Satisfactory is a model train simulator now, including the wrecks


Trains are built to do exactly one thing: Stay on their tracks. The ultimate power move when you're playing god with trains is sending them flying off the rails—it's definitely what I did with my childhood Lego train set as soon as I got bored watching it travel in circles. In Satisfactory, a building game I've been obsessed with since early 2020, trains are a lot more useful and a lot less playful than a toy train set. They're one of the best ways to move stuff long distances, and they run on electricity instead of fuel, which makes them way less fiddly than trucks (which have a bad habit of yeeting themselves off roads or cliffs thanks to wonky physics). But since Satisfactory is an Early Access game, a lot of its features, including the automated train system, have so far felt unfinished.

Update 5, which launches onto the beta branch today, aims to fix that: It not only totally overhauls the scheduling interface for programming where your trains go when, it lets your trains smash into each other and spill their containers all over the tracks. It's a sign that Satisfactory is finalizing some of its major systems as it comes closer to the end of its time in Early Access.

To put it another way: No more ghost trains.

One of Update 5's big initiatives is overhauling how collisions between buildings and objects, or “clearance,” work in Satisfactory. Until now, there have been some buildings that are a real pain to work with because their collision boxes extend beyond the actual space they occupy, preventing me from building things close together as efficiently as I want to. Coffee Stain's solution to this with Update 5 is creating “soft” and “hard” clearance, allowing anything with soft clearance to pass through buildings with hard clearance. I'm excited to run conveyor belts and the Futurama-esque hypertubes straight through the gaps in big buildings like the Particle Accelerator.

But anyway, back to trains. Before Update 5, if you had two trains running on the same track, they'd just pass right through each other. They didn't have the necessary physics logic to interact with each other, but it also didn't feel like Satisfactory's train system was robust enough to really make train wrecks feel fair. You could make train tracks that split to multiple destinations, and create some rudimentary schedules for where trains would stop, but there were no signals to prevent trains from colliding. So it made sense that they couldn't.

Update 5 introduces two different types of signals for controlling train traffic. One's simpler—basically a red light for trains that flips on whenever the space ahead of it is occupied, to avoid the next one on the track rear-ending the caboose. The other signal is more complicated, letting multiple trains pass through an intersection as long as their paths won't intersect.

These signals are really cool, because they dramatically expand the planning and design you can put into trains. Before, the only real planning I did for my trains was ensuring the stations at each end were efficiently loading and unloading cargo. Without any tools like these signals, I didn't see much appeal in having trains that ran in loops or split off in different directions, because it was just more complication without any real payoff. 

Satisfactory is all about building elaborate constructs as efficiently as possible or making them look so over-the-top you can turn around and marvel at the fact that the monstrosity you just designed actually works. With Update 5, trains can now tap into both of those modes of play.

Seriously, look at this example intersection from the video where Coffee Stain first showed off this train update:

The increased flexibility added with the new signals (and a much better train scheduling interface) comes hand-in-hand with the threat that if you don't use them properly, your trains can now smash into each other and spill your cargo all over the place. It's not really as punitive as it sounds, though: Resources in Satisfactory are unlimited, and you can walk up to a derailed train and click a few buttons to set things right again. It's not meant to be a major crisis; more like the train equivalent of messing up your conveyor belts and sending resources into the wrong ore refinery. With great locomotive power comes great locomotive responsibility, or something.

The new train system is probably the flashiest bit of this Satisfactory update, but there are some other new features I'm even more excited about. I mean, here's a literal game-changer: Railings can snap to ramps now, instead of just flat foundations. Megaton, am I right? I've become one of Those Guys who's so deep into a game that I could tell you why inclined railings are a Really Big Deal.

There are a ton of other overdue cosmetic parts for making factories look really nice—I'm embarrassingly excited about being able to put angled roofs on buildings instead of making everything a rectangle. There's a new building mode called zooping that lets you lay down 10 foundation or wall pieces in a row, whereas before you had to place one at a time, which will be a huge time-saver when putting together new facilities.

Longtime Satisfactory players are well past the point of playing for the sake of working through the tech tree and unlocking new stuff. The long game is about coming up with cool designs, and Coffee Stain's focus on aesthetics with Update 5 will really improve that style of play. And it's not all for pure vanity. Somehow it took, ahem, two-and-a-half years to get signs in the game not that I'm counting but they're finally here. Being able to put down signs in massive factories and label storage containers with the parts they contain? Heaven. 

Satisfactory is still in Early Access, but Update 5 feels like it really evens out rough spots in the building experience that started to grate on me after many months of playing. I already evangelize Satisfactory to the rest of the PC Gamer team, and with this update I think I'd be comfortable telling just about anyone that it's a good time to start playing Satisfactory.

Maybe give today's update a month to make its way from the experimental branch to the main one, though. There's likely a small army of bugs to be stamped out before it's truly ready for everyone.

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