Last Train Home – Fun Ride Through The Hell Of The Russian Civil War

REVIEW – One of the most interesting titles of recent times, Last Train Home, arrived somewhat under the radar at the end of last year. Let’s see what Ashborne Games and THQ Nordic’s game promise and how much they managed to achieve!

 

 

While the First World War gets a video game adaptation from time to time, the gaming industry treats the inter-war period – including the Russian Civil War – with less enthusiasm. Of course, from a certain point of view, it is understandable that not many FPSs or RTSs are made about the rise of the NSDAP or about the colonial wars that often ended in genocide, which characterized this era. However, some topics and war stories from this time are worth retelling and processing. This is exactly the case for the Czechoslovak Legion and its heroic time in Russia. Unsurprisingly, lovers of historical games eagerly awaited the release of Last Train Home, the first completely independent game by Ashborne Games, based in Brno, Czech Republic, published by THQ Nordic.

Before we talk more about the game, its historical background and authenticity, it’s worth briefly explaining what genre it represents. Last Train Home is an engaging military management game and tactical RTS in which you control the Czechoslovak Legion during the Russian Civil War. It would be misleading to see it as a pure RTS, though. Management, role-playing elements and, above all, survival play a much more critical role in the game than combat. The exciting premise is to bring the Legion home from the Eastern Front on an armoured train straight through the chaos of the Civil War. Since the fighting is still happening in the west, only the eastern route is possible. It is a 9,000 km journey to the Russian Far East, to the port of Vladivostok and back to freedom, back to the newly proclaimed Czechoslovakia…

 

 

Last Train Home

 

 

The Adventures of Tomáš, the Czech Tank Engine

 

The journey starts in medias res style: we immediately fall into the thick of the game. In essence, the first few hours also function as a very detailed tutorial, which is worth paying close attention to. Because Last Train Home is an extremely complex game. It simultaneously draws from squad-combat RTSs (Company of Heroes, Man of War: Assault Squad) and from the infiltration-stealth gameplay of Commandos. All the while, the base building-management and moralizing parts seem to have been borrowed from Frostpunk and This War of Mine by the developers.

During the game, we spend most of our time fiddling with cosy menus that model contemporary documents and devices. Whether we are travelling on the train (which we have to operate in every detail, assigning our people to different tasks, “production” of supplies, etc.), or we are visiting the surrounding countryside and villages for food and other goods, the RPG elements are very strongly present in the game. At times, the program presents us with serious moral dilemmas, such as how to treat the locals. The Czechoslovak Legion is in principle “neutral”; in practice, however, we mainly fight against the “Reds” – that is, those who sided with Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War – against whom, if we play smart, we can often find allies. In addition, the game frequently does not inform us in advance about the possible consequences of our actions, so it is worth considering each decision carefully.

Both human resources and a wide variety of equipment and supplies need careful management. Fortunately, we occasionally get the chance to hijack munitions convoys and free POWs, thus improving our situation. It is worth levelling our people up if only because, thanks to Last Train Home’s extremely complex character development system, we can create real heroes out of our poor Czech refugees by combining combat and “civilian” (doctor, engineer, train heater and so on) skills.

 

 

 

 

The Dirty Ten in action

 

It is very worthwhile to develop our heroes’ military skills and abilities because we will benefit greatly from them. As the train heads east, some hotspots that you can send troops to scout will generate real-time scripted missions. During these, we can control ten soldiers. Although there are relatively few mission types (“capture this”, “protect that”, “free them”, etc.), the action is genuinely tactical. So much so that, in an unusual way for an RTS, we get a “Tactical Mode” in which we can stop the game at any time, think about the situation and issue the necessary commands. (It’s a good idea to review the settings, because this function, among many others, is almost entirely customizable.)

Although the combat is captivating and – compared to the limitations of the genre – spectacular, it is still perhaps the weakest part of the game. AI often behaves as if it is brain-dead. Ironically, our own soldiers are only capable of slavishly following our orders – the enemy at least takes cover, throws grenades and the like. Unfortunately, the gameplay is very uneven in terms of tactical options. There are features that work well, like the cover system; but, for example, the stealth mechanic is very rudimentary. Don’t get me wrong, this aspect of the game is also fun. It is only here that the lack of practice and the fact that Last Train Home is not a AAA title can be seen the most.

 

 

Last Train Home

 

 

The beauties of Siberia

 

However, where you hardly feel at all that the game was made with a lower budget, is the implementation. Of course, those expecting Call of Duty-level graphics will obviously be disappointed. However, the Ashborne devs managed to create a beautiful and atmospheric title. The development of the train is exceptionally detailed. The cutscenes are particularly strong, with archival recordings, watercolours reminiscent of drawings made on the front, and even live-action inserts alternating between them!

In theory, the game is compatible with Steam Deck; however, based on the unanimous opinion of those I asked, the control is challenging without a mouse. The design of the menus is particularly unique, reflecting the atmosphere and material culture of the era. And when it comes to music and sounds, Last Train Home definitely set the bar high here. Almost every effect, from the gunshot to the train whistle, is a hit. We have the option to play with English, German or French dubbing, but it’s worth leaving the game in the “Immersive” setting. In the latter case, all characters speak in their native language, lending a special charm to the story.

 

 

Last Train Home

 

 

How authentic is Last Train Home?

 

Speaking of the story, the question rightly arises as to what extent the game can authentically reproduce the Czechoslovak Legion’s deadly race leaving Russia. Well, the answer is that the creators did everything to transfer the events to the game as accurately as possible. Some of the characters, such as the narrator Captain František Langer, are real people who took part in the events. The accounts of Langer, who was otherwise a doctor but also recognized as a poet, are among the most interesting documents of the Russian Civil War. The Ashborne staff apparently thoroughly researched the history of the Czechoslovak Legion.

The most severe limitation we encounter is perhaps the scale of the game: in reality, not one or two hundred people made this incredible journey in a few months, but an army of 60,000 people over the course of almost two years! The game received some severe criticism, up to the point of “review-bombing” on Steam, above all from Russian and Chinese users, for which our heroes fight mainly, if not exclusively, against the Red Forces. It is a well-documented fact that, despite its neutral status, the Czechoslovak Legion, at least in 1918-19, partly indirectly for its own benefit, partly with a deliberate intention, helped the activities of the anti-Bolshevik forces known collectively as the “Whites” in the area of the Trans-Siberian railway. At the same time, it is important to note that this was by no means a completely homogeneous armed force: some of its formations enjoyed considerable independence at different stages of the journey. They usually occupied railway junctions only to secure the further advance of their own forces. And when the fortunes of war turned around at the beginning of 1920, and the victory of the Soviets became more and more certain, the Legion partly “bought” the right to leave by capturing and handing over to the Bolsheviks one of the most important commanders of the Whites, the famous Admiral Alexander Kolchak.

Obviously, there is no such thing as a wholly authentic or completely unbiased historical video game. Last Train Home was developed by Czechs, for whom an important pillar of national identity and pride is the Czechoslovak Legion’s role in Russia in the fight against the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (which they considered oppressive), and their eventual escape from a country drowned in civil war.

 

 

 

 

This train is definitely worth taking

 

While 2023 proved to be quite a strong year for video games, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that Last Train Home was still one of the most imaginative, atmospheric and entertaining titles of last year. It was a pleasant surprise to me, just like Baldur’s Gate 3. So it’s unfortunate that it didn’t get the attention it deserved. If you like history, tactical RTS and survival games with management (and trains!), then you should definitely give Last Train Home a chance. At first, the game’s complexity can be a bit alarming, but in no time, you will find yourself enthusiastically rooting for your chosen team of heroes as the locomotive rumbles with them further and further east…

-ROD-

Pro:

+ Fresh, imaginative concepts
+ Well-constructed, diverse game mechanics
+ Historical authenticity

Cons:

– Mountains of menus
– Puritanical interface
– Minor problems of RTS gameplay

Publisher: THQ Nordic

Developer: Ashborne Games

Style: RTS/Survival

Release date: 28 November 2023

Last Train Home

Gameplay - 8.5
Graphics - 8
Story - 9
Music/Audio - 8.8
Ambience - 9

8.7

EXCELLENT

If you like history, tactical RTS and management survival games (and trains!), then you should definitely give one of the most imaginative, atmospheric and fun games of last year, Last Train Home, a chance.

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"Historian by profession, gamer since historical times."

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