(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 3 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 3 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 2.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 4 Stars
- Bonus Content
- 3 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Worth a Look
Train Simulator 2014
- Street Date:
- September 26th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- October 21st, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- ESRB Rating:
- E (Everyone)
'Train Simulator 2014' updates several of the core aspects of 'Train Simulator 2013' while adding some content and features, and 'Train Simulator 2013' owners can update to the new version for free. This review, however, will focus on title's appeal for potential new users.
Naturally, 'Train Simulator 2014' is a simulator based around operating real trains on real routes under a high degree of simulated conditions based on real world constraints. The game's developer, railsimulator.com has a history of developing such titles dating back over a decade, and has more recently cultivated a massive fan base. With 'Train Simulator 2014' the company's #WeAreRailFans campaign exhibits a spooky kind of dignity. Somewhere, somehow, someone you know is passionate about one or more aspects of trains. Be it the engineering, or romantic imagery of trains throughout the years all over the world, or just the technical proficiency required to operate such varied machines, 'Train Simulator 2014' aims to convert many more people into rail fans.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Before jumping into a locomotive, there a number of things to take note of with regard to 'Train Simulator 2014.' The review copy provided by railsimulator.com happened to be the Steam edition, which includes three additional routes over the standard version, Hamburg-Hanover, Donner Pass, and London-Faversham. Those three extra routes are like the tip of an iceberg as there is a bevy of DLC available for the game that is backwards compatible and likely has been created by users using the editor and uploaded via the Steam Workshop.
For me, this means that the dozen or so train routes that I have taken in real life from areas like Germany and the UK are available to play and with the accurate engine and train to boot. Of course, all that user DLC is staggering, so one needs to be choosy though the base game is hardly bereft of content.
The next thing to notice upon entering the game is how much accessible 'Train Simulator 2014' wants to be over its predecessors. Not only does the menu promise tutorials, optional simplified controls, and scenarios in addition to just being able to free-play any route, the game also promises a career mode with progression-like goals.
Unfortunately, while railsimlutor.com may be expert at pleasing hard core rail fans and encyclopedic in its alignment of correct routes with correct, era specific engines, speeds, track conditions, etc. 'Train Simulator 2014' stops short of teaching the player how to operate trains under the game's realistic conditions. The tutorials show you a few things, mainly the difference between simplified and normal controls. In short, simplified controls automatically apply brake and throttle based off a single lever, where advanced controls require the pilot to modulate both.
Fortunately, I was eventually able to find a legacy map that did provide instruction on how to switch tracks, plan routes, and take on or leave rail cars. Believe me, when I say that the jump from the basics of stopping and going to operating routes on time and hitting career goals contains a rail network-sized difficulty curve. And the game just seems to expect that the user will watch a community video if need be. The game's lengthy load times and real routes times make for an unforgiving experience, which can be considered normal for a simulator.
Considering that I had hopes of playing the game with my father, who is a fan of model trains, the idea of spending an hour on a route just to overshoot a braking distance while trying to hit the correct arrival time, is not so appealing. And with each new route and new engine, the dynamics shift, and I frankly wished the game had some kind of on-track braking line that would let me cheat (like training wheels) until I was more comfortable.
Even though there are moments when I felt like I had become a member of the local Lionel Train Owner's Club and would be expected to pay dues and attend bi-monthly meetings in a musty basement, there were other times where the game's attempts to bridge the gap between 'Train Simulator' fanatic and new comer were appreciated. One such moment involves the 360 controller. Both simple and advance controls are supported with the controller, and the controller works well without ruining or limiting the experience. At times, I even used the controller with the keyboard and mouse and was glad that I was not forced to choose one alone.
With 'Train Simulator 2014' being built directly off of 'Train Simulator 2013' and 'Train Simulator 2012' before it, there is a unfortunately large amount of room for version shenanigans. I ran into such trouble and had to reach out to the developer to solve my "missing assets" issue. The end result was quite satisfying, but the experience made for another reason why I won't be encouraging my dad to get into this game.
In case it is not obvious, the often maligned gameplay of operating a train ("dur, you go forward on a track") is amazingly very fun. Again, a cheater rewind button might help some of the consternation as the time between turns, objective points, etc. can be lulling as you get used to keeping the train within the speed limit only to be rudely set back to full alert a moment too late.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Hello, simulation graphics. At first, the amount of detail per engine and route and the possibility of making your own routes allows you to see past the lack of normal mapping or point lights, or model density or any number of other current 3D polygonal PC game give-ins. 'Train Simulator 2014' is a CPU intensive game that must be meant for users less likely to have a decent video card. Ultimately, this means that it can be fun to push a PC gaming rig with the game, but appreciating the end result is highly dependent on appreciating the details of the real train engines. For me, that could mean having trouble driving a steam engine on account of the smoke pouring out. Supporting the user made content (from years past even) lends itself to low detail just as much as encouraging weaker video cards. Hopefully, future iterations will make use of technologies like SpeedTree and scale up to more capable systems.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
'Train Simulator 2014' is quiet, too quiet. Engines noises, steam whistles, and braking sounds may hold up a strong semblance of authenticity, but really, even from the cab, the game sounds like something recorded onto audio cassette. The muffled platform announcements can be somewhat funny, and the menu music has a majestic quality.
With 'Train Simulator 2014,' whether it is the base game or thousands of dollars in add-on content, a hardcore train enthusiast could fall into this game and never emerge. And that is before accounting for the likelihood that future versions may be given to current owners for free or at a reduced cost. Minor improvements to saving, loading, and the career system could get hordes of more casual users to spend hours in the game.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The review copy included the extra Steam edition routes and a dozen coupons for 20-25% of various additional routes and engines. The game's achievements are not the easiest to obtain join the career goals as bonus for veteran fans of the series. Then there is the route builder, which is incredibly robust.
With 'Train Simulator 2014,' railsimulator.com is right on edge of having a game that could capture a whole new fan base. Undoubtedly, the developers must be afraid of alienating the current fans, or else don't wish to understand how close current awkwardly implemented features like the tutorials, career system, scenarios, community, and content manager are to being able to hook hordes of gamers and non-gamers into the game's massive content offerings and core driving experience. Perhaps next year will see the transcendent rail experience that is glimpsed in 'Train Simulator 2014.'
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