Sometimes we wonder if we're just not cut out to be a train driver. Whizzing along at 125 mph in our shiny new British Rail High Speed Train, you don't really have time to stop and admire the scenery, as things tend to happen fast - like how quickly stations approach. Slamming the brakes on with only a few hundred yards to go, even grinding your wheels flat isn't going to stop a train full of passengers - yet alone keep them comfortable. And then you've got to figure out how to get the flipping thing moving again, so you can sheepishly reverse into the station...
Train Sim World - this time without the "Founder's Edition" subtitle - is a fully fledged release that follows on from the recent Xbox One exclusive outing. Having seemingly tested the waters with just the one pack, Train Sim World contains three very different packs - the London Paddington to Reading route in Great Western Express; inner city Noo York in the North Eastern Corridor pack; and the hustle and bustle of Leipzig and the S-Bahn in Rapid Transit. With six very different trains to drive across three equally different countries (and with more to come very soon!), there's a massive amount of variety here - and we're pleased to say, it's a much better all round package than the recent Founder's Edition, in every way possible.
If you've never played Train Sim World before, you may be surprised to find how much freedom you get compared to other, older sim games. Played from a first person perspective, and powered by the Unreal Engine 4, you aren't tied to the train in any way at all - and in fact, you're free to get up and walk around the cab, stroll through the carriages, take a seat with the passengers, and even jump off on platforms to go hunting for collectibles (keep an eye on your timetable, mind). When it comes to actually driving the trains, this is a game that offers a real driver's eye view, as you plonk yourself into the cabs of the very different, and often very complex trains, being greeted by a real cacophony of buttons, switches, dials, and everything else - the vast majority of which works exactly as it does in real life.
Ordinarily, this is where we'd say "but don't worry - despite all the buttons, this is a lot easier to get the hang of than you may expect", but actually, here, that's not entirely true. While each of the trains comes with its own tutorial, which talks you through the basics of how to get each train moving, it really does only deal with just that - the basics. What it doesn't tell you is what to do when things go wrong - like when you've had to use your emergency brake to slow down, and then for some reason the train (or game) won't accept you trying to throttle up. This is one of the biggest issues with the game, as should your train stop moving, there's literally nothing in the way of any sort of guidance as to why it's stopped, and how you can get it moving again. While sometimes it's because you've left one of the train's many brakes on, at other times, it seems to be more of a glitch than anything, as you have to throttle down and throttle up several times to make the train realise you want it to start moving. To make things that little more awkward, there's also nothing in the way of a built in manual here, either - and while you can look up the PC version manual online, it's not as easy to do that from a console - and the manual's been written with PC players, and buttons in mind. Some of the more complex systems in the game - like the German safety system, PZB, which is turned off by default, but when enabled requires you to constantly acknowledge barely visible warning signs, lest your emergency brakes be automatically switched on, could desperately do with a tutorial to explain them in game. Some sort of "advanced" set of tutorials would go a long way here.
When things are going smoothly, though, you can actually have a lot of fun here, in a game that's unusually engaging, and often pretty relaxing (at least, until you end up swearing at your train for refusing to start driving again). As hinted at earlier, there's a real variety to both the trains, and the things you'll be doing with them, too. While in Germany, you'll be peering through the oddly restricted window of the S-Bahn, as you shuttle passengers back and forth on what seems to be a mix of an overground and underground train (wombling free), in America, you'll be given the choice between running passenger services on the Amtrak City Sprinter ACS-64, on a track that's much, much hillier than any of the others in the game, with sweeping steep slopes, tight tunnels, and equally harsh inclines as you try and get your passengers from A to B; or hauling freight (mostly rubbish) in the CSX GP38-2, on routes that'll see you having to take full advantage of the first person view, as you hop out, couple and disconnect your freight, and even manually switch points over. It's a very different challenge to running a passenger service, and a lot of fun.
Over in the UK, meanwhile, Train Sim World gives you a little bit of everything. Those wanting the challenge of stopping/starting can hop into a bog standard commuter train, the Class 166, to shuttle commuters back and forth; the goods side of thing is handled by the burly Class 66; while the long (and if you ask us, dull) intercity routes see you stepping into the sleek InterCity 125 High Speed Train, where you'll have almost literally nothing to do for half an hour as you blaze from Paddington to Reading.
Far from just adding extra packs to the Train Sim World: Founder's Edition experience, though, this release has given everything a real overhaul. This is a game that's a lot less buggy - there's no falling out of doors when the train's running here - and one that runs a lot, lot better too, getting up to 60 FPS in the German pack, whilst managing a pretty solid 30ish in the UK/US packs, only sometimes struggling when other heavily loaded trains come past. It all makes for a much more enjoyable experience, and a game that feels much less like it's only just managing to run. With that in mind, it does make you wonder why they bothered releasing the Founder's Edition in the first place. Why not take the time to get it right, and put out a much more impressive package like this?
In terms of value for money, especially, there's really no contest between this and the Founder's Edition. With double the number of trains, triple the number of tracks, a full 24 hour service schedule for each, giving you a huge range of different routes to take over, and some 17 scenarios to play through (effectively a kind of "mission", with a specific objective - like having to rescue a broken down passenger service), this is game that has so much more to offer than the Founder's Edition did, and which fully justifies the asking price. With more to come very soon - we're particularly looking forward to the West Somerset Railway expansion - it'll be interesting to see how it shapes up with regards to pricing. We're not sure we'll be willing to shell out £20 for a single new pack, when three packs cost £40 in the starter pack.
That all being said, while Train Sim World may be an impressive package, there is still a lot of room to grow here - particularly with regards to sticking power, as there's nothing in the way of a proper career mode. Here, Bus Simulator set the bar, providing a real feeling of progression as it tracked how many passengers you'd served, and gave you XP for doing things right, like signalling at junctions (and penalised you for doing them wrong). Train Sim World does have a kind of XP system running in the background, but there's no penalty at all for doing things wrong, and really no mention of your passengers whatsoever, never mind their comfort, besides having to open doors for some folk that don't seem to actually exist. It'd be nice to get bonus points for running a smooth service, for example, with the results perhaps tied into some sort of real career mode that sees you unlocking new services, and getting promoted, with an actual sense of progression. Either that, or more scenarios anyway. Offering just five or six missions with each pack seems more than a little stingy, especially when the hardest part in each game is making and modelling the track, rather than coming up with ideas for missions that make use of it!
Still, delivering so many tracks, so many trains, and wrapping it up in a package that's a lot, lot less buggy than Founder's Edition, there's a lot to like here, in a game that's well worth picking up if you're looking for something a little bit different, with bit more of a chill-out vibe. However, a bit more information about what's gone wrong when your train stops moving, and bit of bug fixing (we finished an hour long service on a HST, only to find our doors were perma-locked, and we couldn't get off to finish the mission), and a proper career mode would go a long way to making this into a real must buy. It'll be interesting to see how the series continues to grow, now it's established a foothold on consoles, as it deserves a much larger market than its found on PC.
Format Reviewed: PC