An On The Rails Experience
Growing up near a train yard for the first few years of my life, there was once that burning passion for them as a child. I loved to watch them not so far away slowly coming and going when I was outside, loved to watch Thomas the Tank Engine when I was inside. But then as I got older, my interest in both animated and real trains dwindled. Fast forward to 2014, when Train Simulator 2015 fell into my lap. While not a simulation title I would have aimed for on my own, that little spark from childhood lit up in me and I jumped at the chance to play it.
Even in the wide genre of simulation titles, people tend to shy away from these types due to the fact of literally being locked to the rails. They see it as a constriction of freedom. It really depends on your perspective of it.
A well done simulator always puts as much detail into whatever it's based on as possible. You want to live out a battlefield experience? You head in the direction of the ArmA series. Want to go trucking? The Euro Truck series. The urge to take to the rails hauling cargo or serving as an integral part to the commute of a community? Then wait at the nearest station, because Train Simulator 2015 fits the bill.
The opening scene for the game points out something I'm sure we've all thought about before. How hard could it be to operate a train? Sure it's a massive piece of machinery, but it's locked to the rails. Surely it mostly drives itself right? Not quite. Actually, not really at all. Welcome to the cabin of your own engine, on your own train route. If you're new, as I am, there is not only a tutorial called the Academy that you can experience but there is also a streamlined overlay in the main game itself if you wish to experience controlling a train with ease. On my first run I did this, and while it was certainly easy it made the experience feel lackluster. So the next time around I turned off the overlay... then I sat there for about ten minutes looking over all the controls.
I took a deep breath, released the brakes, and pushed up the throttle. Slow to get moving, I was soon out on the rails on my own with no assistance. A delicate balancing act of speed, I had to restrain the urge to reach my destination ahead of schedule by going too fast down the line; even the slightest turn could spell derailment. Slow and steady wins the race, or in this case, guarantees arriving on time and with everything in order. I sat back, relaxed, and kept an eye on my speed and out the window at the environment...
Unless you're going through bad weather, you're going to have quite a bit of downtime outside of the delicate balancing act between your throttle and your break. So I found myself switching through camera views admiring both the environment, and the train itself. The tracks and the train are both highly detailed, and at a distance the environment looks pretty nice. The sun creeping over the horizon on an early morning as the track comes out of the woods. A distant town down the tracks coming into view, though it wasn't my stop I did slow down to take a look at the buildings and the flora around up close.
Up close and at a low rate of speed, the environment isn't that good looking. It looks lifeless, the grass clips through the edge of the railings very noticeably and there is a distinct inconsistency in the trees where some look good and others look as though they belong back at least seven years ago. Though most of the time you're going to be going quick enough not to notice, in still screenshots or at slow rates of speed it is something that stands out glaringly and pulls away slightly from the immersive experience; but only slightly.
In depth controls pulls you right into the cabin of several types of trains, the routes and trains available all have distinct looks and feels.
While the included trains and train lines are great and have distinct feels, I would've loved at least a few more, engine audio while in first person may be just a little too loud by default, currently two broken features both of which can result in