Directing A River Of Humanity

HIGH Watching thousands tromp through immaculately clean tunnels.

LOW Spending minutes trying to line a hallway up perfectly.

WTF That is not a flattering depiction of ‘tourists’, game.

It’s rare to see a game so perfectly titled as STATIONflow. On a literal level it makes perfect sense — it’s about managing the flow of passengers through a subway station, but it also has meaning beyond the obvious.

Few management sims play as smoothly as this one does. I’m not sure if it’s the minimalist graphics, the chunky-yet-attractive UI, or the perfectly sloped difficulty curve, but STATIONflow captures the zen of management gameplay. It puts players into a state of almost hypnotic focus as they watch hordes of virtual people swarm through tunnels until one seemingly-minor change completely alters their behavior.

STATIONflow offers a beautiful fantasy world where a major metropolitan city’s public transit system is responsive and expertly run. Taking on the role of an engineer in charge of planning a new subway station, the game simplifies crushing complexities of design and construction down to basic interactions.

Want to build a long hallway? There’s no need to survey the stability of the earth to avoid sinkholes, to watch out for gas and power lines, or to deal with the closed bidding process of finding a contractor to do the work. No, all the player has to do is draw a rectangle, click confirm, and watch their dreams become reality in just a few seconds.

Along with this simplicity, STATIONflow features one of the best tutorials I’ve seen in ages. There are quite a few variables that players have to manage when designing a station, and the instructions layer them in, one after the next, until each new addition feels less like a rule to learn and more like the only logical thing that could happen next. It starts with the obvious — people need signs to let them know where the trains and exits are — and then asks a series of leading questions. What if people from out of town are riding the trains? Won’t they need information kiosks? What if they have use the bathroom?

While the player is busy adding the facilities commuters demand, they’ll find themselves learning valuable lessons about how people move in groups, and that there’s no easy answer for the ‘best’ way to organize a subway station.

Escalators seem like a good idea because people hate having to use stairs, but they’re far slower. The virtual people tend to use escalators like Americans, riding them passively rather than climbing them like steps to double their speed. Elevators are expensive, but once the station is six levels deep and servicing four different rail lines, it makes sense to allow the riders to go straight from the top to the bottom.

Success in STATIONflow is built around managing rider satisfaction and budget. Naturally these two are intertwined — a well-designed station gets more business, and the fares of riders allow the player to keep meeting their needs.

In addition to the cost of expansion, station upkeep is deducted every day, so the player is heavily incentivized to fulfill needs as quickly as possible. If things get tight, they can take out a loan and gamble that station improvements will generate enough revenue to pay the money back in time, but the game does offer saving at any time, so no risk is ever too severe.

STATIONflow isn’t entirely without flaws, however. While the building system is relatively easy to use, it’s more finicky than it should be. The big problem is that the system doesn’t allow for overlapping shapes, demanding the player be exact and precise with each new area to be excavated. One would think that the game would allow me to simply draw a long corridor that connected two stations, but instead I had to fiddle with the dimensions of each new addition and line them up precisely. The anytime saving was there to help out, but there’s no reason play should be this fastidious when so many other games offer effortless snap-to-grid methods.

STATIONflow is great management content, not just because it makes the player feel like they’re learning something fascinating, but because it’s generally so easy to get into. The virtual ant farm that pours out from each arriving train is a pleasure to simply observe, and being able to optimize their journeys and make their virtual lives a little simpler feels like a bonus.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by DMM Games. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not rated by the ESRB, and it contains nothing objectionable. Seriously, it’s a game about building subway stations. Anyone can play this. Younger kids might find it boring, but that’s about it for parental warnings.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. All information is presented onscreen as text and symbols. Text cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the controls cannot be remapped. The game is controlled by using a mouse to select and drag things around the screen. Keyboard shortcuts can be used to simplify the process.

Daniel Weissenberger
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