Dovetail Games’ Train Simulator series has been running for a decade at this point. It’s quite a feat to support a game for that length of time, yet, here we have the 2019 installment of Train Simulator now pulling into the station. With it, it’s brought in a cargo load of content, including three new routes, eight locomotives, and a technical upgrade: 64-bit support. That’s not a bad collection of new content. However, there are some issues which are (still) holding Train Simulator back from offering a smooth ride.
I focused exclusively on trying out the new content. The three new routes (technically four) are: Portsmouth Direct Line (England), Frankfurt High Speed (Germany) and Soldier Summit & Salt Lake City (USA). These new routes also include new locomotives, coming in at a total of eight between them all. It’s a set of diesel and electric locos from ICE, DB, Class, and EMD. In total, the new routes and locos make up a collection of 21 new scenarios in the Career mode. Considering that the vast majority of these scenarios have a duration of about an hour, there’s roughly a full day’s worth of new content in total. Of course, that’s not counting the fact that you can use the new routes and locos to build new scenarios of your own. The custom-content can also be shared via the Steam Workshop, which means you can download even more from other users.
Having played through at least one new scenario for each of the locomotives across each new route, it didn’t take me long to develop an opinion of Train Simulator. I have tried out older versions of the sim; in fact, I had forgotten that this was already in my Steam Library. So, when the “new” 2019 edition turned up, I expected there to be a huge improvement. But, that’s not really the case. It’s just a content update, for the most part.
Showing Its Age
The new content in Train Simulator will keep you entertained for quite some time if you enjoy the game itself. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’ve built all of this “new” stuff upon an aging platform. As mentioned, Train Simulator has been running for about 10 years now. And, really, it still looks that way.
Despite my graphics settings being turned on ‘High’, the simulator does still look like it came out ten years ago. This can be especially seen in the scenery details. The new routes have a healthy mixture of countrysides and industrial/residential areas, but the overall presentation is still rather bland. Just about everything except the train and cargo models looks very basic. AI traffic and passengers move around, but they don’t look very appealing, especially if you zoom in close since all of their textures are pretty muddy; this also applies to scenery objects.
Even so, admittedly all of the train models do look pretty good. I’ve been enjoying the interior views especially. A lot of the control surfaces are interactive, and animations are smooth as you turn knobs and push/pull levers. Having mentioned the cockpit controls, now’s a good time to talk about the actual virtual conducting experience.
At least one merit I really have to give Train Simulator is how adaptable it is. What I mean is, you can really determine what type of gameplay experience that you’d like to have. This is true for most simulators, but Train Simulator does a lot to provide either a simple or complex experience, depending on which you desire.
Clunking Along at Half-Speed
For the sake of keeping everything smooth, I decided to go with the simple control option. Outside of the steam engines (there’s an art to mastering them), this set-up works really well. Your throttle and brakes are regulated to a single on-screen virtual lever which you can adjust by using your mouse, keyboard, or gamepad. In fact, all of the major controls can be displayed on-screen as simple buttons. Thus, anyone is capable of playing through the scenarios, whether you’re 9 or 90. It’s a good thing, too, since the included scenarios are quite varied in difficulty.
The selection of scenarios consists of a decent mixture of passenger and cargo runs. In one situation, you can be making a dash to different station platforms picking up and dropping passengers. Another could have you shunting coal hoppers and the like around an industrial yard. But, regardless of what you end up playing, one key thing is always important: following instructions.
Each run is ‘graded’, and you get a rundown of your performance at the end of every scenario in the debriefing. If you make any mistakes, such as speeding or even using your horn incorrectly, you’ll be notified. Timing is also important, so trying to stick to the schedule is key. One way TS really tries to keep you in line is that some scenarios will automatically quit if you make a serious mistake. This can be devastating if you’re halfway into something like a one-hour session. Thus, pay close attention. The sounds of the engines as they hum and rattle along can be kinda soothing, but falling asleep really will lead to disaster; there’s no autopilot here, after all.
But, there’s been one annoying issue that does have a bit of an effect on the gameplay: framerate drops. Despite Train Simulator now sporting 64-bit support, it remains plagued by performance issues, as it always has. This is likely a side-effect of using such an old engine. That said, it does turn out that the 64-bit edition does have better support. I played one of the Soldier Summit-Salt Lake City scenarios back-to-back in 32-bit and 64-bit mode, and the 64-bit mode came out on top, hitting the 60FPS mark a good chunk of the time. But, it still often stuttered all the way down to 8FPS every few moments. The 32-bit version ran at a lower framerate during this scenario, but it still ended up stuttering at similar intervals. This leads to me believe it could be a game engine issue.
Going back to 64-bit edition in other scenarios, I’ve been observing an average of about 20-35FPS, especially in the busiest of situations. The 32-bit edition can drop down into the teens at times. Overall, it was a really poor display. Load times are also noticeably long, even more so than other simulators I’ve tried like Flight Simulator X. If you have a powerful rig, you can probably brute force past these performance hiccups, but mid-range and lower-end machines may definitely have a tough time. Either way, stick to the 64-bit edition at all times.
Still, if you can overlook the dated game engine, Train Simulator is a charming simulator that anyone can get into, casual or enthusiast. Its biggest hurdle, honestly, is the seemingly never-ending collection of DLC (just look at the Steam Store page). It does feel like Dovetail’s ultimate goal is to lure you into buying more packs. It doesn’t help that the game constantly advertises this content on the main menu and in the loading screens. Personally, I might have been inclined to buy some if the game looked and ran like a modern title. But, for now, I’ll just be sticking to the content included in this review copy.
A review code was provided by the publisher.