Derailed is probably too strong of a word, but as much as I appreciate Train Simulator 2014 sticking to its guns and not trying to make the experience more “lively” or “action-packed,” there are a few things that hold it back. For one, the graphics are very hit or miss. The trains themselves look great for the most part. With a camera that’s able to be positioned in just about any way you’d like I’m sure the view is great for train buffs looking for realistic representations of their favorite machines, but the insides of many train cars and certain environments look pretty dreadful. When I first switched to the camera view that shows me the seating area in one of my cars I actually thought some of the textures weren’t loading properly, but it seems like those areas just aren’t created with as much visual integrity as other. Many of the trees also look notably dated, with obvious four-plane construction reminiscent of a gaming era gone by. Houses and towns look similarly disappointing and bare as you pass by. Passenger models, however, are the biggest offenders of the bunch, looking like the train they’re transferring from came from a station in 2001. I really do appreciate how the stations are more or less busy based on time of day, and how citizens wear clothes that somewhat reflect the weather, but when they look ripped from a PS1 it’s difficult to become fully invested. I realize populating thousands of miles of track and a large number of stations is a tall order, but it still took me a little out of the experience.
The other point besides certain visuals (and don’t think they’re all bad, there are very nice models and vistas as well) that was a little disappointing was the amount of content that actually comes with the game. Without buying or downloading anything else, there just aren’t a ton of machines and missions to go on. That being said, there are a number of ways to add to the experience, some good, some not as much. Even if you’ve never played the game, you may have heard of the absolutely insane amount of DLC available. At the time of this writing, if you were to buy it all you’d be out over $2,800. Read that again. To own everything available for this game you need to drop almost three grand. Of course, the developers obviously don’t expect you to be buying even the majority of that DLC composed of some new routes and a whole cornucopia of new trains. While the new routes are probably of more general appeal to player, the individual train models seem like they’re more there for people that have a certain affinity for a particular machine or two not in the game and would really like them. There isn’t really any incentive to buy more than that. One awesome bonus, however, is that DLC transfers from one year of Train Simulator to the next. If there's a model you really really like, it’s probably worth a purchase as it’ll stay with you as long as you stay with the franchise (though I do think $20 is a unnecessarily steep asking price for one train). I’d love if more games with few core changes from release to release would do something similar. That being said, even though most of the DLC is unnecessary to enjoy the game, I can’t help but feel like a few more routes and trains could have been included in the vanilla game.
Sharing is Caring
Besides its ability to transfer, the other reason the DLC isn’t a bigger problem with me is that there is ample opportunity for new free content from the Train Simulator community. Not only can players edit and create routes themselves based on routes already in the game, but Steam Workshop integration means that players can download others' creations as well. Additionally, and in my opinion most interestingly, the game also features Google Map integration. What this lets you do is use a Google Map satellite image as a stencil of sorts to build your track route onto. It’s not very difficult to add in the appropriate foliage, stations, etc. to create a route you’d like to ride. In and of itself this is exciting, but creating these tracks unsurprisingly takes a long time to do well, so the ability to download other people’s efforts means content is never very far away. I personally haven’t delved super deep into this content yet as I’ve had my hands full with the core game and the few expansions that I received to review, but I’m positive that all but the most serious of players will find the selection more than sufficient to keep their wallets in their pockets.
Train Simulator 2014 is what it is, and it never tries to be anything else. It promises the joy of controlling a full locomotive, and it comes as close to delivering as anything I’ve played. Is it perfect? No. There’s still room for improvement in a number of areas I’ve discussed above, but it does a lot more right that it does wrong. Even if it was an absolute perfect train sim title, none of the Train Simulator games are going to appeal to everyone. In fact, they probably still won’t appeal to the majority of gamers. That’s OK though, because these games are meant for the people that love the genre, and it wouldn’t be fair to judge them as something they’re not. Am I a sim convert? Maybe not quite yet, but after peeking in the door to another world of gaming I’ve never really understood or fully appreciated I’m much more inclined to say I’ll at least take another few steps into the unknown if the opportunity presents itself. In the end, isn’t that what gaming is all about?
Dedicates itself to being a true sim, frequently cathartic gameplay, and a huge amount of content via downloadable routes and scenarios.
Occasionally disappointing visuals, overpriced DLC, and a relatively small amount of standard in-game content.