Westward IV: All Aboard
Howdy pardners! It's time to head to the old west again for a heapin' amount of fun and time management. Yes, Westward 4: All Aboard by Sandlot Games is here just in time for holiday season activities! This sequel to Westward 3 continues the same style and premise of the previous two games: a casual simulation/time management set in the fictional Wild West. This time around the game captures the story of the railroads, the iron horse that tamed the west. Play as Anne or Henry Turner, a pair of siblings with a few problems on their hands, not the least of which is a disappearing father.
As the game begins you choose which sibling to play, the rough-and-ready Anne or gearhead Henry. The first few scenarios are a basic tutorial which walk you through the control structure and set up the story. Pretty soon you will arrive at Turner Railroad, the place where your main city will be built. Their father, the man who built the railroad, has been gone for six months and the place is a disaster, as is the old homestead. Whichever sibling you are playing must first work to build a solid base from which to accomplish all of the other missions. Although there are a lot of quests contained in the Turner Railroad location, you will also visit many other places as you push to extend the railroad, encountering a myriad of obstacles and attempting to find out what happened to dear old dad.
The controls of Westward IV: All Aboard are basically all in the click of a mouse. Move characters around, set tasks, buy upgrades, and basically perform all tasks necessary with the cursor. Movement through the scenes is accomplished by scrolling as your cursor moves to the edge of the screen. Left click and drag a character to where you want them to go, or left click the person then right click the destination, it's all very simple and easily explained in the tutorials for those who have never played the game before. The views can change from a long, top-down bird's eye view to a lower-angled close up with the use of the mouse's scrolling wheel.
Although a great many scenarios take place in the Turner Railroad location, there are a multitude of other areas to explore, shown on a map as you move your railroad onwards. Each location has its own unique scenario and obstacles to overcome, whether it be bandits, kidnappers, poor terrain, or a mayor with very sensitive ears. Each new location increases your skill level and unlocks new buildings, upgrades, and other fun things. Take time to really explore each area, as there are also fun side quests involving hidden objects, buried dinosaur bones, and lots of other surprises. Just watch out for wolves. And bears.
And of course, as this is a casual sim, you must pay attention to resources at every turn. Gold is needed to buy supplies and blueprints for buildings, coal is necessary to keep the trains running, timber is needed to keep building, and of course there's food and water for your townsfolk. You also need to keep an eye on labor as well, as folks who don't have jobs will become upset and leave for greener pastures, damaging the happiness rating of your growing town.
Analysis: Westward IV: All Aboard is a solid addition to the ever-increasing Westward pantheon. There's not a lot of change from Westward III, but why mess with a winning formula? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Of course, Westward IV offers new characters, new scenarios, new upgrades, and the same casual gameplay fun of its predecessors.
The graphics haven't changed much, but are still in the beautiful 3D style of Westward II and III. The mouse-controlled swooping camera angle is nice whether panning to see more of the terrain or coming in for a close up to watch the antics of your working townsfolk. Movie Western-style music and sound effects add a nice touch to the old west feeling.
It can really take a while for the game to get going in the beginning, especially as there is only one playing speed. As it is a time management you will sometimes sit back and twiddle your thumbs waiting for enough resources to accumulate to accomplish certain tasks. But eventually, like a locomotive gathering steam, the story begins to speed up as your town grows larger and you build farther and farther along the map. The little bits of dialogue your characters spout when you first start working them are cute, but after a few hours get a little wearying.
Still, you are looking at hours and hours of fantastic casual gameplay with Westward IV: All Aboard. Slow down and take the time to explore, and enjoy the wonder when you have a large, fully populated, functional town with a saloon, clothing store, and many other fun places. You could waste hours alone just watching your little people work without worrying about pesky things like goals and such. It's time to ride the rails and enter the wild, wild west!