Dovetail Games brings us Train Simulator 2018 on the PC, the cunningly named sequel to ……. Train Simulator 2017. So apart from the unoriginality of the game title does it speed down the tracks or should it be shunted back to the yard for scrap. Time to wrap a sandwich in tin foil, grab a flask of tea and perch myself in the cab.
I have never driven a train, so am I qualified to even write a review of Train Simulator 2018? I do however have a train set, in fact I have 2, so I think that should qualify me to test out what it would be like to be the person responsible for getting my train from A to B with as little hassle as possible. The first thing you get in this game is a choice of what to do, drive, build, profile, ACADEMY, ok, so I hope you got the hint. There is no way you’re going to nail this without visiting the academy first unless you are familiar with the inner workings of the train’s cab. Fortunately I had recently watched ‘Unstoppable’ and knew a fair amount of terminology and also about coasting.
The Academy is fairly basic, it will teach you how to change junction points, start, stop, connect freight, eject (just kidding), basically everything that Casey Jones knew, you will learn how to do. Time for my first run.
I had learnt the ins and outs of running a diesel, so I chose the diesel train and set up a quick drive from the ‘drive’ menu. I figured if I wasn’t very good the career option would be wasted. My mission, if you can call it that, was simple. Drive from A to B and that’s about it. Brake off, engage drive and add throttle and we were moving, nailed it. Next thing I see is the word ‘Speeding’ flashing on the screen. Hit the brakes, ok, overcooked that and I stopped the train.
Start again. Brake off, engage drive and add throttle, this time reduce throttle a little earlier, in fact take it off completely and coast all the way. Simples! Take in the sights, read a book, have a nap, this is a walk in the park. I took in the scenery. I took in a bit more. If I’m honest there was a lot of scenery to watch and not a lot else to do. My mind wandered, I started thinking of those unanswered questions like what colour a smurf goes when it’s deprived of oxygen, or what do tigers dream of when they take a little tiger snooze. A few minutes later and the image of Halle Berry wearing a cat suit firmly lodged in my mind and my train was derailed. It seems that I should have actually been paying more attention, I had run a red light and rammed a freight train up the rear at considerable speed.
Start again, you know the drill. This time no catwoman, just full on concentration on the track ahead. Sometimes looking out the left window at the lights and sometimes out the right. I wasn’t going to mess up this time. The pain-o-meter was in the corner of the screen telling me how long I had to go on this journey through the night-time countryside. I passed passengers on a few stations, I’m sure one waved to me, wasn’t a friendly hello I don’t think, more of a Railway Children panicked wave. I ignored any implications, I was probably being paranoid and just waved back.
Hills! This is where you separate the men from the boys. I’d seen enough episodes of Ivor the Engine to know that hills were no trouble. I knew nothing. Too much power and you’re speeding, not enough and you are losing speed. Despite having a percentage sign above it the throttle was only movable in 8ths, so often you only had a choice of speed up or slow down. The brakes were better, these had smaller increments, but getting it right was a nightmare. Time was lost on the hills, the slower you go, the longer the pain-o-meter will mock you.
I stopped at the station considerably after the time I was due. I was glad I had achieved such a simple goal. Time for more and more tricky missions.
What was I expecting from the game?
Well in reality I thought the game would be easier. After all with no steering it’s just accelerate and brake, so surely a doddle. I failed to realise how complicated driving a train is. I actually felt a little bit embarrassed at myself for my pre judged conceptions. So I have to forget about my expectations and judge it as a train simulator. Well it nails it. Trying to keep an eye out for those lights, stick to the speed limit, and make sure the manual junctions are changed in time is no easy feat. My appreciation for train drivers everywhere has gone up. I can categorically state that I could not do this job. I think I might nail being a guard as I can blow a good whistle.
The actual gameplay is good. You can look around the cab and use the physical levers or use the panel at the bottom of the screen that provided useful shortcuts. I preferred looking around as it made it more authentic for me. You genuinely have to lean out the sides of the cab to do certain things better as well, not everything is as simple as it first looks. The game is smooth and not overly confusing once you have learnt it, getting better with timings comes naturally. There are a few routes to choose from to start with. There are a few different trains to start with. Pick a combination and see what the game throws at you. Different time of day, different weather, different platforms and different directions. All these factors make the gameplay fluctuate so you can’t just rest on your laurels.
Career mode allows you to be the ultimate train driver. Progress from a rookie driver to the best driver in the whole company. Hold on, that’s not right. Career mode just shows you the different routes you can drive and gives you a score. You start at 1000 points and then every time you do something that the game disapproves of you lose points. I smashed into a 10 zone at over 40 and lost all my points. Nil for me. Must pay more attention. You get trophies. You get ticks for completing a scenario. Not really what I would call a career mode, but it does group your achievements together. You can see how well you are doing against other budding train drivers from around the world.
I’m struggling to drive a train, so delving into what can only be described as a minefield of options was not for me. Maybe one day there will be a TS2018 build review, or maybe not.
Rail enthusiasts everywhere will be clamouring to get this. Different trains and new routes to add to their collections. Non rail enthusiasts might need to get very much into the game first before committing to the DLC, it’s not going to make life any easier. There are literally hundreds of options for DLC, and if you own a house and want to re-mortgage then you can probably get them all.
When I knew I would be reviewing Train Simulator 2018 I was excited to see how the game looked, the realistic trees blowing in the wind, the rain on the front of my train moving as I raced through the snow capped mountains of the Tyrol, the little children leaning out of their windows waving emphatically at my, the train driver, their hero. Unfortunately the game was a lot better in my head than it appeared on the screen. There is a phrase ‘Seen one, you’ve seen them all’. well that’s a pretty accurate description of trees in Train Simulator 2018. Houses, cars, people, stations, trains, signal boxes, tracks… Ok, some of those things are all pretty much the same. I was underwhelmed with the graphics when I wanted to be blown away. They are good, I’m not suggesting that they are original Duke Nukem bad, but I would have hoped for a bit more care in the presentation. One thing to watch out for is the sky at night. There is some weird stuff going on, and can be quite apocalyptic.
The inside of the cab however did stand out as being particularly well crafted, and the light effects when driving at night are quite good. The realism has been directed more towards the gameplay though.
The sounds in Train Simulator 18 are exactly what you would expect from a train simulator. You can hear the sound of the tracks passing under your wheels, the engine starting, the pressure from the brakes being released. It seems that the production team have asked one simple question, ‘what sounds do we need?’ and they have been duly delivered. The sound effects in this game are spot on to amplify the playing experience.
Ever since George Stevenson built his Rocket and then the dispute about track widths with Isambard Kingdom Brunel boys have been fascinated with trains. Not all boys, mainly ones that wear cagoules, carry clipboards, pens and sport thick rimmed glasses held together with a plaster. Toy companies have been pushing model trains at these boys for over 100 years now, so it only made sense that once the digital age arrived that the format would be used to take the train experience to a new level and a new audience (maybe). Train Simulator 18 has set about the job well and I believe that the game will be around for a while. This is not a 10 minute play game, you need to take your time and learn the ropes, you get better and getting better at something feels good. There is plenty of gameplay in Train Simulator 18 to keep the avid train fan very happy for a long time. Updates will no doubt be frequent, new content frequent as well. This game is supported by an online community and presence and as such will naturally evolve. I try and complete one scenario every day, so who knows, maybe I have the bug.
Train Simulator 18 chuffs it’s way to a Thumb Culture bullet train award with a 6 out of 10.