Many of the kids from my generation share the same experiences when it comes to trains. We watched Thomas the Tank Engine with glee and we played with wooden train track sets to build the tracks of our dreams. If I was able to tell 5-year-old Wyatt that there will be a game that comes out in 27 years that lets me become a train conductor, I would have been absolutely excited.
Sitting down and playing the game as a 33-year-old man now, my feelings are quite different. The game Dovetail Games put together should be an absolute blast for the right crowd. But, Train Sim World 2 is not a game that I would recommend for the casual gamer.
Grab your conductor hat
The base game gives you three very different railways to roam. You can choose from the Sand Patch Grade: one of the steepest railways in the United States, the Schnellfahrstrecke Köln: the German train superspeedway that lets you hit up to 185 mph, and my personal favorite, The London Underground Bakerloo line.
You start in the AC4400CW engine at Sand Patch Grade to learn the ropes. Upon settling in, you immediately notice that this train has more buttons than a teenager’s backpack from the 1990s. Thankfully, the game’s narrator – a pleasantly-spoken British gentleman – gives you the lay of the land.
I methodically made my way through the tutorial. The game is fairly generous in giving you the history and the basics of running the engines, but there are many buttons and knobs that are never explained. This never came to haunt me in game situations, but it would be nice to have the option to learn more.
The gameplay itself is fairly simple when broken down to the core components. Control your throttle and brake, deliver freight or passengers, and complete collect-a-thon tasks. Or you could blow the steam whistle for a minute straight, say “I wonder what this switch does”, flip the switch, and cause your engine to come to a grinding halt to fail the scenario.
The game handles about as well as you could expect on a controller. You look around with the right stick, select objects with the face buttons, and control the throttle and brake with the bumpers. It’s very clear the game was originally created for PC with the level of precision needed to select objects. But overall, the developer did a decent job of adapting the game for console.
The frustrations and joys
A few situations frustrated me when I had seemingly done everything I needed to do but the game would not recognize the task completion or move forward. I may not have been doing something correctly, but the game provides no in-game hints outside of those original tutorials.
In one unintentionally comical situation, the task before me was simple enough: hook my engine up to some boxcars to move them to a nearby station. I connected everything together but could not get the engine to reverse. After trying everything I knew from the tutorial, I stepped out of the engine but forgot to apply the brake. I accidentally uncoupled the engine from the boxcars, and, like Usain Bolt in a 100M dash, the train took off. I ran about one-hundred yards trying to catch up. But as the train shrunk over the horizon I realized that my (virtual) boss was going to have my hide.
Catch the sights and sounds… but not too close
I was disappointed with the sounds in this game. If you are not paying attention too closely, you may not notice any issues. Like most of the other problems with the game, the more you pay attention, the worse things seem. While the horn audio on the Sand Patch Grade engines loops seamlessly, the Schnellfahrstrecke and Bakerloo very abruptly cut out. Various other in-game sounds either do not terminate when they should or do not play at all. These are the things that take me out of the experience.
The game is hit or miss visually. I was surprised by the amount of texture pop-ins and low-fidelity assets despite playing the game on an Xbox Series X. The scenery and engines look beautiful at a quick glance, but once you start focusing on the railroad tracks, the passenger models, or the inside of the London Underground, the game starts becoming very low-rez, resembling last generation games. However, the weather effects are amazing. Watching rain bounce off the windshield of the engine traveling over 100mph looks phenomenal.
You may want to give this game a chance if you are a fan of trains or a simulator aficionado. If you are into fast-paced or arcade-style games, take a pass.
Train Sim World 2 is currently available on the Microsoft Store for $29.99. Try the previous entry, Train Sim World 2020, for free on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.