Train Simulator 2012 is the very definition of a niche product. It's a free expansion to those who have Railworks 3, and a $30 simulator to those without. It is tailored to a very specific audience that will find the game both interesting and enthralling. However, the average passerby will find the game to be a bit stale and dated. Simulators are tough genres to get into if the player isn’t thoroughly involved in whatever it is the simulation is based on. In a business where games can involve aliens, robots, and robot aliens it is hard to offer up a meaningful experience when the gameplay focuses around driving a train, which can be engaging at times but feels very dry most of the time.
Driving a train is extremely complicated, as Train Simulator 2012 proves. Luckily, there are multiple ways to drive the trains that lend themselves to beginners and masters of the rails. For beginners the trains are extremely simple to drive, leading to experiences that focus more on enjoying the spot on scenery and detailed trains.
With the beginner setting the trains have two main controls, a throttle and a directional switch. By increasing and decreasing the throttle the train will move forward and slow to a stop accordingly while the directional switch controls the train’s direction. In this control scheme the biggest factor is maintaining the legal speed limit and factoring in weight to make sure the train stops where it is supposed to.
Changing the control scheme to expert opens up a myriad of new controls that can be truly overwhelming to a first time player, even with the tutorial. The expert controls add in a break that must be engaged after the throttle and directional switch are lessened. For the most part that isn’t a game changing experience; it’s what’s on the inside that makes it so different. For those who understand how a train works there is a fully functional, and extremely daunting, control panel for each train. This panel includes every button, switch, lever, and control needed to move and operate a train.
Those looking for an entirely train-like experience can turn off the HUD and use the inside panel to operate the train from a first person view. This is something highly recommended for people who understand trains, and not recommended for those of us who just like to watch a train go around a track.
Mission structure in the game’s campaign involves varied, albeit predictable, objectives such as getting freight before a fire takes it out, moving passengers from A to B, and other such tasks. With the controls factored in the missions can get a bit hectic when a time limit or elemental factor comes into play, but for the most part missions are beatable and rarely too difficult.
The biggest problem with the gameplay is that it can be quite boring. Not being a huge train lover leads to times where making a train go from A to B, unloading passengers, and grabbing freight just isn’t that exciting. Sure the controls work well enough but that doesn’t lead to a fun experience overall. It’s competent but it just lacks a huge excitement factor to the non-enthusiast.
Train Simulator 2012 will no doubt look dated to anyone who has played a modern day videogame. The multiple types of trains, steam, electric, and diesel, all look great and animate in realistic ways. Steam trains have a great old look to them and give a real “train set at Christmas time” vibe when they start chugging. Electric and diesel trains have modern looks to them and the detail in all the different types of trains is really exceptional.
The locations and people in Train Simulator 2012 could definitely use some visual upgrades. People look like models from last generation games and landscapes have a pixilated look to them as well. While the landscapes in the game are, from what locals have said, true to their sources the overall look is just not up to par. In a game where the majority of the time is spent either looking at the train or the area around it it’s unfortunate that it looks as rough as it does.
Trains are decisive in terms of who enjoys them and who doesn’t. There are the people who grew up with Christmas train sets and moved on to have whole rooms dedicated to model train sets. Then there are those who look at trains and see nothing more than a mode of transportation. For the former being able to control a train in such a true fashion will be thrilling. However, to the latter the experience of driving a train in Train Simulator 2012 will be bland and tough to sit through.
This is the problem with simulators and niche games. Train Simulator 2012 certainly appeals to its longtime fans and train enthusiasts but to the everyday gamer it’s nothing more than a dated simulation filled with complicated train information. Railworks and Train Simulator games have a fan base filled with people making constant mods to the game. From the inside of those groups perhaps Train Simulator 2012 opens many doors, but from the outside it can be hard to see what's so great.
Train Simulator 2012 has its audience that will appreciate everything the game has to offer. Train enthusiasts will be able to look past the graphics and solely focus on the fact that this game offers an unrivaled simulation. However, every other player that either casually likes trains or is unenthused by locomotives will find Train Simulator 2012 to be an interesting concept that is easy to get into, but is often too complicated and dry to offer up more than a few hours of meaningful gameplay.