Managing any number of people can be challenging, even more so when you have to coordinate train lines to match. Taking into account everybody's requirements and needs, matching them up with the suitable amenities and routes is difficult and chaotic, to say the least, however, it also makes for a great simulation experience. DMM Games has noticed this and that's why they've developed their own 3D train station building strategy title for PC called STATIONflow.
STATIONflow is a simulation-strategy game that tasks players with organising and constructing an underground train station for thousands of passengers to travel through. Requiring an eye for management, it asks players to unify various stations by connecting them with corridors and stairs so people can move between them, while simultaneously providing amenities and accessibility options where necessary for varying types of passengers.
The building mechanic is a strange hybrid of point and clicks, meaning you have options to construct your station in many ways. The catch is, there are several floors to manage, so you have to make sure your facility lines up in a way that's easy for passengers to navigate. Over the duration of a build, you have several options to develop your station, from simple corridors and stairs, all the way to plazas, escalators and elevators. Each of these requires different methods to connect up and likewise will cost money to build, meaning each decision has a financial limitation. Usually, the building mechanic feels fine to use - you can toggle snapping on and off for quick and precise building - however, there are times when a certain section won't fit just right, making for a little bit of frustration over system accuracy.
Aside from rooms and connecting platforms, you'll also have the option to build amenities and signs for passengers to use. These are absolutely crucial for your station if you want people to be able to find their way around and likewise, show satisfaction when using the facility. Signs are cheap and can be placed anywhere, with multiple different direction indicators. This means it's usually never an issue to help passengers get around, however, as your station grows, so will the number of signs, making for an incredibly cluttered build at times.
As for amenities, these can be placed anywhere as well, as long as they are on/are connected to a part of the station. These likewise can range from bathrooms and vending machines, all the way to information signs and ticket machines. To get a grasp as to how your station is operating, at the end of the day, you'll be handed a report detailing the state of your facility, accompanied by a grade. This is important because this is when you'll be handed a budget for tomorrow relative to the profits made on the previous day.
To make the building feature feel less overwhelming, STATIONflow has a real-time system that can be accelerated or stopped at a whim, allowing for stress-free design and construction. At the beginning of a day, you can pause time, make all the necessary changes and then resume time, letting it build as the daily passengers begin filing in and out. It's a great system as it means you can take as long as you want planning and implementing each decision in-game, which itself makes for a chilled, simulation experience.
The different types of passengers are essentially the game's expression of rising difficulty. It starts on easy mode, requiring you to only provide the bare minimum for travellers, however, as the days pass and the station grows you'll find tourists, the elderly and countless others will arrive, each with their own needs. Tourists, for example, need information signs to navigate the station, elderly passengers, on the other hand, can't use stairs, meaning they need elevators in easy-to-reach places to be able to access each floor. However, as more types of people arrive, you can earn more money by placing vending machines around the facility (a great way to become more financially secure).
The really difficult part about having more varied and frequent travellers is that their satisfaction hinges on their own experience. This mechanic, believe it or not, is the do or die when it comes to STATIONflow as the moment passengers become frustrated with the design of your station, the 'higher-ups' will close you down. That's right if you don't prioritise ease of use, chances are, you won't last very long. The satisfaction of passengers is actually a more frightening statistic than income; as at least you can take a loan out if your finances are stretched. When it comes to customer happiness, you only have one chance.
To keep the game feeling fresh and interesting to play, there are several different scenarios to try out. These are essentially different maps, where challenging land formations will require ingenious building and design if you're going to get around them. This is another level of difficulty for players to tackle if you no longer want to play the classic map. In fact, it's really your choice as there's no story mode to be chewed through, just experiences to try out.
As a final note, the art direction of STATIONflow is really as simple as it gets. The people resemble the pegs from The Game of Life, while the trains and individual gates resemble Monopoly pieces. This easy to appreciate design choice accentuates the core design and building mechanics that define the title, drawing your attention directly to constructing a solid, efficient station, exactly how the game is meant to be experienced.
Overall, it's a solid strategy-simulation title with plenty of depth in its simple and easy to understand design. It brings several degrees of challenge, but at the same time, allows you to tackle each at your own pace and in a way that suits your style. The difficulty, which is based around types of passengers and new train lines, scales well and never feels crushingly hard, even if the building mechanic can feel slightly clunky in places. Likewise, the multiple scenarios bring several new maps to play and build across, keeping STATIONflow feeling fresh to experience and enjoy, even for somebody who loathes having to catch the tube.
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