Simulator games attract the most fanatical of enthusiasts, and train simulators probably appeal to the hardest of hard core fans. You can include me in that category since I have two of them.
Arguably the two most popular train sims are the ones I own – Train Simulator 2015 is the latest in a long line of developments which started with Microsoft Train Simulator back in 2000 or so. And Trainz: A New Era (Beta) is the successor to Trainz 12. Trainz launched initially about the same time as Microsoft’s TS game. I’ll just call them TS2015 and T:ANE if you don’t mind.
I have many hours of experience with TS2015 and recently I got a good deal to buy T:ANE in its pre-release format. The actual retail launch won’t occur until May 2015. I have played around a bit with T:ANE – enough to see the differences from TS2015. Hence this blog post.
So why have two train sims? There is a difference between them for sure and each one has its own group of fanboys. I’ll try to go over each item in point form and give my opinion as to which one works best for me. You may see things differently. Let’s get started.
- The Object of the Exercise
Nothing illustrates the difference between the two sims than the basic game objective. With TS2015 your goal is to drive a train – in fact a lot of trains – on some very professionally made routes. It is possible to make your own route but you have to invest a lot of time and effort into getting the route builder to work properly. Most TS2015 users leave that to the content creators.
Trainz began its life as a model railroad simulator and hence the primary goal here is to do your own route design and construction. There are some prebuilt routes to be sure, but the real fun begins when you start making your own world. The route builder has a lot of complex tools but the basics are easy enough – even if you do end up with a model railroad at the end of the day.
- Hardware Requirements
You will need a robust system for either sim. I have an i5 quad core desktop machine with an Nvidia GTX 650 Ti Boost graphics card and that enables me to run TS2015 smoothly on a 1920×1080 monitor. T:ANE will have a new graphics engine that takes advantage of multicore processors and DirectX 11 technology so my system is barely in the recommended range for the new program. It seems to work OK so far – we’ll see when the developers get things finalized.
- Under the Hood
The basis of any video game is the program set called the Game Engine. TS2015 uses an old technology game engine based on DirectX 9.0c. DX9 dates back to the early days of Windows XP but the graphics engine in TS2015 still works pretty well. It also received some enhancements called TSX in 2012 so it’s pretty good with rain effects, shadows and lights from loco headlights. Dovetail Games (the maker of TS2015) have announced that there will be a future version of Train Simulator that will use Unreal Engine 4 as its basis. This newer engine will update the game to DX11 support. Further details are unknown at this point.
T:ANE has its own graphics engine called E2. This new engine supports DX11 and is supposed to enable vastly improved graphics for the Trainz series of games. The developers are still working out the kinks. E2 also brings further enhancements such as multicore processing support. On paper T:ANE should have the advantage if its full potential is realized.
- What You Get
With TS2015 you get 3 basic routes – one American, one German and one UK. Each route has a few scenarios you can try or the possibility of just picking a train to explore a route. If you owned previous versions of TS you get a free update to TS2015 and your older routes will work. The locomotives and rolling stock are limited to the routes you buy so if you want more you’ll have to make use of Downloadable content (DLC.) More on that below.
T:ANE comes with quite a large collection of locomotives and rolling stock, plus a lot of other stuff like buildings, turntables, switches. You’ll need this to build your own routes. You also get a couple of US routes, a UK one and an Australian one. This routes are nice but not as sophisticated as the ones in TS2015.
- Downloadable Content (DLC)
This is where TS2015 really shines. There are many available routes, lots of locomotives and rolling stock available from Dovetail Games via Steam (online game archive and cloud storage), plus a number of third party creators have stepped up with additional locos and carriages, plus sound and visual enhancements. You have to pay for it though. It can really add up if you aren’t careful. Fortunately a lot of this stuff can be picked up in sales from Steam or the content creators. If you get interested in UK steam the possibilities are mind boggling with TS2015.
Trainz has a facility they call the DLS (Download Station.) You buy a pass to the DLS and in theory you can get over 250,000 free items – routes, locos, buildings, etc. So far I haven’t tried this because T:ANE is stll in Beta and I don’t know how much of the old content will be compatible. Time will tell.
Let’s face it – no simulator that runs on a computer can give total realism. However some can come closer than others. There are many facets to giving a “realistic” experience on a train sim – the look of the cab, the “feel” of the controls, how realistic the physics are in starting and stopping a train, the look of the train models themselves, the ambience of the surroundings, rain and sky effects, etc.
Perhaps it’s because I have more experience with TS 2015 but I get the impression that it just does this realism thing better than T:ANE right now. Certainly the look and feel of the trains and the cabs are much better to my eye and ear – some of the TS2015 steam locos are good enough to satisfy the most demanding “rivet counter.” I just don’t see that with the Trainz locos – they look more like models and less like the real thing – almost cartoony in some cases.
Driving controls seem more realistic in TS2015 too – both sims have a realistic mode but TS does it better. The easy mode in Trainz is called DCC and it looks like a model train controller. There’s nothing like that in TS2015, although it does have a beginner’s mode.
Shadows and lightings are getting better with T:ANE but at this point they haven’t pulled ahead of T2015 – even though T:ANE has a more up to date game engine.
- Artificial Intelligence
Although my experience here is more limited I have to give the edge to Trainz: A New Era here. The Trainz signalling system seems more robust, and it’s possible to run around the track with 5 different trains at the same time if you want – let the computer do the stopping and starting. You can even have multiplayer sessions with others on the Internet.
In TS2015 things are more scripted – you meet AI trains on your journey but you don’t have them on the same track with you. The signal lights are more “show business” and don’t actually do any controlling of the traffic. TS2015 is strictly a single player game.
- The Bottom Line
It simply comes down to this: If you want to play with trains – TS2015 is the clear winner. If you want to play with train tracks – Trainz: A New Era is the way to go. I’ve had fun with both of them, but if I had to choose just one it would be Train Simulator 2015. The driving experience is far better and the steam engine models are superb – especially those from the third party content makers.
This topic may be revisited in future when I’ve had some experience with the T:ANE retail release, and the Trainz DLS content.