A Whole New World
One of the perks of my job as a high school teacher is that I get to immerse myself in just about every social group- the “popular” kids, the band clique, the athletes, the techies, the punk rockers, you name it. What’s particularly interesting about this somewhat unique situation is that many members of each group are completely oblivious to things that make up the entirety of other students’ lives. Of course there are exceptions as few people fit entirely into one archetype, but it’s interesting nonetheless to see, and I’m no exception. Last week I was reading my students’ narrative papers on something important to them, and I’ve never been aware how little I know about the world. From competitive dirt biking to siblings at war to synesthesia and beyond, many of the papers vividly opened up entirely new frames of thought I’d never touched before, and it was exciting. Reading these papers was a lot like when I first opened developer RailSimulator.com’s Train Simulator 2014.
To be honest, I don’t have an intensive background with strict simulation games. I’ve dabbled, but it’s just something I’ve never quite found my way into. When I opened Train Simulator 2014 for the first time, much like when I was reading my students’ papers, it became apparent to me that there was an entirely new and rich world out there that I was just crossing the threshold into. I can easily see enthusiasts investing just as many hours here as the most dedicated of Minecraft, Skyrim, or Call of Duty players without batting an eye (though they might have to break out the wallet, but we’ll talk about that later). While it’s possible for anyone with cursory interest in a realistic train experience to enjoy the title (I did), it’s clear that the game is aiming to give as many tools as possible to the folks that live and breath locomotives. What more could you ask a sim game to do?
Trainsformers, More That Meets the Eye
If you’d like to put it in the simplest possible terms, yes, the gameplay of Train Simulator 2014 breaks down, more or less, into “move forward, move backwards,” but the beauty of it is that performing those simple tasks to the standards required of you requires a lot more thought and attention. Trains aren’t cars or jeeps or even semi-trucks, they’re huge machines pulling other huge machines at high speeds with a ridiculous amount of momentum. That being the case, they don’t stop and start on a dime. Monitoring the acceleration and braking levers is crucial, as stopping in time for the right platform or slowing down to a new speed limit are things that take more time than they do in other driving games. Stop paying attention to grab some food or talk to someone and it’s very easy to fly past an entire station or blaze above the speed limit, and there goes your score for a mission that you may have two hours invested into. It might sound frustrating, and it certainly can be at times, but I quickly found that nailing it just right is satisfying in the same way that hitting a perfect active reload in Gears of War or landing that perfect Street Fighter combo are. Beyond acceleration and braking, players also control the trains lights, whistle, bell, plow, and a few other things that aren’t used as frequently as the two main levers, but add that much more to the experience.
I’m sure other players may disagree depending on their reason for playing the game, but to me the best parts about Train Simulator 2014 weren’t even directly gameplay-related. The other day a friend and co-worker here at Hooked Gamers was talking about how media has placed over-emphasis on winning and competitiveness that has resulted in the decline of the idea of simply doing something for the fun of doing it. I think he’s completely right. Not that there’s anything wrong with some healthy competition, but sometimes it’s truly cathartic to be able to play a game where I’m not worried about beating anyone or killing anything. It’s those moments of simply enjoying the tranquil scenery as I rolled along that I hold most with my time in this game. I also enjoyed seeing my passengers get on and off and imagining what they’re doing without really having to care. It’s not for everyone. There are fairly lengthy stretches where all you need to do is keep an eye on your speed, but for those who enjoy that sort of experience, it nails it.
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.