World of Subways 4: New York Line 7 starts with you, a rookie driver, arriving at a subway depot. No, not just arriving, but swaggering into a subway depot as intensely dramatic music blares through its corridors. A busty young woman walks past you in the hall, and your suave-as-balls character turns to look at her arse. This really, really happens. You have no control over it. All around you the intro credits are being projected on the depot’s painted brick walls, one after the other, like you’re in a cool film or a nightclub. A man with spikey hair strolls by and you turn to look at his arse too, because equality is just as important as trains.
TML STUDIOS! — *electro-beat intensifies* — PRESENTS! — *drr-nrr-nrr-NYAAA* — WORLD OF SUBWAYS! — *tits and arses glide past* — NEW YORK LINE 7!
It’s easily the best and most exciting introduction to a train simulator that I have ever experienced and will probably ever experience in my lifetime. God bless this beautiful game. I love it.
As soon as you’re given control over your character, a cool guy named Steven shows up to give you a quick tour of your new workplace. Nobody at the depot asks where you’ve come from, what your intentions are, or what deeds you may have done that have led you to this place. In World of Subways 4 you’re turning over a new leaf. This is a chance to start over! A chance to hop in a train and drive it far away from the ghastly spectres of your mysterious past, and then drive them back towards those spectres, as you’re being put to work on a line that goes in two directions and that’s really not negotiable in the role for which you’ve applied.
During the tour you can’t help but walk really, really close to Steven. The game pretty much forces you to rest your head on his shoulder as he helpfully explains where the gents toilets are. You can see right in his ear.
Much like in real life, you don’t get to choose your own gender in this game. Unlike in real life however, you get to choose your own name and you’re always a man, and the only women who work at the train depot are busty receptionists with really detailed feet. Here is one of the depot’s two female employees looking very much at ease in her surroundings, as the men around her stare into space and out of windows, probably thinking about trains.
The game is set in the 1960s or something, so there’s sort of a Mad Men vibe here where it’s totally cool to call women “toots” or “tits” or “tayto” or “toblerone” or whatever. I’m fairly certain Steven says something sexist in the first five minutes of the game — which I remind you is a train simulator about driving trains — when he calls receptionist Lindsay “our pearl”. There is some consolation to be found in Steven almost certainly being dead now, given that the game is set over 50 years ago.
Sometimes you’ll speak to a driver or a mechanic or a conductor and they’ll tell you a story about an interesting train journey from their past. This triggers one of the game’s eight missions, a sort of fantasy flashback in which you play the hero driver. Scenarios include taking a pregnant woman to a nearby hospital (on a train). Taking some firemen to a nearby fire (on a train). Delivery some lights to a station during a powercut (wow). There’s even a very rough recreation of The Taking of Pelham 123, which (even though it actually happened on New York Line 6, and not Line 7, the line that this game simulates, which is frankly bullshit) is a fun distraction from the usual stoney-faced, super-serious simulator bleakness.
The actual driving of the trains is much as it is in previous World of Subways games. You must meticulously carry out a fascinatingly tedious sequence of lever-pulling, button-pushing and crank-yanking in order to ready your train for service. You start by unfolding the authentic, collapsible driver’s seat into the “down” position, before switching on the electrics one by one. Driver cabin lights. Carriage lights. Headlights. You then insert the conductor’s key into the slot by your shoulder, which allows you the open the passenger doors on either side of the train. You carry with you two special handles, one which plugs into the brake lever and one that slots into the bit of the control panel that makes the train go forwards. I forget what it’s called. You can change the destination board using the PgUp and PgDown keys, something that genuinely makes me shudder with delight.
Once everything’s in position, you control the train by shifting up and down gears and applying brake pressure where necessary. You must keep to a tight schedule, driving from station to station while obeying signals and speed limits along the way. At each station you must stop at a certain sweet spot along the platform, at which point your conductor (if you have one) will open the doors and allows passengers to alight and embark. You can peek out your window as this is happening, which is about as fun as the game gets, watching all the colourfully dressed New Yorkers pile into and out of your train. The train that you alone command. You, the most important man on the train.
There’s a severe penalty for driving through signals at speed however: a scolding message appears on screen before you’re unceremoniously teleported back to the depot, stunned, reprimanded and having lost anything up to 45 minutes of progress. It’s a weird and unwelcome hangover from the previous World of Subways games that probably doesn’t belong in this more advanced simulation of the complete life of a subway driver. Why not allow us to charge through signals at 60mph, and then simulate the repercussions of my reckless behaviour back at the depot? Why not simulate an investigation into my actions, and my subsequent sacking? Maybe I want to see Lindsay handing me a P45 for ramping my train off a bridge and into an orphanage. Perhaps the game could end with Steven handing me a big “Sorry You’re Leaving” card that the entire depot has signed. It is within the power of the developers to do this.
Drive at appropriate speeds however and you’ll enjoy what is arguably the finest metro route on the planet. New York Line 7 takes you from Flushing in Queens straight into central Manhattan, a bit of railway that transitions from raised tracks above the streets of Brooklyn to the iconic tiled underground stations of New York City. Ask any train enthusiast what stretch of rail gets them hella moist and they’ll look wistfully into the middle distance, cry for one entire hour and then whisper the words “New York Line 7, brother/sister”. It truly is an exceptional bit of subway, encompassing a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline, dominated by the twin towers, as your train descends beneath the East River and enters the vast network of dark tunnels beneath the shimmering metropolis.
Almost as majestic as the New York skyline is the canteen’s bizarrely detailed menu, pictured above, which you can find by exploring the depot’s kitchen. Fried potato logs. Ham shanks. Whole kernel corn. This isn’t how catering works. You can’t have all of these options. It just isn’t feasible. You can’t offer “fried boneless cod fish” on a Friday, as one of 16 dinner options, and not offer it on any other day of the week. How could you possibly know how much cod to order in? You’d be throwing away so much cod. And why can you only have green peas on a Sunday? It’s maddening and I hate it.
This terrible dinner menu encapsulates everything that is great and awful about World of Subways. It’s shonky as hell. The voice acting, the animation, the script. It’s all very, very bad. But imagining a designer leaning back in his chair and trying to think about what a train conductor might eat on a Friday, before typing “sliced baked apples” into an unnecessarily high-resolution menu, well that just fills me with immense happiness.
If you feel the same way, then join me here, in the train depot where I now live.