Right now I'm not sure whether to feel violated or grateful. During the night RS.com, with Steam's assistance, broke into my home and meddled with one of my favourite train sims. RailWorks 2 is gone and in its place is something prettier, slightly less nimble, but otherwise very similar. Something called Train Simulator 2012.
If you own RW2 and have automatic updates active, you'll already know that TS 2012 is a bit of a mixed freight. Switching to a new graphics engine (TSX) means we can now see for miles, and watch the latticed shadows of truss bridges and trees projected fetchingly on the flanks of passing locomotives. Everything is easier on the eye – if you have hardware man-enough to handle it, that is.
Anticipating the fury of those simming on older rigs, the devs have provided a legacy mode. With its simpler shadows it's gentler on GPUs, but some are still reporting frame rate loss. There are those in the RailWorks community that feel this free upgrade should have been optional. However happy you may be with TS 2012's performance (and I'd count myself as content) it's hard to disagree.
Other reasons for resenting the change include add-on aggravation: if you've got loads of third-party content, you may find that some of it no longer functions perfectly. With DLC such a central plank of the RailWorks/TS 2012 brand, the lack of robust backwards compatibility is pretty disappointing.
It's not all bad news though. TS 2012 incorporates some very welcome cab ambience buffs. New dynamic rain and snow clouds bejewel windscreens. Canted tracks and acceleration-related head movement add vitality to one of the sim's weaker areas: its physics. The official website boast – “the most immersive sense of reality yet seen in a PC simulation” – remains dubious, but this is definitely a sim that can do 'spellbinding' on occasions.
Whether it deserves its self-proclaimed 'sequel' status is another matter. Buyers of the Deluxe version get a 45-mile stretch of high-density Pennsylvania track incorporating the iconic Horseshoe Curve, on top of nine familiar RW2 routes. What they don't get is much in the way of fresh motive power. A refurbished F7 and a Hitachi Super Express with no natural habitat mean it won't be long before you find yourself at the controls of old friends. When I was a lad, part of the joy of buying a sim sequel was seeing what machines had been added. Now it seems new rides have too much potential as lucrative DLC to be bundled with base code.
Chalking a number on the end of this review will be tricky. If you're new to rail simming and have a system built or beefed-up in the last couple of years, TS 2012 Deluxe is a bargain. Those with less sprightly specs and/or those who are perfectly content with RailWorks 2 may find themselves resenting this potentially disruptive gift-horse.