The games industry is going through an interesting shift right now, with indies suddenly becoming a lot more popular thanks to development tools and publishing platforms being a lot more streamlined and developer-friendly than before. This combined with the rise in consumption of digital media has allowed more people than ever to flex their creative muscles and come up with completely unique ideas that can rival the best of the best that the industry has to offer.
In this series of features, we have looked at many such promising indie or AA games as the likes of Project Magnum, Faith of Danschant: Hereafter, Untitled FPS Game and Black Myth: Wukong. Two Star Games’ upcoming Choo-Choo Charles is yet another such game that seemingly came out of nowhere and took social media by storm recently – thanks to its intriguing concept and spooky visuals. To that effect, the time seems ripe to finally ask – what the hell is exactly this game?
Choo-Choo Charles is an upcoming survival horror title from Two Star Games which is a studio run by solo-developer Gavin Eisenbeisz. The developer is just 20 years old, and already has 8 years of experience in developing full-fledged PC experiences with the likes of walking simulator Night in Riverager, the side-scrolling horror game My Friend is a Raven, and a couple of other games. Two Star’s previous work has been well-received by players, on account of the striking atmosphere and dazzling art design. Choo-Choo Charles is easily the most ambitious game from the developer, and Eisenbeisz seems prepared to knock it out of the park once again with its unique concept and promising gameplay.
The game is set against the backdrop of an unnamed island and sees players running away from Charles, which just so happens to be a train engine with the legs of the spider and the face of a blood lusty monster. Suffice to say, it looks really scary and just one glimpse of this gargantuan beast is enough to give one nightmares for days on end.
Players will have their very own scrappy train on their side, which they will be using to traverse the many areas the island houses. Two Star Games has confirmed that the game’s setting will be an open world, and players can expect to explore a variety of locales – from frightening forests to expansive beaches to frosty peaks. Additionally, players will also get to visit settlements of sorts which are inhabited by strange paper-doll NPCs who will give out side-quests in return for scraps or weapons such as the Driller, the Boomer, Bob, and many more that are sure to be useful against that monstrosity.
The main goal of the game is to upgrade your train into a death machine that can stand on its own two feet against the daunting presence of Charles. The primary resource for upgrading your train are pieces of scraps that you will find throughout the world, that should encourage players to scour the vast stretches of this setting. Given the fact that traversal works through mostly train tracks, players will be frequently switching track routes to reach their destination – which in theory at least, seems to be an exciting new spin on “getting from point A to point B” formula.
By collecting these scraps, players will be able to use them to increase core stats of the engine such as health, armor, speed, and damage. As you upgrade your engine, you will also see stark new changes in its appearance as it slowly evolves from a run-of-the-mill engine to a tank of destruction with horns and what have you. Players will also have a collection of bobbleheads on the train’s dashboard, which we are assuming are collectibles that players will find by venturing off the beaten path in the game’s open world.
The most intriguing part about Choo-Choo Charles is its engaging and player-driven progression loop, as players will start the game running away from Charles as they stand almost no chance at defeating it to eventually becoming so well-equipped that they summon the beast by honking the horns of the train and defeat it on their own terms. It also needs to be mentioned that Charles will continually impose the player with its intimidating presence ever so often (approximately every 10 minutes or so to be precise), keeping players on their toes at all times. This constant sense of cat-and-mouse chase seems to be directly inspired by the likes of Resident Evil 2‘s Mr. X – although, unlike that inspiration, players can actually defeat the enemy in a non-scripted fashion.
This then combines with a Breath of the Wild-Esque open-world progression system where players are essentially free to face the final boss from the onset – but they first need to get stronger by exploring the open world until they can actually stand a chance against the final goal. The two systems seem to complement really well within the context of a survival horror game, and Choo-Choo Charles has the potential to really knock it out of the park if it manages to coalesce them together in a meaningful way.
On the more technical side of things, Choo-Choo Charles is being built through the use of Unreal Engine – although it isn’t confirmed which version of the engine the final game will be using. Regardless, the fact that a solo developer is at the helm really speaks to the strengths of Unreal Engine in how flexible it is for all team sizes. What’s even more impressive on that note is that Two Star Games also creates their own 3D assets and textures, as revealed in an interview with PC Gamer. All of this results in a visual presentation that’s sharp and unique, and the game excellently blends its realistic environments along with paper-doll NPCs without any element feeling out of place. The sound design also looks to be excellent yet minimalist in a similar vein, and the game relies on mostly ambient sounds to create an unsettling and ominous vibe at all times.
Choo-Choo Charles is currently listed for an early 2022 release for PC via Steam. Two Star Games hasn’t specified any firm release dates as of yet, although considering that the game was just announced last year – it seems unlikely that the game will be hitting its projected release date but this is something that remains to be seen.
In the same interview with PC Gamer, Eisenbeisz also revealed that the game was in “very early, early development” and that he might just end up needing more time because of the scope of the project. Of course, it’s ultimately best to delay games to a further date to ensure quality than just rushing to meet release deadlines. We sincerely hope that Choo-Choo Charles turns out as great as it looks to garner all the critical and commercial acclaim it deserves.
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