Originally known as RailWorks in its initial releases, Train Simulator 2013 from developer RailSimulator.com follows last year's version with new features and tweaks to the menu and gameplay that result in an experience that is less complicated for players new to the series. As well, added options of gameplay including a Quick Drive menu and Steam Workshop integration ensure that both experienced and new players have a wide assortment of content available no matter if their preferred choice of locomotive is either steam, diesel, or electric. Train routes range from Sherman Hill railway in Wyoming to the European countryside in the trek from London to Brighton. Ultimately, the most rewarding aspect of Train Simulator 2013 occurs as the end destination is reached after a lengthy and endurance-testing route.
Full steam ahead
Upon starting the game, players are greeted with the newly added Collection menu that displays images of all the available routes and trains for selection. Additional routes and trains that can be purchased directly through Steam are displayed alongside in a related content column. The introduction of images that showcase the various routes and trains is a vast improvement over last year's version of the game. The Collection menu also includes filters that can categorize content by geographical location and type of locomotive. Another added feature includes the Quick Drive menu that allows players to easily set the variables of train, route, and environment with a couple clicks before donning the conductor's hat. The environment variable expands into three settings including the time of day, weather type, and season. This is by far one of the easiest methods to pick the desired variables and then proceed straight into the game.
Outside of the Quick Drive menu, players have access to a variety of standard scenarios and career mode missions that generally involve either picking up and unloading passengers or loading freight trains with various goods. Standard scenarios and career mode missions differ in terms of their difficulty, which can either be easy, medium, or hard, and in the length of the route. A particular scenario may require players to travel for 30 minutes and unload passengers at a single stop, while another may involve stopping at multiple stops along a route that could take a couple of hours.
Missions in the career mode usually involve certain challenges or obstacles that require close vigilance by the player as they're continually scored by various variables such as train speed and timing of arrivals and departures. Scores earned through missions in the career mode are ranked among global leaderboards. If none of the scenarios or missions strike a particular interest, players can opt to wander the tracks endlessly in free roam mode. In addition to the massive scope of downloadable content, players can download user-created scenarios through the Steam Workshop to extend their game with even more content.
The actual gameplay experience of driving trains can be as simple or as difficult as the player opts for with options to even completely hide the menu, which then requires using the gears and switches for locomotive control. The in-game menu has everything from train to camera controls easily accessible along with a new tasks window that clearly marks distance to objectives such as stops for unloading passengers. While electric trains were generally easy to control, older trains such as steam were a bit more difficult. The menu options ensure that the game can customized to cater both new and experienced players. A map is also accessible that displays the various track routes along with other active trains and specific locations such as stations and stops.
The game's standout route is the London to Brighton railway as it offers scenic views interwoven with tunnels, quaint villages, and expansive fields and forests; while in contrast the Sherman Hill railway in Wyoming is a combination of lackluster desert valleys and hills. Traveling from the beginning to the end of any included route is a rewarding and worthwhile experience for both the accomplishment and the satisfaction of continual exploration.
While the controls and routes themselves are near perfect, a few issues affect the overall process of completing standard scenarios and career mode missions. Some of the briefings for various scenarios and missions contained broken English and were at times near impossible to decipher. The primary issue that also occurred in scenarios and missions were instant failures that were often described with vague explanations of the particular mistake, which in turn didn't help for avoiding it a second time around. The game only supports a manual save system that requires players to be vigilant or risk losing hours of progress from making a single mistake. Some sort of autosave or checkpoint system would have been tremendously helpful in minimizing player frustration.
Bells and whistles
The game's visuals often deliver a mixed result that can drastically switch from stunning scenic vistas to poorly-modeled passengers. Along with the other new gameplay features for this year's version, the game has received an assortment of graphical and optimization improvements that create for an overall more visually pleasing and smooth experience. The route from London to Brighton is the most visually diverse with its environments that include large cities, villages, and countrysides. The most noteworthy visual element is undoubtedly the highly-detailed interiors of the game's various locomotives. Minor details such as dynamic meters and windshield wipers that can be used for rain and snow create for an immersive experience that truly represents the simulation title.
While a few odd graphical glitches occur on a few occasions such as flickering textures or short pauses in gameplay, the overall presentation earns high marks for its high level of polish and detail. The sounds in particular of the individual trains are each distinct and a thrill for listening as their engines increase in power. The minor visual improvements from last year's engine are much welcome additions, yet the game still lacks many of the more advanced DirectX 11 graphical effects that have become the norm for current game releases.
The added features in this year's version of Train Simulator 2013 not only provide accessibility to new players, but also incorporates various gameplay and presentation improvements that are sure to please series veterans. Highly-detailed trains and scenic environments combine for an immersive and memorable experience that few other games can accomplish in their respective genres. The few issues present from odd graphical glitches to lack of an autosave system are mere distractions in an otherwise polished gameplay experience. Train Simulator 2013 breaks the mold of the simulation genre by providing a breadth of accessibility options and worthwhile gameplay content for both series novices and enthusiasts.
Train Simulator 2013 is available now for Windows PC.