By – Jarrett Riddle

Underrail Review 4

Here we are, waist deep in the RPG renaissance; a glorious return of classic role playing games that prioritize storytelling and player involvement over shiny graphics and mass appeal. Deep in the midst of this revival lies a post apocalyptic game made mostly by one person known as UnderRail. Stygian Software has been developing this puppy on-and-off for seven years, adding and polishing content to make the best darn game they can. Before diving in, I read heaps of praise for this title from gamers in both old-school and modern camps. Does it deserve all these high marks, or are these recommendations swayed by a hunger for retro-styled games brought on by recent indie efforts? The answer is yes and no.

That came off pretty negatively, but that wasn’t the intention. I like to judge games on their own merits, not compared to other, similar titles. In this case a common comparison found with fans of UnderRail is with the Fallout series. “It’s the real Fallout 3!” is what I’ve heard from some excited players. Fortunately, this isn’t true. Yep, you read that right. Indeed it is a good thing that UnderRail isn’t a copycat, but a game with its own unique setting, character customization options, and combat system. Not to say that there aren’t obvious influences and even references to beloved 90s titles; from Planescape Torment’s “You can call me Adahn” to a Save/Load screen incredibly reminiscent of old Fallouts. In summary, this game can stand on its own two legs without comparisons being made, and thus the rest of this review will be written as if those other influences don’t even exist.

Story elements are not the focal point of UnderRail, though they are certainly present. No, an epic, overarching questline is not the centerpiece, but exploration of this strange world and interactions with fellow denizens are what keep your attention. The tale begins with our protagonist being recruited into South Station in UnderRail. This small base is one of several hubs in the United Stations network, which is a dominant force in the underground world. The game takes place in the distant future, where the Earth’s surface has become uninhabitable and people are forced to live deep within. Here the desperate folks usually avoid starving by eating glowing plants, aggressive creatures, and whatever they can catch in the underground river system. Others manage to stay alive by scavenging and trading junk they find scattered about dilapidated old buildings and scrapyards. It’s an interesting setting to the say the least, and its mystery and danger make it rewarding and fun to explore.

Underrail Review 4

Before delving into the dark tunnels, however, the game offers a robust character creation menu. This is always a plus in my book; the more options available for making your own character unique, the more you can get into the mindset of that person and enhance the game’s role playing aspect. After allocating points to base attributes like Strength and Dexterity, you’re able to specialize in a number of handy skills. This list is quite impressive, and highlights the “play how you like” mentality of UnderRail. Everything from reasonably expected abilities like Guns and Lockpicking to rarely seen skills such as Pickpocketing and Chemistry comprise the selections. From the get-go, UnderRail allows you to focus on combat, stealth, crafting, communicating, or any mish-mash of these that you can think of, provided you have enough points to spend.

Speaking of combat, battles can be quite frequent if you aren’t the sneaking type. When an aggressive foe spots you or combat is manually initialized, a turn-based mode comes into play. The combat system should be quickly learned by almost anyone who’s played other RPGs of this type, as it comes complete with action points, ammo management, and of course, health and energy concerns. A decent amount of tactics will need to be used, as enemies can be incredibly tough, even on low difficulty. Something I would’ve liked to have seen though is the addition of teammates whom you also need to direct through fights. Also, a cover system may have enhanced the fun and variety of battles. As it stands, though, the system works perfectly fine and suits its purpose.

Another addition to your character’s growing list of abilities is the potential for psionic powers. Thought Control, Psychokinesis, and Metathermics are all powerful focuses that serve as good alternatives for magic spells found in fantasy-themed settings. With these psi skills you can put the hurt on enemies in a lot of different ways like electrocuting and freezing them. With these powers, ranged weaponry, and melee combat all being available for your perusal, anyone would be a fool to cross you.

Underrail Review 4

Not that they really have to cross you at all to start with, as the game also lets you get by your adversaries silently. With enough points in Stealth, the ne’er-do-wells will never see you coming..or going. There’s also lockpicks, hacking devices, and omnitools used for opening and occupying ventilation ducts. Just in case you get caught, though, an impressively deep crafting system is here for experimentation to help deal or absorb damage. Investing in Biology will allow you to convert animal parts into helpful healing concoctions. Mechanical, Electronic, Chemistry, and Tailoring are other fields that will enable you to create helpful armors and gadgets that you can’t find anywhere else.

Obviously, UnderRail’s major strength lies in the freedom to create and build any type of character you can think of. It also helps that the world design is fantastic and allows for multiple approaches for nearly every task. For example, an early quest has you switching the power on in several small guard stations around the caves surrounding South Station. At one point there’s a locked station with furious Rathounds nearby. You can lockpick the door if you’re skilled in that area or fight or sneak by the beasts to uncover a hidden trap door with your Perception attribute. Just this simple, small goal has multiple solutions, and so does most every other mission.

If you want the protagonist to have the gift of gab, there’s several options for that as well. You have Persuasion for those with a silver tongue, Intimidation for the brutes that are masters of body language, and Mercantile in those cases where you just have to buy that shiny new toy. Sadly this isn’t a game where you can talk your way out of fighting, and while dialogue options sometimes involve skill checks that can lead to an easier goal success, you’ll still definitely need to kill or sneak your way through most areas.

Underrail Review 4

Finally, there are additional bonuses and quirks you can give your character called Feats. These can apply awesome perks like reducing suspicion during pickpocketing and can really make your characters feel and play differently from one another. You’re allowed to see all possible Feats from the beginning so you can plan your skill and attribute point distribution to fulfill their requirements as you please.  A few hours into my first playthrough with a strong, melee attacking bully, I was already pondering how different situations would be with a different character build. My second hero, a stealthy psionic power using biologist, was even more fun to use and proved to me that UnderRail can indeed be drastically different according to where you put skill points and how you play. To me it’s a great sign when I make a second character so quickly, and shows just how much the player’s input influences gameplay.

UnderRail will not be winning any awards for its graphical prowess, settling on an old school art style to match its other elements. Still, people and environments look clean and adequately detailed. Even though the game takes place in dank, underground locations, there’s plenty of variety in colors schemes and map design. One mission may have you doing shady jobs around a broken down village, while another will involve asking around brightly lit corridors for information, just before requiring you to navigate the twisty-turny caves.The user interface is easy to see and use, utilizing colorful icons, big fonts, and helpful tooltips. Many of these can also be customized via the interface menu.

Here you can adjust text sizes, combat message display specifics, and other details. A huge amount of resolutions are available as well, from modestly small displays to well past my 1920×1080 setting. The only nitpick I have is that objects can be kind of small on larger resolutions, and lacking any sort of zoom function, the only solution is to use a smaller resolution.   Ambiance prevails in every aspect of UnderRail, especially in its music. Low, non-intrusive tunes play as you traverse your surroundings.

Underrail Review 4

Expectantly, things go up tempo when combat is initiated. Overall the audio does a fantastic job of setting the mood no matter what situation you may find yourself in.Sound effects, while sparse outside of combat, all sound like they should and help to further the great immersion provided by the music tracks. Of course, volume levels can be freely adjusted. There is no voice acting for dialogues, but in my opinion it really isn’t needed; way too many times have I played games where horrendous voice acting has ruined otherwise great story moments.

I love it when games allow me to play solely with the mouse, and UnderRail doesn’t disappoint. Sure, there are rebindable shortcut keys for accessing menus and quickly using items, but it’s nice to just use the mouse for everything. Controls are smooth as silk most of the time, and I only use those words because there have been moments I’ve accidentally wandered into a deadly mine or into a security camera’s watchful eye. I suppose that may have more to do with path-finding, but either way it’s a little annoying.

With a game of this size and scope you’d expect there to be oodles of bugs, and I’m overjoyed to report that I’ve only experienced one crash during all my hours of play time. It occurred when I got a little outspoken with someone, triggering them to attack me. Other than that, I’ve seen no bugs or glitches. Not saying there they don’t exist within the game, but I personally never came across them. When I first started playing for this review the version number was At the time of writing this the version is now up to These lightning fast updates have likely fixed many things I didn’t encounter or notice, and it’s a refreshing sight to see a finished product still being worked on so often.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

If my descriptions of all the in-depth features and mechanics of the game haven’t sold you, try the demo. It shouldn’t take long to see that this game is well worth the modest asking price. UnderRail is an incredible accomplishment, encompassing so many great aspects of classic RPGs while offering modern-day accessibility and customization. If you yearn for the golden age of computer role playing, UnderRail is the game for you.

Underrail Technical Summary:

Underrail Review 4

  • Time Played – 28 Hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 1920×1080
  • Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
  • DRM – Steam, None via GOG
  • System Specs – 3.7 GHz AMD A10-6700, 768MB Radeon 8670D, 8GB RAM
  • Control Scheme – M/KB
  • Saved Game Location – Documents\My Games\Underrail\Saves
  • Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam, GOG
  • Demo – Yes
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  • Steven S

    Nice review. I’ve been watching the development of this one for a few years and am happy to see the finished product finally available. As a fan of turn based combat RPGs in general, and of Fallouts 1-2 specifically, I’m super excited to start playing.

    Also, I appreciate that you dropped the comparisons to other games and reviewed this as it’s own title. One of my pet peeves is when a review is written in the “it’s like a cross between GameX and GameY” style. Even worse is when, of the two games they site, one is a title I didn’t like and the other is one I never played.

  • Jarrett Riddle

    Thank you very much! I went out of my way to avoid drawing comparisons like many people do with this game. Thankfully that wasn’t too hard to do because UnderRail is great all on its own.