Train Life: A Railway Simulator – Review
Follow Genre: Simulation
Developer: Simteract, SIMTERACT Sp. z o.o.
Publisher: Nacon
Platform: PC
Tested on: PC

Train Life: A Railway Simulator – Review

Site Score
8.0
Good: Incredibly low price point for the amount of content
Bad: Not a lot of mainstream audience appeal
User Score
9.0
(1 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Back in December, we previewed Train Life: A Railway Simulator, a game developed by Simteract and published by Nacon. We definitely saw potential in the Early Access version of the game, but as you’d expect, the game felt like it could use some extra development time. That time has passed and the full version of Train Life has left the station. Naturally, we donned our conductor’s hat, grabbed our whistle, and returned to our budding train company, to see how the game had evolved since we last looked at it.

Story

We’re not sure whether we can accurately describe Train Life’s premise as a story. There are narrative elements here, as you are assigned a career managing a railway company yourself, and there is a campaign, but everything that can be considered a story acts more as a framework here, rather than being significant to the flow of the game. This is, of course, something that is commonly seen in hyper-realistic sim games like this, and while the presence of narrative elements certainly increases immersion and adds an additional layer of realism, these are far from essential to the enjoyment of Train Life. That said, the lack of narrative does strip away a lot of motivation from the Train Life experience, at least for a more casual audience.

Graphics

Although Train Life doesn’t boast cutting-edge graphics, what’s present here is definitely visually pleasing, and we were happy to see that some of our earlier gripes with the presentation have been dealt with. The interface looks significantly cleaner and less cluttered than before. The in-game visuals have also received some love, with varied environments, realistic-looking trains, and especially nice shadow and reflection effects. Of note here is that the NPC models have received an overhaul as well, and they look less like zombies and more like real people, although they still don’t move while standing at the train platforms. We did notice that the game still has a couple of visual hiccups though: frame rate isn’t always consistent and jagged edges are common. One thing we also felt was missing was customizability when it came to the identity of your train company. You can select two main colors from a number of preset combinations and there are a handful of logos to choose from, but we would’ve loved it had the game included an option to upload a design of your own, or had included an in-game logo designer.

Sound

One of our biggest gripes with Train Life’s preview build was the narration, and thankfully the god-awful placeholder voice has been replaced with a much more agreeable one. Likewise, the in-game radio has finally been implemented, meaning you can listen to relaxing tunes as you navigate your way through the various country scapes of Europe. Of course, train sound effects were implemented as well, and they sound highly realistic, but Train Life’s soundscape doesn’t end there: environmental sound effects, ranging from wind and rain to crickets and birds are audible as well, and they all sound crisp and true to nature.

Gameplay

In all honesty, we hadn’t looked at Train Life since we previewed it in December of last year (more because of a lack of time than a lack of interest), and there have been some significant improvements based on community feedback since then. The core experience remains the same: you are put in charge of your own railway company, and you’re not just tasked with the management aspect, but also with driving trains yourself. The bulk of the Train Life experience is in the latter part, and a lot of attention has gone into making sure that driving trains feels as realistic as possible. This does come with the downside that the game can feel overwhelming, even though there are lengthy tutorials. That said, it’s probably still a lot easier to qualify to drive a train in Train Life than it would be to become a train driver in real life.

When we gave Train Life a spin in Early Access, we used our trusty mouse and keyboard exclusively, but this time, we also opted to plug in our controller and compare both options. Although not every action was available using just a controller, the majority of them were and we could easily supplement the missing ones by using our mouse and keyboard alongside it, as using a controller doesn’t lock out the other option. Driving a train using a controller felt a lot more comfortable, as the button layouts made a lot more sense, so this definitely felt like the recommended option here. That said, we did feel like there was some discourse between the controls for driving a train and managing your company. Perhaps fittingly, using a controller felt more natural for train driving, but when we were busy dealing with the business aspect of our railway empire, we found ourselves switching to mouse and keyboard almost instantly again. We did feel like the management aspect was still very limited, and in all honesty, we could have done without this and would have accepted a pure train driving sim game. That being said, as this is the main way to progress through Train Life, as you’ll unlock new trains by earning the money to purchase them, we do understand the reasoning behind it.

Overall, we didn’t feel like Train Life’s core experience had significantly changed since December, but given how solid the foundation was in the first place, that’s not a bad thing. Changes we’ve noticed had more to do with the game being streamlined, bug fixes, and feedback from the community -which, especially in Early Access days, consists for the most part of die-hard train enthusiasts and fans of hyper-realistic sim games. What we did notice was that there was an impressive amount of additional content that had been added to the game. Keeping in mind that Train Life doesn’t exactly break the bank, this is going to be an essential purchase if you fall into either of the two aforementioned categories of fans.

Granted, this makes it sound that Train Life is not going to appeal to a mainstream audience because it requires a level of dedication beyond a casual experience. For the most part, this is true, and the game is certainly aimed at a niche audience, but we did find that the game was a lot more accessible than some other sim games. Difficulty levels can be adjusted and secondary options like the dead man’s switch and air conditioning controls can be deactivated. Players can customize their train driving experience between ultra-realistic and a level of accessibility they are comfortable with.

We should note that despite this being the “full” version of Train Life, there are still a couple of glitches present -including that dreaded ‘beta’ watermark visible in the screenshots attached to this review- but Simteract has already announced that they are working on bug fixes and that some of the smaller glitches currently still present in the game are to be resolved sooner rather than later. It’s great to see that the developer is still committed to improving user experience, and although we don’t expect any massive overhauls apart from potential DLC, we can at least say with confidence that Train Life’s future is looking bright.

Conclusion

Whether or not you should pick up Train Life entirely depends on how much of a train fan you are. This is a niche title aimed at a niche audience, and if you happen to be a part of said audience, you’re going to absolutely love what’s on offer here. It’s a bit more difficult to recommend Train Life to a more casual audience, despite the game’s customizable accessibility, as the subject matter isn’t going to be all that exciting for most people. Even so, Train Life is an excellent sim game at an unbelievable price point, so if you’ve ever wanted to see how you’d fare as a train driver, this is probably the best option for you.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Train Life: A Railway Simulator - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating
SebastiaanRaats


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