Robert Stephenson and the Reverend W Awdry are rotating in their resting places. The latest edition of 'the world's favourite train simulator' contains no steam locos whatsoever. Significant new features are pretty thin on the ground too.
Buy TS2014 and essentially you're buying TS2013 with a different mix of routes and rolling stock. The handful of minor engine changes feel like the contents of a free patch (which they are if you already own TS2013). Greater draw distances, a new zoom function, a clumsy consist builder for assembling your own trains for Quick Drive sessions... the lack of ambition is palpable.
In a series where the AI still has problems coping with complex scenarios, where physics and sound remain unconvincing in places, and multiplayer has yet to materialise, it's hard not to feel disappointed.
From a British perspective these annual retail releases have been getting less and less interesting for a while now. Where the standard versions of Train Simulator 2012 and 2013 both incorporated domestic locos and a choice of charismatic UK routes, this one ships with electric multiple units (the class 395 and 375) and the London to Faversham line only. Well modelled but relatively short (50 miles) and subterranean, the high-speed Kent corridor provides far less variety and freight scenario potential than past default offerings like Isle of Wight and East Coast Mainline.
For loco-hauled action, users must decamp to Northern Germany or California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Hamburg to Hanover, and Donner Pass are both high quality, high detail routes, well supplied with scenarios. Buy them separately as DLC and they'll set you back an eye-watering £50. Treated as an add-on bundle for a cheap copy of TS2013, TS2014 is actually relatively good value.
As an introduction to the relaxing yet challenging world of rail simming, TS2014 also fulfils its remit well enough. Cheaper and more realistic sims are available, but none that combine variety, good looks and ease of use as successfully. Yes, it helps if you arrive with a preexisting passion for railwayana, but the low-key satisfaction of sticking to speed limits and stopping tidily at signals transcends theme. Stress relief is guaranteed as long as you deactivate the GUI that pedantically points out the score penalty of every wheel-slip, speed limit breach and emergency brake application.
But I'm hoping for more from Train Simulator 2015. Sophisticated AI, super-real steam engine physics, Asian or African railways... something substantial to keep series staleness at bay. If RS.com are serious about their “We are rail fans” publicity boast, they need to start demonstrating that fanaticism by grappling with long-standing engine deficiencies, and looking further afield for route inspiration.