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional preview build of the game.

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