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It’s been a year since Train Sim World 2 invited fledgling railway aficionados to master its Rush Hour scenarios on the PS5, making the sudden arrival of sequel Train Sim World 3 more unexpected than a London Northwestern cancellation. With crucial engine and user interface improvements, however, this is the best simulation that developer Dovetail Games has made to date – and with some great routes included at launch, it represents better value for money than a British train ticket, too.

Those of you upgrading from past releases will appreciate the UI improvements almost instantly, as the whole package feels snappy and premium. There’s a great new ambient soundtrack which backdrops the menus, and blends the sounds of weather (more on that later) with subtle chords – it really gets you in the right frame of mind, as you seek to unwind on the rails. You can now search and filter locos, and you can even jump into an activity based on how much time you have.

One major change is that trains have been decoupled from their parent routes, and this has been facilitated by a new training area inspired by a famous German test track. This scenic Bavarian-esque sandbox plays host to all of your currently owned locos, and really gives you the freedom to examine them in 3D space and appreciate all of their details. Even more importantly, it provides crucial training exercises and the opportunity to familiarise yourself with their features in a no-pressure environment.

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Once you’re ready to complete some timetables, the standard version of Train Sim World 3 comes with a trio of routes for you to master: the heavily freight-based Cajon Pass, the impressively enormous Schnellfahrstrecke Kassel-Würzburg, and the expanded Southeastern High Speed. Franchise fans may take issue with Dovetail’s decision to effectively repackage an older add-on, but the extension of Ebbsfleet to Ashford in the latter incorporates a ton of track – and this was already one of the best routes in the game.

In fact, as a trio, there’s quite a good amount of variety here. Personally, we’ve never been a huge fan of the chunky American freight timetables, so Cajon Pass’ scorching trek from Barstow to San Bernardino doesn’t exactly turn our Master Key on – but it’s different strokes for different folks, and there are a multitude of different ways to purchase this sequel to ensure you get the content you want. It should be noted that you can import any older routes, too – and you can transfer your progression to boot.

Schnellfahrstrecke Kassel-Würzburg is a revelation, however. Packing over 186 kilometres of glorious German scenery, this route effectively takes you from the top of the country to the bottom, at speeds of up to 280km/h. This is an incredible route, that goes over viaducts and through tunnels, as you master the oft-requested ICE 1. In fact, the opening salvo for this particular route’s campaign sees you running a speed test, meaning you can just fly from one end to the other, without needing to worry too much about signals or speed limits.

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It's a fantastic demonstration of what Dovetail has been working towards, because it feels like a true journey – like you’ve actually travelled somewhere. There were times in past Train Sim World titles where it felt like you were fulfilling objectives without actually going anywhere, but key visual improvements mean that the outdoors can look completely different at the beginning of a journey now compared to the end.

Contributing to this is the new volumetric cloud system, which has a huge impact on the vastly improved lighting. It means that clouds can form or clear, dynamically, in real-time, meaning that the scenery is constantly changing. Sometimes it’ll look bright and clear outside; other times it’ll look dull and dreary – and you’ll also encounter a spectrum of different permutations in between, which when paired with the day-night cycle, helps to create the sensation of passing time.

This is important because some railway journeys can take over an hour to complete, and this idea that time is moving along with the train helps to build the illusion that you’re on a journey. It should be underlined that this feeling is further heightened by the addition of dynamic weather, which means you can start a service in dry daylight conditions and end it in a snow storm at night. Of course, all of this has an effect on how the trains handle and the type of signals you’ll encounter, too.

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So, the game is vastly more immersive overall, then, and it looks better, with those all-important lighting changes adding a vibrancy to the presentation. Despite the significant improvements, however, it is still uneven – this is a niche, relatively low-budget product after all. Even on the PS5, there are still significant issues with LOD, or level of detail, which means assets are drawn in as you approach them. As you can imagine, this is particularly problematic in a game where you’re pretty much always moving through scenery at high speeds.

Similarly, the sheer complexity of the game means that bugs abound. Whether it’s basic things like Trophies failing to unlock or more specific issues with signalling, you’re going to encounter moments where the game simply doesn’t act in the way you expect it to. One of the biggest oversights, in our opinion, is how the game will sometimes fail to present important concepts – despite some pretty robust tutorials across the board – which will leave you looking to Google for solutions to problems that the title never even attempts to teach.

But it’s also fair to say that Train Sim World 3 knows its audience, and if you’re buying a simulator as deep and as complex as this, you’re probably going to accept the idea that you may need to dig for more information when you get stuck. It’s an area that Dovetail could improve upon, but the Training Centre does at least give you more of an opportunity to experiment and feel your way around a loco before you get to the good stuff.

Conclusion

Train Sim World 3 is the most immersive railway simulation from Dovetail to date. For the first time since the series debuted, the game really sells the illusion that you’re on a journey – and impressively enormous routes like Schnellfahrstrecke Kassel-Würzburg help. While the release still has obvious visual flaws, the new lighting, volumetric clouds, and dynamic weather system take the presentation to the next level – and the user interface improvements should not be underestimated either. The target audience for a title like this will never be especially large, but few other franchises find a balance between simulation, virtual tourism, and zen-like relaxation quite like this one.