When you’re hurtling through the outskirts of Cologne, rain lashing the panoramic windscreen of your ICE 3, there are few gaming experiences quite as zen as Train Sim World 2. The sequel to Dovetail Games’ railway simulation has released at the worst possible time, with a certain aviation-themed title taking up transportation enthusiasts’ mindshare, but those looking for some on-rails relaxation would do well to book a ticket for this particular voyage.

As was the case with the original Train Sim World – later re-branded as Train Sim World 2020 – this is a platform upon which further routes and locomotives will be added. The base package comes with three famous tracks: the Bakerloo Line, Köln to Aachen, and Sand Patch Grade. Each comes with its own set of officially licensed trains, such as London’s legendary 1972 Mark 2 Stock or the DB BR 442 Talent 2.

As was the case with previous versions, the trains have been replicated with painstaking authenticity, down to the placement of every switch, button, and sticker. This isn’t the best-looking game ever created, but the attention to detail in cockpits and at some of the stations is stunning; pulling into the Köln Hauptbahnhof, with its ostentatious ceiling and the city’s famous cathedral overlooking the scene, is a genuinely breath-taking experience.

This is a relatively niche release, though, and it does come with some technical shortcomings to boot. As you hurtle through the scenery, the PlayStation 4’s slow stock hard-drive can struggle to stream in all of the assets that the developer wants to show, and this results in occasional hitching which ruins the illusion of high-speed travel. It’s a frustrating issue, and one that’s worsened by the fact that the PlayStation 5 is right around the corner, and custom designed to solve this kind of issue.

The issues expand beyond hardware limitations, however. Despite taking effort to clean up the user experience, the game still defies logic at times, sometimes loading you into a scenario immediately when you select a location – even if it’s not what you necessarily want to do. Once you complete a mission, occasionally the release will pause to ask you what you want to do next; other times it’ll just decide for you, meaning you have to sit through multiple load screens to get to what you want.

The entire on-boarding process has been completely revamped for this version, though, and it’s a welcome change. There are still tutorials to explain the basics of each locomotive, but these segue into guided missions which take you through a range of challenges, all designed to acclimatise you to the trains. From there, you’ll be taken through a variety of hand-picked scenarios, each offering different challenges for you to apply your knowledge to.

You’re then free to work your way through hundreds of timetable missions, spanning various different routes and vehicles. These allow you to tackle the objectives any way you like, although we wish that there was an optional assistance toggle, as it can be hard to remember the fundamentals of specific trains when you’re switching between them. While some locomotives are relatively easy to master, others can take several minutes just to get powered up – and it can be easy to forget the steps.

Nevertheless, when you’re out on the track this is a surprisingly zen experience. You control the trains from a first-person perspective in the cockpit, but you can toggle to an external camera in order to get an outside view of your train – all while retaining command. The control scheme has been overhauled and finally feels suited to the DualShock 4, with multi-button commands like opening doors now requiring single button pushes, as opposed to the cumbersome approach of previous versions.

All previous expansion packs, such as the excellent East Coastway add-on spanning Brighton to Eastbourne, are being ported to Train Sim World 2 for free – but unfortunately they retain the classic control scheme. While it’s great that Dovetail Games is investing the effort to incorporate these into one gigantic package, it does highlight how poor the old control scheme was when you return to these expansions, and it’s a shame they haven’t been given an upgrade.

Outside of driving trains, there are side-activities that you can complete on each route, such as placing maps and fixing fences, but it’s not particularly compelling stuff. As you spend more time on each route and with the various locomotives, you’ll earn XP, but this doesn’t really do anything other than provide you with a numeric record of how much time you’ve spent with each train. You also earn medals based on your performance, which at least gives you incentive to stick to your timetable.

Other new features include a livery editor, which means you can customise your trains using a variety of different vector shapes. Gran Turismo Sport has proven that people are obscenely talented with these kinds of tools, but we don’t have the patience nor willpower to use it, and without the option to share designs online, the feature’s pretty pointless from our perspective. You can also build your own scenarios and mix-and-match trains to create fantasy transportation experiences.

Conclusion

Train Sim World 2 is unquestionably an acquired taste, but even if you’re not a railway enthusiast, there’s a relaxing release here that we recommend. Once you get to grips with how to operate the various locomotives, there’s a tangible satisfaction to kicking back for 60 minutes with the hum of the engine in the background, as you travel cross-country through urban and rural routes. We’ve already lost dozens of hours to this title, and with the base package merely representing the beginning of its journey, we suspect we’ll be spending a lot more time behind the controls of some of the world's most famous trains.