Most people probably think of train simulators as a fairly niche genre within the gaming world, and although they are probably right, that isn’t to say you have to be a train fanatic to enjoy them. Anyone who has played Dovetail Games’ series train simulators will know that they are surprisingly accessible even to just the casual fan, as well as providing countless hours of fun for simulator enthusiasts.
Since its release in 2018, Train Sim World has grown and evolved with various DLC releases, allowing you to experience driving various trains through four different countries. TSW2 now builds upon that, providing an updated platform that features improvements to both the graphics and the physics, while laying the foundations for steam engines and multiplayer to be added in future.
The two new routes include Köln–Aachen in Germany (featuring both the high speed ICE 3M and regional Talent 2 train), and the London Underground’s Bakerloo Line. Sand Patch Grade, which was the first route in TSW, also makes a return with a bit of a sprucing up. Each of the routes are highly detailed and, speaking as a Londoner, I can vouch that the Bakerloo Line is impressively accurate in its representation. Not only are the stations faithfully replicated (regular commuters will recognise the Sherlock Holmes tiles at Baker Street), but even above ground, I was able to recognise familiar buildings like the Royal Mail Depot near Stonebridge Park.
A few things can break the immersion though, such as the presence of passengers still on your train when you enter sidings after finishing the route, and the overall sounds are lacking, both in terms of volume and accuracy. As you’re free to get out of your train and walk around the stations, the first thing you’ll notice is that the platforms are sparsely populated in terms of passengers, although the adverts on the platforms themselves look true to life. Little things like the PA announcements or staff dispatching trains from the platform would make a nice touch if they were added. Exploring the stations by foot also enables you to complete optional objectives, such as placing route maps or refilling first aid kits.
The Köln–Aachen route offers a change of scene to the dark tunnels beneath London. Driving the route with the ICE 3M, which can easily reach speeds 250kmph, trees and buildings whip by. It’s here that the external camera comes in handy to admire the views, as well as taking a closer look at the other railway traffic on the route. There’s also the BR 442 Talent 2, which takes things a little slower than the ICE, and I found myself preferring scenarios with this train as there were more stations to stop at and keep me engaged.
Outside of the passenger routes, the revamped Sand Patch Grade offers players some freight action. While this was the first route released for PC in TSW, it’s only now that console players are able to experience one of the steepest railroads in America. The new adhesion physics mean you have to keep a close eye on your speed, especially in wet or snowy conditions to avoid excessive wheel-slip. With this route, you have a choice of three locomotives to operate as well as plenty of wagons to shunt around Cumberland Yard. For me, the highlight is still unleashing my inner child and operating the railway turntable!
The trains and locomotives themselves have great amounts of detail, with plenty of switches to flick, dials to check, and computer screens to look through. While that might sound overwhelming, the tutorials and scenarios do a good job of teaching you which buttons to press to turn on the train and get yourself moving. From there, it’s pretty easy to control the train’s throttle and brakes, although it’s still down to you to manage your speed and stop in the right place on the platforms. If you want to use the more advanced features of each train, such as the automatic signalling and safety systems (SIFA, PZB or LZB in the German trains), or perhaps some of the cruise control systems, you’ll probably need to refer to the real world manuals found online, as none of the scenarios or tutorials currently take you those features.
When you do get going, the overhauled HUD reduces clutter, while still providing you with important information like your train’s speed, the speed limit, as well as the status of the signal ahead. If you want to crank up the realism, you’re free to turn off this information, but you’d better hope your route knowledge is up to scratch!
Other than the new routes, TSW2 also adds the Scenario Planner, which gives you the ability to create your own scenarios with whatever routes, trains and destinations you wish. Unfortunately, you can’t share or use other player’s scenarios, but Steam Workshop and console support would be a welcome addition in future. An ‘Off The Rails’ mode lets you step outside the realms of what is physically possible, such as running electric trains on a diesel route. This long-awaited feature will increase replayability, and is easy enough for anyone to use.
Speaking of easy to use, the new Livery Designer allows you to unleash your creativity, and then bring those designs to life on your routes in the game. Using various shapes and layers, you can create some quite complex designs for the locomotives, coaches and even freight wagons. I’ve already seen some people come up with some really stunning designs, while mine have looked decidedly garish!
For those of you who have built up a collection of DLCs from Train Sim World (or Train Sim World 2020 as it’s currently called), you will be able to enjoy your existing routes and trains in TSW2 through the ‘Preserved Collection’. Through the rest of 2020, Dovetail will be bringing across most, but not all of those routes to TSW2. It’s a shame that they’re not upgrading any of these routes, but it’s still good to see and means players will get to use them in the scenario editor.
Sadly, I did encounter a number of bugs and issues with both the review build and public release. One particularly annoying bug resulted in the game crashing multiple times at the same point in a route and was only fixed by rolling back my GPU drivers… which then seemed to result in increased stuttering and FPS drops. I also encountered a bug when resuming a saved game that meant the emergency breaks were locked ‘on’, resulting in me having to restart the whole scenario and throwing almost an hour of play down the drain.