Saturday, Dec 29
It’ll be no surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter but I got quite into trains this year. This meant models (n gauge to fit the London flat lifestyle), taking photos of real trains and playing Train Simulator 2018/2019. Train Simulator (TS) is quite an old game on a very old engine which has a truly amazing amount of content available for it - hundreds of trains, lines, scenarios, and comes with the tools to make your own scenarios. The developers of Train Simulator, Dovetail games have, for some time been working on the “next generation” of the series with a new engine called Train Sim World (TSW) but it is way beyond the capabilities of the laptop I play games on.
This Christmas, I travelled north to stay with my family and my sister has an Xbox One, so I picked up a copy of TSW for it to try out, not least of all because a DVD case is a lot lighter than a laptop.
TSW is meant to be more than TS in that it is “first person”, i.e. instead of having a range of fixed cameras attached to the train you are driving, you control a person who can move around the trains and stations, and hop in an drive if you want to. Or you can get on as a passenger.
We regret to inform you that there is no at seat trolley service today
TSW on the XBox comes with three routes - Paddington <-> Reading, NEC New York and the Leipzeig S-bahn, and six trains for those routes, GWR HST, 166 and a DB/EWS class 66 on the UK route, an ACS-64 and a CSX freight train in Ney York and a Talent 2 in Germany.
This might feel like not a lot, especially for £39 and to be honest it gets worse: TSW is significantly more restrictive than TS in the way it uses that limited content. Whereas in TS you can run a variety of pre-made career/standard scenarios or put together any train you like out of the bits you have and run it down any route (electrification permitting), you do not have this freedom in TSW: You can play the scenarios they have provided (of which there are six career ones in the UK route) or play in “services” mode where each of the sets has a predefined set of services to run over a “real day” timetable.
You can’t grab the class 66, attach some rolling stock, set a route and rattle down the line. You can’t run the HST in New York. You really can’t do any of the weird consists one might put together with a locomotive and some rolling stock. There appears to be no scenario editor. It’s pretty dull.
Dovetail are also really pleased with their first person stuff, which is… pretty dull. Most scenarios involve a certain amount of walking around stations or waiting for trains, often unnecessarily, with one, “West World” requiring you to commute for ~10 minutes as part of the mission. I commute by train every day, and except for the line and this being a “Thames Turbo” 166 rather than my trusty friendly Networker 465/466 it accurately represents the tedium if not the smell of doing so.
I don’t know about anyone else but I feel like the point of a train simulator is to drive some trains, not to walk about a simulation of Reading station which is sorely lacking its Starbucks.
It has voice acting for voice overs but.. who cares?
This service is delayed due to a technical fault on the train.
And then there is driving the trains themselves which are… quite iffy. Some of this I am sure is because I am playing on a console and would be better on the PC, but they can be awkward. The XBox analog stick is very poor which combined with the pop-up + select style menus for opening doors etc. can make doing things unnessarily fiddly. Many things are not documented well. A good example is that the tutorial for each locomotive walks you through cold-starting the train which you … never … need to do again? For reasons that are never explained, the class 66 has a working hotplate, but misses some of the useful interactive bits its TS compatriot has.
The HUD is also much worse. Rather than the rolling line telling you what is up ahead, it has lots of blinking annoying shit all over the display which is not explained and you have to work out (e.g. where speed limits are shown). Scoring seems to be arbitrary.
OK, so in the tutorials there is an AWS test and then you never see or hear sight nor sound of AWS until you miss a signal and go and google for it - it’s isolated by default and you have to open fuse boxes to turn it on. Even when you get onto a train that’s just been running. It would be quite possible to never use it if you weren’t aware it was a thing. This is a bit upsetting giving that we have all the stock and track necessary to simulate the Ladbrook Grove rail crash.
So having googled, found the switch and then turned it back on, it turns out to not work properly; it works randomly, almost always missing speed reductions. I didn’t actually test to see if when it worked it applied the emergency breaks if ignored, but there were certainly times where I sailed past permitted speed changes with neither warning nor brakes.
At least the view is pretty, right?
It’s better than TS, but it still really suffers from draw distance and pop-up issues, and as soon as there is a second train on the screen it drops noticably.
The lighting is good?
This train terminates here
So it was a pretty underwhelming experience overall. Expensive, limited, buggy and clunky. The XBox One is also terrible, but that’s another discussion. I mean, it was so not engaging that I played Warframe most of the holiday instead.
I honestly think you are much better off buying Train Simulator 2019.