Train Simulator 2022 Review

October 19, 2021
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Simulation games can be a great way to experience jobs and ways of life without the hassle of having to leave your house and, more importantly, without any fear of reprisal should you crash or cause death or injury to innocent bystanders. To many they may seem mundane, perhaps slightly pointless, but to some they’re an escape, just as games should be. For those who have train driver listed amongst those careers that didn’t quite happen, Train Simulator 2022 might just be the ticket they’re looking for.

UK-based developer, Dovetail Games, has seemingly made this sector of the sim world their own. As well as the Train Simulator series of games they also develop the Train Sim World series. It might seem odd to have two games occupy the same retail space but once you dig a little deeper things become a little clearer. Of the two, Train Sim World 2 is by far the newer, released only last year, it runs on Unreal 4 and when compared with its stablemate the contrast is stark. Train Simulator 2022 on the other hand is, at its core, the same game that was originally released in 2009. That makes it twelve years old this year; the cracks have long been showing and they’re only getting wider.

Cruising USA and memories of the movie Silver Streak coming thick and fast

That might sound a bit disingenuous as Dovetail Games has, each year, released updates to the core game and provided it free to current owners of any of the eleven previous versions of the game. However, to get any of the new tracks or trains you’ll still need to purchase these as DLC or, in the case of this year’s entry, buy the deluxe version to save yourself a few quid. To be fair here, you do get quite a bit for your money: there are four new routes, several new trains and many additional challenges for you to attempt in career mode. As admirable as this support is, there are plenty of things going on under the hood that suggest that it might be time for Dovetail Games to sunset the series as once you start rolling down the line the issues come at you thick and fast.

Controlling the trains can be done either via an on-screen dashboard that overlays the bottom of your screen, via the actual controls using your mouse, or by using the keyboard to control the various aspects of your engine. The on-screen overlay, however, has a rather useful mini-map of sorts that shows you how far to the next signal, platform or change of speed. For us this was very useful since we’re not real train engineers and we don't have the many hours of experience you need to actually drive a train and as such learn the line we’re on. As such you’d expect this mini-map to be infallible, a source of truth to be used to make sure you can nail a good score on the career challenges — except you’d be wrong. During our time with Train Simulator 2022 we’ve amassed so many speeding fines that some of our scores ended heavily in the negative.

This was mostly down to the fact that either one of two things happened. The vast majority of the time it’s because the speed changed despite no indication of it on our mini-map. One minute the limit on our dashboard says 150km/h the next it’s suddenly switched to 80km/h. Scrubbing 70km/h worth of speed takes some time to do safely and is doubly important in Train Simulator 2022 as you’ll also get docked points for the quality of your driving. Break too hard to scrub the speed and you’ll get a double whammy of misfortune. Other times, the mini-map showed several speed changes over the top of each other making it completely impossible to know what the actual speed limit was. Whilst we’d take a guess at what speed we think we should be doing, more often than not we were wrong.

Whilst the French have the TGV, Germany has the ICE trains

When things do work though, pootling along a train line and taking on some of the challenges is genuinely quite relaxing. They all play out in real-time so if the scenario suggests it’s going to take eighty minutes then that’s how long it's going to take. Whilst there are systems that will buzz you every so often to make sure you’ve not taken a nap at the controls, during some of the long sections between goals or speed limit changes, you have the opportunity to use many of the available cameras to take in the world around you. Whilst this is one aspect that really does show the age of Train Simulator 2022 there’s still some charm to the surroundings and watching the world go by at high speed. One of the available cameras allows you to take a seat in a passenger car. This may contravene many operational manuals on driving trains but it’s kind of fun and a great way to immerse yourself in the journey.

That is until it starts raining. 

For some reason, rain in Train Simulator 2022 is able to pass through almost any object it desires and seemed to occur if we rotated through some of the different camera views. We aren’t sure of the exact combination but once we’d taken a look outside and then entered either the driver’s cabin or a passenger car, the rain would fly through thick and fast. It gave a sort of warp speed feel to everything but not in a good way. It’s immersion-breaking at best, sloppy visuals at its worst and it’s not new to this year’s version either. Wander through the community on Steam and there’s plenty of chatter about this and many other bugs that have persisted through each iteration of Train Simulator.

Quiet night around Birmingham, not enough people staggering on the platform

We appreciate that fixing all the bugs in a game is, in the modern gaming landscape, a fool’s dream. However, we can expect that if a game is designed to simulate real-life that issues and bugs that break that immersion would be high on the list of things to fix. There are challenges that have errors when they load because they’re trying to utilise depreciated assets. You can get round this by hitting F2 to save and then cancelling that option, the scenario will load and off you go, is that mentioned anywhere in-game, no, did we find it on the forums, absolutely. Whilst Dovetail’s continued support of the franchise might be seen by some as noble, it is, by others, seen as a way for them to keep their DLC train steaming ever onwards.

If you head on over to Train Simulator 2022’s Steam page and scroll down to DLC you’ll see that it has, at the time of writing, a whopping 718 pieces of additional downloadable content. These contain a mixture of new routes, new trains, wagons, scenery and a few asset packs for good measure. Price wise they range from £2.99 to £29.99 for more recent content and larger packs. If you wanted to grab them all you’re looking at almost £3,000 to complete your collection. You can soften the blow a little bit by waiting for sales or buying them in bundles but the total cost of ownership is astronomically high and is mostly down to keeping a game that has over a decade’s worth of DLC alive and kicking, even if some of the assets are no longer part of the core game.

You can even sample the passenger carriages if you like, but who’s driving the train?

Cynicism aside, Train Simulator 2022 is a game that is showing its age in more ways than one. Visually it’s superceded by its stablemate Train Sim World 2 — which also follows the same DLC path as its brethren — and mechanically there are issues like the unknown speed limits which can really sour a playthrough, especially when challenges can take upwards of an hour to complete. Add to that the fact that there are some pretty important bugs yet to be quashed despite existing for a few years one can start to doubt Dovetail Games’ nobility when it comes to continuing to support the Train Simulator franchise. That’s not to take away from the effort that goes into modelling new trains and new routes for them to go down but if they’re wanting to claw back some goodwill for what feels like a jaded community, a concerted effort to fix some core gameplay issues would go a long way to building bridges.

In closing, Train Simulator 2022 isn’t a bad game. When everything is working and you’re delivering some revellers home on the Birmingham Cross City Line it can be rather relaxing. There are some interesting community-built scenarios that you can load into your game or even build your own if that’s your thing. However, unless Dovetail Games’ show the core game some love in the near future the community will continue to question the generosity of updating a twelve year old game each and every year until they do so. For the hardcore train afficionados, they’ll most like already have Train Simulator 2022 but if you don’t then, despite the known issues, it still is the de facto choice.

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The Train Simulator series has been showing its age for a long time now. Whilst Dovetail’s continued support is admirable it is perhaps time that ties were cut and its energies diverted elsewhere. Whether that’s into Train Sim World 2 or an actual successor to Train Simulator is immaterial, but what is clear is that there’s not enough bondo in the world to paste over the cracks that are starting to show.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.