In the average child’s ranking of amazing things they want to be when they grow up, train driver is right up there with astronauts, pilot firemen and dinosaurs. There’s something about locomotives that can so easily captive a child’s mind, but it’s a love that can go well into adulthood. It’s really no wonder that sim games have such a large audience around the world.
Train Sim World 2 looks to build on the foundations of the regularly updated and expanded original, letting anyone and everyone become a train driver in their time off with a rich, detailed and accurate train driving experience.
We were given a look at two of the new routes to feature in the game, the Köln–Aachen high speed rail link that had me pining for a return to Gamescom, and the Bakerloo line on the London Underground, which brought back some less pleasant memories of the hot, cramped, sweaty confines of the tube.
Not being particularly familiar with the first game, outside of a few trailers, videos and memes, what surprised me is how TSW2 manages to effortlessly straddle the gap between a hardcore sim and being something of a plaything for train enthusiasts. It’s incredibly easy to flick from standing in the cab of the train to a free-flying camera outside that you can use to tour Cologne’s main station and take in the impressively broad recreation of the city around it. It’s not really an open world, but it feels like it as you skate over the station’s roof and gaze off into the distance. This all works once you’ve taken off down the tracks as well, making for what I’m sure is many a train spotter’s dream of being able to set up shot right on the tracks and see a train whizz past.
In the cab, though, it starts to approach something a bit closer to actual work. All of the controls and readouts that are available to an actual train driver are there for you as well, and there’s a lot to figure out as you pan around the cab’s buttons, levers, screens and dials. Thankfully, a redesigned HUD allows you to quickly take in everything that’s really going on, clearly showing the train’s speed and giving you warnings and information. Look around and you can interact with those things directly, but Dovetail have also worked to reduce the number of inputs required for things like opening doors in a station – on a gamepad, it’s as simple as pressing left or right on the D-pad.
But again, it’s all about those details. In the ICE 3, you can enable or disable the driver’s frosted glass cab, either letting the front row of passengers look out the front of the train or now. Then there’s a panel for toggling through all the safety features on the train, to enable things like the LZB that automatically manages the train’s top speed via computer – required in real life because the speed at which the train can travel wouldn’t allow a human operator to slow down in time. This is stuff that a train driver would have to be certified for over their extensive training, so it’s automated by default, but you can fiddle with it if you want.
Heading to the London Underground, and while it doesn’t look anywhere near as grimy and filthy as it should, it’s a fun addition to the game, detailed right down to the familiar patterns on the seat covers of the train. Is it as exciting as you’d expect from Hollywood films? Not so much because, would you believe it? It’s just a big tunnel drilled through the ground, and it’s pretty damn dark down there. If you want to see something, you can turn the train and cab lights on to illuminate the tunnel ahead of you, before bursting into a station and trying to slow down on the right mark.
The tube can show off one of the new features in the game, with track adhesion a new part of the train handling model. Underground, there’s little need for these trains to have wheel slip protection, and with the need to race through the tunnels, they’re very light, with powerful brakes and a powerful throttle. Of course, there’s times where these so-called underground trains run overground, exposing them to the elements and more slippery conditions.
All of that might sound pretty daunting to a complete newcomer to the series, and Dovetail know that people will need to be eased into train driving. Enter ‘The Journey’, which isn’t quite as glamorous as the one found in FIFA games a few years ago. Instead of telling a rags to riches tale of a… train driver, this is instead a paced and spread out set of scenarios and tutorials, always giving you a new gameplay experience and leading you through the new elements that they’ll introduce as you come to them.
You can skip all of this, and create your own scenarios, though. Pick one of the routes in the game – TSW2 will also allow for the various expansions from the original game to be ported into it. with five at launch and the others upgraded through the rest of the year – pick the stops, trains and the traffic that you’ll see passing in the opposite direction, and just go drive your train.
But what if you want to go a little bit off book? Well, you can do that too. There’s an extensive livery editor, letting you layer up and group basic shapes to create completely fresh designs, and there’s also the ‘Off The Rails’ mode, which lets you defy reality. You can run electric trains on a diesel route without power, you can shove oversized freight trains from Sand Patch Grade, or the ICE into the Bakerloo Line’s tunnels, it’s entirely up to you at that point.
With an impressive attention to detail, but also the freedom to bend the game to let you do as you see fit, Train Sim World 2 is sure to please plenty of train fans, no matter how young or old they are. OK, maybe toddlers will struggle to figure out how to play, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate the big choo-choos if their parents are playing.