Wild West Express is a Facebook tycoon game that just seems to be missing something.

Vivio’s Wild West Express seems to be the end result of throwing FrontierVille, CityVille, and Lucky Train in a blender. It’s effectively a Wild West themed city-building game where you need to build a thriving frontier town along a railroad. You need to carefully manage how you use your town’s water supply, since every economic activity you can engage in consumes water. Will you use your water to run trains, grow crops, or simply try to attract people to your station? Your water supply regenerates over time, so you’ve got room to experiment with different sorts of activities.

Wild West Express

On paper, Wild West Express is really interesting, but there’s something about the game that’s off-putting in practice. It’s not at all a bad game, with very clear play mechanics that feel fair. It’s not difficult to manage your water and it’s easy to buy new train pieces and buildings for your town. Even growing crops is simple. You also have missions to fulfill that usually give you a pretty clear idea of what sorts of goals you need to work toward at that point in the game. Yet there’s something about Wild West Express that’s genuinely not engaging. Logging in to play sessions felt like a chore in a way that it wouldn’t with, say, Lucky Train.

Server problems during the test period contributed to the general bad feeling. Instability could make the game unresponsive and force reloading. Even booting up the game often required a long load time, but not one that was rewarded with particularly appealing visuals. Wild West Express is authentic to its source material in that it’s a very brown game, where you build a brown-tinted city in a drab brown wilderness. The visual style is mostly realistic but, as a result, also fairly boring. The only real patches of color are the trains themselves, which are brightly painted and make cheerful noises as they arrive and depart.

Wild West Express

You can try to brighten up your town with decorations, though a prudent player is more likely to want to hoard money and spend it only on necessities. Generally a better train or new buildings will gives you a definite in-game advantage, while loading your town with plants and flowering cacti confers no such advantage. The game supposedly measures your progress by counting up on a stock ticker, but adding things to your town sometimes makes the ticker decrease. It’s not always clear what is actually to your advantage in Wild West Express, beyond following the missions.

Wild West Express is certainly worth trying out. It has a lot of genuinely interesting social features, such as being able to send trains to your neighbors. The game isn’t hard to play or frustrating at all. You might find yourself really sucked in and happily expanding your frontier town. Judging from the game’s stats on Appdata, though, many players seem to have problems with Wild West Express. Can a game be perfectly sound and yet still no fun? Is it just the drab brown visuals and long loading times? It’s hard to say, but the lack of fun is very real.