My family has a thing for trains. Two of them work for a railroad. I ride them to work. And they are big powerful machines that make lots of noise. Right up my alley. But owning your own train? That’s something reserved for billionaires with nothing to do with their money. And sadly I am not one of those. So it was either a model railroad, which frankly was just too big of a hassle with all of the room it would occupy, not to mention the cost. Holy cow, have you seen what model trains are selling for these days? Or you could take the route I went, and purchase a PC simulator. Train Simulator 2013, to be precise.
I’ll admit that the real reason I got the game was to have a nifty screen saver. I figured the game would have an auto pilot somewhere that would handle all of the stops and such. So imagine my surprise when I discovered the game has no auto pilot beyond cruise control, and that without constant attention your train can suffer a tragic failure, as the people of Spain and Quebec sadly found out not too long ago. To be clear, I’m not shocked about it being required in real life, just in a video game.
Train Simulator 2013 is in the class of other simulators such as Microsoft Flight Simulator and its ilk. The ones that required you to read a flight manual before figuring out how to start the engine. TS13 is admittedly much easier to get into. There is a handy control panel that exists in all trains that will get you going in no time at all, but you can turn that feature off and be forced to use the fully modeled in cockpit controls if you so desire. There is no time acceleration button, and most if not all of the trips take upwards of an hour or more. Thankfully there is a pause option, or I’d be telling you to hit the bathroom before starting a run.
The main game comes with three train routes, one in England, one in Germany and one in the United States. Each one offers the player a different view of what its like to run a train. The English train, for example, is a passenger train that has to stop and pick up passengers, while the German train is a bullet train that does the same thing at higher speeds. The American train is a cargo hauler that shows you what its like to have a train with miles of cargo behind you. Of the three I enjoyed the American route the most because of the challenges involved in getting your cargo up the mountain and then back down. Cresting a hill you’ve been climbing for a half an hour at full throttle and then easing off the throttle completely as you head down the slope still gaining speed is a bit of a rush. Yes, gravity, what a concept, I know, but when you think about what these guys are doing for a living it’s remarkable more tragedies don’t occur.
The in-game graphics are…well, they’re past their prime to put it mildly. I doubt the developers were aiming for photo realism and they have not achieved it. What they’ve done is modeled the trains quite well and then given you some backgrounds that are a little bit primitive. It does the job, telling you when you’ve entered a station or a section of track that passes through a town, but that’s about it. That’s not to say the game can’t look good, it often manages to still make you reach for the screen shot button, but there are absolutely rough edges here.
The audio is also on the underwhelming side. The noises the trains make are all modeled faithfully but anything else is just sort of there. Clickity clack down the track with a ping here or a buzzer there, all with the noise of the engine behind you. When you move to the rear of the train all you get is the sound effect with no atmosphere. It feels very sterile. There is no music at all, and no spoken dialogue either. Instructions are given via written text instead of over the radio, and even when you are given a checkout run your copilot says everything via written word.
The game includes three basic ways to play. You can choose free roam, which allows you to just run the train without worrying about stopping anywhere. Then there is the career mode that has missions you must complete, and a more relaxed sandbox mode that has all of the missions from career mode. You can also start a scenario and then pass it along to another player online in Relay mode. Finally there is a mission editor which allows users to mess around in the world and create their own scenarios. This option allows players to change the season, the weather in that season, the time of day and what train you are running. You can then choose what stops need to be made and what ones can be ignored. These missions can be uploaded to Steamworks and downloaded by other players.
Downloading is a big thing in Train Simulator 2013. The developers at Railsimulator.com have taken the Rockband approach, giving gamers a few tracks and a few types of trains with the basic game and then kept on modeling more and more for DLC. And they have been very busy. Model trains may cost a fortune, but you could drop a lot of money on downloadable content for this game if you wanted to.
I was a little disappointed that there was never any external danger included. I don’t expect tornadoes but having to watch railroad crossings for cars feels quaint when you never see a car crossing one. There are no trespassers on the rails either. You have a horn and are told to blow it at certain times but it’s just to complete a mission objective. Same thing goes with the emergency brake. It’s there but it’s kind of pointless.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Overall Train Simulator 2013 is a nifty way to spend some free time, particularly if you are into trains. Just don’t expect a whole lot of production value and remember to wear your engineer hat.