The world is a disaster but by god I can at least clean up this train station

Train Station Renovation
(Image credit: Live Motion Games)

The other day I developed a sudden urge to play... something. I couldn't quite put my finger on what I was after, but it felt like I wanted to do some building, or constructing, or arranging, or perhaps managing. I wanted a game that gave me a project, but it took me a while to figure out what kind of project, exactly.

First I tried building a proper camp in Fallout 76 (I'm still ashamed of my current one) but even after a few days of construction it still just looked like an ugly wooden box that needed to be filled with things I don't yet own. I gave Endzone a try: It's a post-apocalyptic city builder in Early Access that's got loads of promise, but the more I build, the more problems crop up. Cities: Skylines, Frostpunk, Titans of Industry: Same general feeling. The projects keep getting bigger, which leads to bigger problems.

And I don't need big problems right now! I need something where the problems get smaller, not bigger, the more I work on them. I want a to-do list that shrinks as I play, not grows. I want to finish something and feel some accomplishment. Is this sudden urge to effectively manage problems and regain some sense of order related to the current state of the world? Gosh, maybe.

Train Station Renovation, then? Yes. It's of the ilk of House Flipper or Viscera Cleanup Detail, games where there's a big damn mess and you need to clean it up.

You can play the first level for free, and if you've been feeling some anxiety lately, if you need a small sense of accomplishment, or if you just want to spend a half-hour doing something and at the end of that half-hour you are definitely, completely done with that something—finished, fixed, solved, completed, and you've gotten a few endorphin-releasing gold stars along the way—you should really try the free demo.

Why a train station? I don't know. I could honestly be cleaning a pet store, a barbershop, an office, a funeral home, a dance studio, whatever. The location isn't important (to me) as long as there's a bunch of junk but not an infinite amount. Everything I pick up or fix or throw away or demolish or replace fills my 'Things Are Getting Better' meter.

If I do this long enough the meter will reach 100% and everything will be great again. Order from chaos! The real world has gone to hell but I'll be damned if I can't fix this one train station.

You've got lots of tools in Train Station Renovation—a sponge for wiping off graffiti, a broom for sweeping up floors and removing cobwebs, a crowbar for demolishing broken benches and busted doors. You can rip out weeds and plants with your bare hands, and picking up bottles and boxes will fill a big trash bag which you can then hurl into a giant trash bin. You can even get the power running again and order replacement furniture and fixtures with your PDA.

The music is wonderfully soothing, too. "Everything is fine," the soundtrack suggests, "so just put your head down and clean." Sweep floors, sponge walls, pick up bottles and boxes, chuck things in the trash. Smash a cruddy bench and replace it with a new bench. You can even use a wrench to fix a few parts on the actual train. No need to think of anything but the precious meter filling and a gold star appearing at intervals. Ahhh. That's the stuff.

It's slow going, and it's shocking how many times I passed through the same room, thinking I've fixed or trashed everything that needed fixing or trashing, only to discover there was still some broken glass, some bit of graffiti, some lingering cobweb still to dispose of. But little by little, I could see I was making a difference in this environment, which is definitely just a virtual train station and not stand-in the disastrous state of the actual world.

I guess it took about forty-five minutes or so for me to complete the demo level. The tasks required are shown in the lower-right of the screen, letting you know just how much there is left to do, and I had a brief moment of panic when I was at 99% and couldn't figure out what still needed to be done. Eventually I discovered a small public bathroom still needed two final accessories installed.

Here's a sped-up video, about 10 minutes of renovation condensed into 60 seconds.

If you watched that you'll notice I did try to repurpose a few existing chairs and a small table—I mean, why throw everything away if you don't need to. But if something is red, it means it's trash, so I did eventually have to junk everything and buy replacements on my way to 100%. Probably a good idea. Let's throw out the lot and start over.

When you're done, the game gives you a nice cinematic tour of the train station you cleaned of trash—or the world you saved from pestilence and ruin, if you choose to think about it that way. Quite a happy ending, if you ask me, in a time when we really need them.

Train Station Renovation hits Early Access on April 30, and you'll find the free demo here.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.