We still haven’t quite concluded what makes the “work simulator” sub-genre so compelling, but Train Sim World definitely taps into it. Like the early days of Farming Simulator, this game’s obsessive adherence to protocol and attention to detail makes it an experience we’ve found strangely compulsive – even if we’ve spent hours of our playtime sitting in a driver’s seat simply staring out of a window. So what keeps this game from coming off the rails?
British developer Dovetail Games may be best known by PlayStation 4 owners for its fishing franchise, but it’s been making railway simulators for over a decade now, so there’s plenty of pedigree on display. The title compiles three “iconic” routes from around the world: the Great Western Railway, spanning London Paddington through to Reading; the Mitteldeutschland S-Bahn which takes you through the historic city of Leipzig; and the Northeast Corridor in New York.
There are a variety of trains to drive, and while our knowledge of locomotives begins and ends with the Kylie Minogue song, we appreciated the combination of commuter services with freight trains. Each machine requires a different skillset to operate, whether it’s connecting the Bombardier Talent 2’s pantographs to the overhead lines in order to power it or managing the brakes on GWR’s Class 66. Tutorials get you up to speed on each vehicle.
The game includes a number of Scenarios across each of its disciplines, each designed to put you in a situation that real railway operators may encounter. In one, for example, you’re roped in to a run a commuter service from London Paddington to Reading after another driver goes AWOL, so you need to catch a train back to the capital before embarking on your journey. Other scenarios see you operating in inclement weather.
Of course, fans will probably get most mileage out of the sheer array of services available for you to run at your own leisure. You can set seasonal and weather parameters and then head out on one of hundreds of real-world journeys, either as the train driver or as a passenger. You can stop at any station to explore, while the scenery throughout is authentic. Yes, more routes from around the world would have always been appreciated, but the ones available are well done.
That said, you have to know what you’re getting into here: this is a simulator. In order to drive each of the trains then you’re going to need to learn how they function, from their reverser handle right the way through to their throttle. The game holds your hand as much as you want it to, but if you’re not willing to sit down and actually learn about how these vehicles work, then it’s not the game for you; simply starting the train can take several minutes at a time.
Once you’re on the move, though, there’s an undeniable satisfaction to it all; it feels great knowing that you’ve followed a complicated series of steps to get your journey underway, and depending on what kind of service you’re running, it can be entertaining seeing if you can keep everything on time. We’ve all been subject to long train delays in the past, but when you’re actually in the hot seat and the one responsible, it may change your perspective just a bit.
The only major disappointment is that there’s no PlayStation VR support. While the game struggles to run on the PlayStation 4 without virtual reality, sputtering like an old steam train that’s run out of fuel, it would have been great to actually sit inside the cockpits of these transportation juggernauts, as they’re meticulously detailed and fun to operate. The train models themselves are impressive both inside and out, although the game as a whole can feel a bit lifeless – particularly on stations.
Games like Train Sim World will always benefit from a greater array of content: more trains, more routes, and more services. That said, learning how each of the trains in this title work and mastering the three main disciplines will take you hours at a time, and while it’s very much an acquired taste, we derived a mixture of satisfaction and relaxation from our new role as a railway operator.