So far, so Mobile
Upon starting the game, it immediately asks me to sign into my Google Play account and grant permission for it to do a bunch of things I’d rather it didn’t. This is par for the course with mobile apps in general but it’s still a little frustrating.
If you take a quick gander around the menu screen, you’ll quickly come across a store that tempts you to buy virtual currency for real money, which can be used to purchase new trains to play with in-game. Some of the prices are a little hard to stomach – the largest purchase you can make is an eye-watering €60+, so make sure you keep an eye on any young ones if you have a payment method tied to your Google Play or iTunes account.
Quite why people would spend this much, I’m not sure, as on the very next page there’s an option to unlock all trains and all levels for less than half that amount.
When you get into the actual game, it continues to follow the typical mobile formula. The levels are short, there’s a number of stages to get through and you’re awarded 1-3 stars depending on how quickly you manage to finish it. It’s not exactly looking to push the boundaries in terms of innovation.
A so-so Appearance
Graphically, Train Simulator 2016 isn’t going to set the world alight. It by no means looks awful, and the trains themselves have rightly been given the most attention to detail, but the texture and asset quality on the environments is a little below par. It’s very blocky and blurry in places and looks like something that mobile devices would have been able to handle pretty easily a couple of years ago.
There are Actual Rules
One thing that I do appreciate about Train Simulator 2016 is that it forces you to stick to some rules if you want to get the three stars. In a move that far too few games with ‘Simulator’ in the title actually attempt, Timuz Games have at least attempted to make the experience somewhat authentic by blocking off access to three-star rewards to those that break the speed limit.
Sticking to the speed limit is a little fiddly until you get a good feel for how sensitive the on-screen ‘throttle’ is, and it changes as you get faster trains. The UI certainly doesn’t help in this regard, but I can’t help thinking that a more explicit UI would make the game far too easy.
It’s not a ‘Play and Forget’ Experience
I was worried when I first started playing that it would simply be a case of starting the train and then staring at the screen until it came time to apply the brakes. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. Thanks in part to the initially low speed limit at the start of each level and the swipe-to-change-junction mechanic, you do have to pay attention to what’s going on.
Surprisingly, Train Simulator 2016 provides a satisfying wave of immersive feeling as you raise the throttle slightly, wait to get out of the station and then slide it up to reach the much faster speed limit on the main track.
There’s also a nice little air horn mechanic, where you’re granted bonus experience for blowing the horn whenever you reach a crossing. The XP bonus is considerable. Sadly, earning in-game cash is a little slow and that’s clearly been done in an effort to make players more likely to spend real money on unlocking the faster and more modern trains.
There are a couple of bugs, though. The reverse/forward switch seems to be very moody. Sometimes it works fine, others you’ll be stuck in reverse meaning you’ll have to restart the level. This was especially frustrating in the tutorial, where following the prompts to test out the interface left me unable to complete it without ignoring that particular step.
The brakes are a little unrealistic - but given the lack of warning you get when you’re approaching the station, this is probably a good thing. You have a small green area to stop in and almost immediately after that is a barrier that will fail you if you touch it in any way at any speed.
Turn the Music Off
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of Train Simulator 2016 is the repetitive and rather hokey music. Both menu and in-game tracks are similar, with an off-the-charts level of country music guitar twang that loops in about 20 seconds. Over and over. Over and over. If you’re not sick of it after five minutes, you have the patience of a Saint.
I’ve become a bit cynical when it comes to games that have ‘Simulator’ in the title, as you’ve probably been able to pick up in the subtext of this review. Train Simulator 2016 doesn’t dispel all of my cynicism, however, Timuz Games haven’t disgraced themselves by any means. The game is sufficiently engaging and challenging to keep my interest during short bursts of gameplay, and overall it’s a decent title. It fares even batter when you consider that this game is free to play.
Those “micro” transaction prices, though. Deary me.