It’s 05:23, and here I am. Sat in the driver’s seat of my DB BR 1442 “Talent 2” locomotive at the bustling Leipzig Messe station in Germany. Having taken the helm of the A1 Magdeburg-Gaschwitz service for the day and being a good way into a rain-soaked hour-long journey, it’s imperative that I get the passengers to put their butts in the seats so I can head off rapidly. After all, Hans and Anja will be waiting at Leipzig Nord to board this train to head to their job on the other side of town. Working that early in the morning, you’ve got to imagine that they’re bakers of some sort. Hunger will undoubtedly strike and ruin countless German workdays if those in the rush hour can’t get their hands on a bit of Hans’ famous strudel.
It’s important then that I correctly follow the procedure for moving off. I’ve done it nine times so far, so I’ve got this. Reverser control to “forward.” All brakes off. Throttle at neutral. Shut the doors and away we…hold on. Closing the doors usually sounds a warning bell so that passengers don’t get squished or sliced clean in two up the middle, and I’m hearing nothing. I get out of the cab to check and, yes indeed, the doors are all still wide open. Activate the lock again. Nothing. Damn. Let me check it all again. Forward. No brakes. Neutral. No warning lights anywhere. The control panels all have power. The signal is at green. Everything seems fine.
Muttering a swift prayer, I press the button again. Still nothing. Now I’m at a loss, as the five-minute tutorial for this locomotive that explained what now feels like eight hundred buttons, dials, and switches, didn’t go into detail about what to do when the game breaks.
So ends 40 minutes of gameplay in the buggy land of Dovetail’s Train Sim World. A game that aims to hit a very, very specific target audience right between the eyes, playing into their childhood fantasies of one day being the person that gets to press the buttons that make the 17:29 from Acton Main Line to Hayes & Harlington trundle along at the speed of an arthritic tortoise wearing clogs that are far too small. Those expecting the hi-jinx of something like the exquisite Densha De Go! series or Railfan are out of luck and should probably stop here. As the title should have told you, this is all sim, all day.
What that means is that while the game contains almost stupidly detailed versions of five iconic modern-day trains, it’s all very straight-laced and long-winded. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with a good sim. Train Sim World takes things a little too far, though. In one scenario, you must take over for a driver who hasn’t turned up for work. His train is at London Paddington. You’re at Ealing Broadway. Those are very much two different places, so TSW tasks you with getting on a train as a passenger and then riding to Paddington. That’s nine minutes of staring out of a window, with no option to speed things up or skip ahead. When you arrive, you find the train you’re supposed to be driving and by 19:13, you’ve got everything ready to go.
Jaw, Meet Floor
Then you realize that the train isn’t supposed to leave until 19:30, so Dovetail Games expect you to sit there, doing absolutely nothing, for seventeen actual real minutes of your actual real life. It is nice to know that the developer thinks I have enough minutes left before death comes calling that they can fritter massive handfuls of them away for sport. What’s worse is that this train is an express service (which is strange because by this point it feels like I’ve been driving it since 1927) so, after all that waiting around, you accelerate away from the station and do absolutely nothing else until the journey comes to an end. There are no red lights, no speed limits you would be in danger of breaking, and nothing to do other than sit and stare at the screen for another 25 minutes. During my journey, no warnings showed up in the game to suggest I was ahead of schedule, so I reached my destination seven minutes early. Train Sim World is so utterly disrespectful of players’ time that it then forced me to wait that seven minutes before allowing me to complete the scenario. When the platforms and commuters look as rough as they do in this game, providing players with seven uninterrupted minutes to just stare at stuff probably isn’t doing the developer any favors.
In total, that one scenario has you playing for over an hour but only engaging with the game for five or six minutes, tops. Still, it did give me time to catch up on a few emails, take a nap, and come up with an invention that could change the world. You would buy peanut butter that tastes like bacon, right? I see you shaking your head now, but we’ll see who’s laughing in ten years.
I should state that the other scenarios in Train Sim World are slightly more involved. You might be dealing with a German passenger shuttle service that frequently stops, shuffling freight about the yard just outside London, or taking a train through the train wash in New York. Some are more fun than others, but in yet another display of sadomasochistic attention to detail, the train washing one involves mainly driving under speed limits as low as three miles per hour for what feels like a lifetime. By the time you’ve finished it, your newborn son will be checking into a retirement community in Boca Raton. Also, don’t forget that towards the end of that mission, you might hit a stationary train as the game tells you that you must get out and throw a switch to move to a different track the first time you have to do it, but not the second. With no warning system to tell you that you’re now headed toward a parked train, you’d better have your eyes open.
But, despite all this negativity, there’s a definite appeal to powering up a Great Western Railway Class 43 HST and cranking it up to 125 mph. As a Brit, I’m used to seeing these sleek beasties cutting their way through the countryside at a phenomenal pace, which is why it’s so disappointing that Train Sim World’s routes are so limited. Out of the 10,000 miles of available railway in the UK, which runs through some of the most Instagrammable scenery on the planet, the developers have decided to focus on a 36-mile stretch of urban greyness from London Paddington to Reading. Look, everyone! Look at how that bog-standard office block just outside Slough twinkles in the light!
New York and Leipzig fare somewhat better – though the tunnels on the way in and out of an always absolutely empty Penn Station are the dullest of the dull – but there’s nothing here that jumps out and makes you hungry to drive a route more than once. That’s painful, given that there is good behind-the-scenes work going on here. Being able to take part in driving a full 24-hour timetable of services is railfan heaven, but not when you’re just driving through the same limited selection of stations over and over again. The graphical performance doesn’t help things, as Train Sim World contains PS2-levels of pop-up. Even crawling along at single-digit speeds sees the sleepers on the tracks being drawn in no more than a meter or two away from the nose of the train. Passengers appear out of nowhere on platforms, seemingly returning from Hogwarts through the walls to jump on the afternoon commuter service to West Drayton. To then add framerate drops and juddering micro-pauses every few seconds on all routes is a straw to break the back of the strongest camel. Or an iron horse, if you want to be all train-y about it.
At the end of it all, Train Sim World is strangely positioned. Those who are fanatical about their train sims will probably have already been playing a better-performing and much, much better-looking version of this on PC for over a year. Either that, or they will already be experiencing Dovetail’s Train Simulator 2018, complete with any combination of over 460 official and thousands of unofficial downloadable trains, mods, and routes. Those that aren’t necessarily into the sim-heavy side of things will be looking for a little more traditional gamification, and Train Sim World has approximately none of that, beyond inconsequential points that are awarded for unexplained reasons during your journey and then forgotten about when it’s over. It also doesn’t include the more entertaining CSX Heavy Haul content that formed the basis of the PC version at launch back in early 2017, which is a bit of a kick in the boiler for folks who expected to get the full lineup.
When all is said and done, the handful of people sitting in the middle of the Venn diagram marked “doesn’t own a PC” and “wants a hardcore train simulation” still deserve a game that isn’t buggy, runs well, respects their time as a user, and one that provides more for their money than this one does. On the upside, the trains are so detailed here that if anything happens to the driver on my local route during my commute, I’m pretty confident that I could take over and nobody would be late for work. I can’t promise strudel, though.
Train Sim World review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.