Steam Next Fest: Voidtrain Could Be The Next Subnautica

Voidtrain is one of those “the less you know the better” games, which kind of puts me in an awkward position as someone that writes previews. If story-driven survival/crafting games like Subnautica and Breathedge are your jam, you might want to just try Voidtrain out for yourself. There’s a demo available on Steam for the next week, which is a nice, albeit brief introduction to what it’s all about. For everyone else: allow me to explain one of the weirdest, wonderfullest games I’ve played in a long, long time.

There’s very little setup before you’re thrust into the mysteries of Voidtrain. You are an engineer that got lost in the woods during a blizzard and wound up in an abandoned cabin. While exploring inside, you inadvertently activated a portal that sucked you into the Void, a gravity-less expanse of space with a single train track infinitely running through it. Your journey is guided by a playful narrator who serves as your constant companion. The dynamic is somewhat similar to The Stanley Parable, just without the ironic detachment and meta-commentary.

The basic gameplay loop has a lot in common with the aforementioned Subnautica and Breathedge, but instead of exploring the depths of the sea or the vastness of space, the Void is a secret, third thing that lands somewhere in between. Your base of operation is a narrow handcar – the old-timey minecart kind with the lever you have to pump to accelerate. You can leave the handcar and float around in the void in order to collect crafting materials and resources, but you’re always tethered to the edge of the platform, so there’s only so far you can extend out from the track.

The Void is a bizarre and awe-inspiring place. Beyond the rubble and loose resources within your reach, you can see floating islands in the distance, remnants of futuristic architecture, and alien creatures that could swallow you whole, if they wanted to. Unraveling the mysteries of the Void is the most intriguing thing about Voidtrain. Even if you’re not particularly invested in the crafting and base building aspects – which seem to be well implemented here – exploring this strange new world might be enough to pull you through anyway.

I got settled into the gathering and crafting loop pretty quickly. The way you have to stay tethered to the train reminded me of Raft, another survival/crafting game with an interesting resource gathering mechanic. I got so invested in researching blueprints and smelting metals at one point that I forgot to look up and pay attention to where the train was headed. Suddenly, I was stopped at a station floating out in the Void, which from the outside looked like an abandoned coal factory. At the behest of the narrator, I cautiously left the safety of my handcar and ventured inside the station.

In Subnautica and its sequel, Below Zero, my favorite parts are always the ones where you leave the ocean to explore an abandoned building. These sections force you to leave the relative comfort of the sea to seek answers that move the story forward. The first stop in Voidtrain has the same quality, and while you explore, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a lot more going on in the Void than just endless space. It’s here you find your first weapon, and World War 1-style service revolver, and begin defending your train from hostile aliens.

Voidtrain is a lot more shooter and movement-focused than the games it’s most similar to. There’s a grappling hook to help you get around faster and gather resources, multiple weapons with customization options, and, based on the trailer, high-speed shoutouts with the inhabitants of this world – whoever they are. Voidtrain is a linear narrative experience, but it can be played co-op with up to four people. I’m enticed by the idea of building a battle locomotive with my friends, but I’m even more intrigued to figure out just what the hell is going on here.

Voidtrain was originally meant to launch October 22 of last year, but it now has an unspecified 2023 release date. The demo is available until February 13 as part of Steam Next Fest. It’s a short intro, but it’s just enough to get my hype train rolling.

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