Do you remember the days when you could go on the underground without having to struggle for breath through a flimsy mask, eyeing anyone who even so much as looks like they're thinking about coughing with great suspicion (boy, is that ever an intro that'll date this review)? Us too. But with the normal world still on hiatus for the time being, if you're longing to take in the sights and sounds of the underground without being struck down by plague 2.0, you could do a lot worse than dive into the next best thing, and step behind the wheel (or at the very least, the deadman's handle) of the train for yourself, in Dovetail Games' near pixel-perfect recreation of the Bakerloo line (and so much more) in Train Sim World 2.
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Following on from Train Sim World 2020 and Train Sim World: The Original, those who are familiar with the series will know what they're letting themselves in for here. For everyone else - Train Sim World is a first-person, Unreal engine-powered simulator that lets you walk the line, drive the track, and get your hands dirty with almost everything a real train driver would do on a range of authentically modelled (and great looking) trains, where (almost) every bell, whistle and lever works as it would do in real life.
Yet despite the 2 moniker, it looks like any real major changes must have happened under the hood, as there doesn't seem to be any new, huge, ground-breaking features here. Instead, Dovetail assure us the engine has been tweaked to prep the way for the features we've all been waiting for in the near future, like steam trains and multiplayer. Instead, Train Sim World 2 bundles together an impressive variety of brand new lines - the Bakerloo line for the UK; the Cologne - Aachen high speed line (or " Schnellfahrstrecke Köln - Aachen" for those who enjoy the feel of leather shorts); and the simultaneously very scenic, yet incredibly industrial Sand Patch Grade for the hot dog fans across the pond - a heavily industrial line that sees you hauling heavy, heavy cargo across the Allegheny Mountains through Pennsylvania.
What's really clever about this (and what Dovetail do so well) is that while you may look at the list and think "ah, it's just a bunch of trains", there's actually a huge amount of variety here. If you want an intense, time-based challenge (not to mention plenty of novelty value), you'll take on the to-the-second-timing of the Bakerloo line and the underground, where every mistake you make sees you falling further and further behind against your schedule. Over in America, the Sand Patch Grade provides all the heavy, industrial work you could want, and a very different kind of driving experience. Rather than having to worry about sticking to the timetable, all you have to do is make sure everything gets where it's going, doing absolutely everything yourself - hopping on and off your train to switch the points, couple the trains, or fill hoppers full of coal (OK, that last one's done mostly for you - but you do have to use a crazy on-board computer to set your train to go slow, so they'll actually fill up). Meanwhile, Cologne - Aachen offers yet another very different challenge, letting you either go intercity on the ICE train (in which case you'll be spending most of your time looking out for speed limits and making sure you aren't going too fast), or dashing between the smaller towns on a commuter run in the DB-442 Talent-2.
Seeing as we're all big fans of numbers and statistics at Outcyders, here's a visual breakdown of what you get:
- Train: 1972 London Underground Stock
- Scenarios (more objective based challenges): 5
- Timetables (set services you can take control of): 201
Schnellfahrstrecke Köln - Aachen
- Trains: ICE 3M (new), BR442 Talent 2
- Scenarios: 5
- Timetables: 49
Sand Patch Grade
- Trains: AC4400CW, GP38-2 and SD40-2
- Scenarios (more objective based challenges): 8 (four of which take two hours each)
- Timetables (set services you can take control of): 65
Each route essentially exists as its own, individual entity, with its own selection of things to do. As in Train Sim World 2020, while there are collectibles to be found scattering the lines and train stations, the main attraction in each pack is the "journey" mode, or essentially a career, that combines both "scenarios" (pre-set trips that take you through doing something a bit more complex - like running a very heavy load of cargo up the mountains in bad weather, letting you admire the game's stunning weather effects) and timetabled services, which are more hands-off itineraries that ask you to get from A to B. Starting out with the tutorials, the journey mode leads you by the hand and tries to keep things feeling fresh, by alternating where you're going from and to, weaving together a variety of things for you to do. There's also, happily, the ability to plan your own service (finally!), so if you want to just zip from Baker Street to Marylebone, you can do just that, without having to choose from one of Dovetail's pre-approved routes.
For every trip you take, you'll be being scored on your skills as a driver - but unfortunately, that still only really means whether you drive at the speed limit or not. While that's better than Train Sim used to do - when you could just floor it from one end to the other, doing 100mph round bends with a 20mph limit without issue - it does still feel like either the journey mode, or the scenarios, could do with having a little bit more to them. Perhaps the scenarios could be beefed up with unexpected events happening - maybe a passenger being taken ill, or a fuse blowing on the train (if you're going to go to all that effort of modelling all the switches and auxiliary systems, you may as well give us an excuse to use them) - while the game itself could score you on more things. I'm pretty sure drivers are meant to sound their horn before passing through tunnels, etc, but the game never asks you to, nor rewards/punishes you for doing so. You can whack the heat up to max in the carriages on an already sunny day, and none of your passengers really seem to care. Ditto for using your emergency brakes to stop - sure, you may end up with square wheels, but if you stop on the dot, you're still a perfect driver. Don't get me wrong, driving the trains is still a lot of fun, with each feeling different to the last, and pushing yourself to stick to the timetable (and the speed limits) means you have to stay involved. But perhaps things could be even better with something that marks you on the quality of your driving, rather than just the time taken?
Still, while the amount of variety you'll find within each pack can vary, it's the variety between the packs that really has us sold on Train Sim World 2. While it's easy to see the appeal of most of the packs Dovetail put out, there's something particularly special that clicks when you end up playing a line you're familiar with (like the West Somerset Railway was for us), and can see all the little bits and bobs you remember being accurately recreated in the game. For TSW 2, we've had that feeling twice over, as not only is the Bakerloo line our go-to tube if we ever have to head to a press event in London (remember those?), but Cologne-Aachen is the route we usually take to industry big show gamescom - take the Eurostar from St Pancras, fear for your safety in Brussels-Midi, and then head off to the land of sauerkraut on either an ICE or a Thalys train - something that's actually recreated on the on-board signage in game.
And while the sweeping archways of Cologne Hauptbahnhof (central train station) are impressive enough, it's the little touches that impress the most. The ICE train comes complete with its on-board bistro car!
The seats on the underground look almost as uncomfortable and oddly lumpy as they are in real life!
And there's even working signage on the underground!
Step through the sliding Star Trek like glass doors on the ICE 3, the German high-speed, cross-country intercity train, and everything is how it would be in real life - the seats, tables, on-board displays - and even the total lack of any storage space for anything above a pocket-sized bag (pretty smart for a cross-country train, wouldn't you agree?). There's a lot of really nice, cool effects here - but even if you aren't familiar with the routes (let's face it - how many of us have been on the Sand Patch Grade in real life? Especially the industrially yard bits), you can still have a lot of fun.
But it's not entirely smooth sailing with Train Sim World 2, as there are still a few issues here that may be familiar to Train Sim players (or anyone who read our previous reviews) - although all are much less of an issue than before. First up are the bugs, which, as mentioned, are far less prevalent, yet still have a habit of popping up in odd places. Take the Bakerloo line. One of the timetables here asks you to bring a train into service, by going from the London Road Depot to Elephant and Castle. Sounds easy enough - but the way you come out of the depot, Elephant and Castle is actually behind you, past red signals and incorrectly set points you can't change, so you physically can't actually get there.
Similarly, other timetabled services on the underground suffer from their own issues. Another "bring this train into service" job, this time from Stonebridge Park Depot to Stonebridge Park proper, doesn't seem to want you to bring the train into service so much as do the entire length of the Bakerloo line. Perhaps more bizarre is the fact that the signals don't seem to work properly in certain sections of the line. Though the game tells me these are green, and they're treated as green, unless this is the way I find out I'm red-green colourblind, they certainly don't look it to me.
Perhaps more of an issue, though, are the tutorials. As you'd likely expect, driving a train can be a pretty tricky thing to get your head around at times, with more buttons and knobs than the Houses of Parliament, so getting the tutorials right is pretty important. One of the things we've often complained about is how sometimes, your train just refuses to go, and you can't figure out why. This time, Dovetail have provided a brand new interface that shows you more of the information you need to figure out what's going wrong - including whether your doors are open or locked - which is a good thing!
This is combined with a new control scheme called "immersion", which lets you look around with the right stick, and zoom in/out with the left, giving you the tools you need to use more of the buttons and levers in the cab, and rely less on controller shortcuts. The only problem is, the tutorials themselves haven't actually been updated to take advantage of it. So when the tutorial tells you to push the left stick forward to move the direction selector forward, all that happens when you do so is it zooms in, making it easy to end up leaving more confused than when you started.
Seeing as I'm having a bit of a moan, can I also register my distaste at Dovetail (based in Chatham, Kent) defaulting to what I can only assume is the American standard for so many terms. Who calls them switches rather than points? Equally depressing is how the voice over for the underground tutorial has one of those accents where "like" comes out as "laaak". "It's taam" to take control of the "naanteen seventy tuu" underground train. Sigh.
The biggest thing that's missing here, though, is some sort of in-game manual. Though there's the odd reference hidden away to being able to download a PDF, when so many of the trains have so many idiosyncrasies, requiring things to be set up in a very specific way (or a very specific order) for them to work, having the information you need on-hand is incredibly important. If you're asked to take charge of a double-header, and you have no idea how to set up the tail unit so you can control it from the front, the game essentially leaves you with a puzzle you can't solve, because you don't have the information you need. Sure, a tutorial or scenario may touch on it once, but you really need to have that info in an easily-accessible form - and the only way to really do that is through an in-game system. At one point, my ICE train started shouting something at me in German, over and over and over again. With no on-screen explanation of what was wrong, I had no idea what was wrong - and no way of putting it right.
But despite the foibles, there's a lot here to like - and though it may currently be a download-only game (boo!) it does weigh in at a more pocket-friendly price. For just £25, Train Sim World 2 feels like great value, especially when Dovetail usually like to charge £20 for a single route. With enough "wow" moments to keep you going, whether you're a massive train spotter, or just fancy trying to take control of everything from an underground train, to a cross-continetnal high speed train, or a 4,400 horsepower monster, Train Sim World 2 is well worth a look.
There, we made it all the way through the review without making the obvious Jam reference.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4