Train Simulator 2016

Unfortunately, I don't think the editors would let me run with an article titled, "DLC Hoarder 2016"—even though that is perhaps a far more accurate title for this game. But let's just get one thing clear right off the bat: Train Simulator 2016 currently has 249 pieces of DLC, ranging in price from $5 to $40. The total cost of all the DLC, at full price, is $5,415.51. In other words, to get the "complete" experience for Train Simulator 2016, you have to spend one hundred and twenty times the cost of the game on DLC. (And you thought EA's day-zero season pass for Battlefront was bad.) I know it takes time and money to recreate miles and miles of track, to model/paint/code different trains, program the AI, design the scenery, to record sound effects, and make sure it all fits in the game, but the price of the DLC feels like a kick in the teeth to fans of rail simulators. I'm a pretty huge rail sim fan, but even I'm not going to pay $40 (that's 89% of the cost of the 'full' game!) for one new route with one new train.

So let's say you've got the game up and running. What can you expect to find when you play? In the base game, there are three tracks and six locomotives (the remaining trains are variants of those six). One steam route through England, one diesel route through the United States, and one electric route through Germany: two passenger routes, and two cargo routes. So if, say, you really prefer passenger routes, then you've already lost half of what little content there is. Let's compare this to Microsoft Train Simulator, which released in 2001 with six tracks and nine locomotives (and a later update added two more train sets). So Microsoft Train Simulator pretty much beats Train Simulator 2016 hands down for content. And, again, that game shipped almost one-and-a-half decades ago.

As for Dovetail Games whining about making money on add-on content? Well, Microsoft Train Simulator is still going strong after all this time. Not because Microsoft still supports the game: a sequel announced in 2002 was cancelled in 2004, and another sequel announced in 2007 never happened. And it's not because the developers still produce add-on content: ACES, the studio Microsoft put in charge of Flight Simulator and Train Simulator, was shuttered in 2009. The reason the original game is still alive is because of a dedicated community of modders, coders, graphics designers, modelers, and rail fans. There are hundreds of highly detailed models of trains from all over the world, along with tons of rail lines both imagined and those modeled after their real-world counterparts. There are complete engine overhauls and total modifications that fix bugs, improve mechanics, and add functionalities that the original game engine never even supported. Some of the add-ons cost money, but a majority of them are free -- and not only are they free, but many are professional in quality of textures, modeling, and physics.

Train Simulator 2016, on the other hand, has paid DLC. The only free user-generated content that can be added to the game is done via the Steam workshop—users can add new routes or scenarios, many of which require one or more of the paid DLC expansions to run. Given that a new game in the series has been released every year since 2010, and that TS2016 is really little more than a title update to TS2015 used as a stopgap measure until Dovetail switches to the Unreal Engine 4, longevity doesn't really seem to be much of a priority for the developers. But, again, for a game supposedly designed for rail fans by rail fans, the business model present is simply baffling, the only plausible explanation I can come up with is that the developers saw the work other artists had created for free, and decided that allowing such a community to develop around Train Simulator 2016 would mean that people would have no real incentive to buy Dovetail's own costly DLC. (And when the game engine does switch to UE4? You can probably expect to have to re-purchase all of the DLC that you just bought this year.)

What about graphics? Well, if you have a beast of a gaming machine, you might be able to get graphics that look like this:

...or maybe that you'll get graphics that look more like this:

There is no trickery here: these pictures are both from the exact same game. The first is an official screenshot released by Dovetail Games to sell the North London Line DLC; the second is a screenshot I took with settings set so the game was actually playable on my system. It's still a good thing I enjoy PowerPoint presentations, though, because even on the lowest settings—with no anti-aliasing, all of the fancy lighting and shadow effects turned off, and scenery density set down low—I get a blistering 5-7fps whenever AI trains pass by, when there's more than a few AI-driven cars on the side of the road, or if there are more than a few buildings or bridges on the screen at the same time.

'Optimization' is apparently not in the lexicon at Dovetail Games. I have run other games with higher graphics settings and much smoother performance. Sure, my laptop isn't exactly what you would consider top-end these days, but the game overall seems to be sloppily coded—meaning it uses resources innefficiently, sucking up your VRAM and choking your video card. Even with high-end gaming PCs, people have reported stutter and intermittent framerate drops.

But if you want to drive a train, and your job prevents you from otherwise becoming an actual train driver, then your options are limited. You can play some older games, which provide more content with the tradeoff being less impressive graphics and details; or you can play newer games like Train Simulator 2016, which provide impressive (but system-taxing) graphics and crisp attention to detail but have less content. And extra content comes at the cost of... well, $5,000, I suppose.

So if you have a very powerful gaming rig, and you're craving a train simulator, would I recommend Train Simulator 2016? No. No, I do not. It's too light on content for a $45 game, and I don't support the developer's ludicrous paid DLC scheme. Which is a real shame, because the physics are great and, if you can run it in high or ultra high graphics, it can look quite beautiful. But with a promised Unreal Engine 4 version supposedly in development, you would honestly probably be better off just waiting for that instead of spending money now on Train Simulator 2016.

I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.