There’s nothing quite like British train travel. And thankfully, Train Sim World is nothing like British train travel; it’s much, much better.
In Train Sim World’s fantasy universe, trains arrive on time, commuters aren’t so tightly packed in that their arse fuses with that of the person next to them, and cancellations are the stuff of a madman’s dreams. At least, that’s the case until you clamber into the cabin of one of the game’s British, American or German trains. Then things get a bit more complicated.
Train simulators have traditionally been a PC-only venture, not least because of the complexity of controlling such a vehicle. American Truck Simulator features a similarly realistic portrayal of transportation, but step inside a virtual lorry and you’re greeted by the comforting sight of a steering wheel. Setting foot inside Train Sim World’s cabs is a truly daunting moment as you’re greeted by an array of buttons and levers with no familiar reference point.
Yet once you get over the urge to leap out of the cabin and bolt down the platform (something the game actually lets you do), it’s not that hard to get to grips with the basics. Multiple tutorials take you through starting and stopping each type of train, and on-screen prompts leave you in no doubt as to what to do next. The basic controls, such as throttle and headlights, have been mapped to the controller, but most buttons still need to be pressed using the cursor, which is where the on-screen prompts become invaluable.
These prompts can be disabled if you’re a serious piston-head, but it’s comforting to have that level of support. The snag is that while you won’t ever need to use half the controls, selecting buttons can be a little fiddly. The smaller buttons, optional as they often are, can be infuriatingly hard to activate. The game would benefit from some sort of “snap to” mode, where your pointer automatically leaps between buttons.
But once you push past the game’s initial learning curve, Train Sim World opens up like a late-night train traveller parting company with the evening’s drinks. What’s particularly surprising about Train Sim World is that you don’t even have to set foot inside the cab of a train. While the game isn’t massive in scope, featuring a mere three (lengthy) rail lines, you’re free to explore as you see fit. The game boasts that you can “Be the Driver!” but, like theHunter: Call of the Wild, there’s much entertainment to be had just pottering around. If driving isn’t your thing you can roam around on foot, stepping onto a train of your choice and watching the world go by from the inside of a carriage, itself a wonderfully relaxing experience.
Mind the gap
The game’s London, New York and Lipizig tracks each sport a country-appropriate flavour, though there are few specific landmarks; if you’re familiar with any of the locales, don’t expect to be able to pick out your house or even your local shopping centre. But they’re all pleasing to the eye, whether viewed from the inside of a train’s cab or a first-class carriage. There were, however, occasions where I was able to pick out an occasionally visual judder as the train careened along.
Train Sim World’s biggest surprise is that you can step off the platform and walk the entire length of the track, should you so desire. This isn’t quite as entertaining as it may sound since, moving at a slower pace, you start to notice the total lack of living people (fellow passengers aside); it’s as if the rest of the world has been annihilated by aliens and the survivors keep moving to avoid a similar fate. Equally odd is the way that, gazing through the top of a station’s invisible wall, you’re greeted by row upon row of motionless cardboard cutouts. That said, it’s hardly a gamebreaker and when you’re moving, the game mostly convinces.
Since Train Sim World is literally on rails there’s less scope for silliness – though there are shenanigans to be had. The game allows you to take control of any train, even if you’re a passenger, which means you can happily wander up to the cabin and start hitting buttons when there’s a computer-controlled driver in charge. I found it endlessly amusing to, as the sole driver, set the train to maximum speed and then wander back through the cabins to sit with the passengers. Being able to drive in various weather conditions adds spice to the game but, despite my best efforts, I was unable to derail any of the trains.
There’s so much to do here and it’s up to you exactly how you engage with the game. If you want to plough through the game’s various scenarios – which include hauling freight, dealing with Christmas closures, and train coupling (not as filthy as it sounds) – you’re well catered for here. Alternatively, if you just want to drive a train without any of the pressure, which was more my style, you can happily hop into one and abandon it at the next station to leap aboard another. Or for those really lazy days, gazing through a train window as the snow falls all around can be just as rewarding.
Niche but nice
Train Sim World isn’t a conventionally exciting game, nor does it pretend to be and, to some, will remain a niche interest. It’s not perfect and, given the game’s multiple train models, there may be times that you’ll struggle to remember how to start your vehicle of choice. But this is clearly a labour of love, by people who know their subject and it shows. If you’ve even the remotest interest in trains, whether as a passenger or would-be-driver you’ll get a lot out of Train Sim World; hop on board and you won’t be disappointed.