More than a decade old on the PC, Trainz is about as serious a simulation of life on the railroads as you can get without buying an aircraft hangar and filling it with the complete Hornby catalogue.
This version exclusively for Nvidia Tegra-powered devices takes the core elements of the game – driving a vast range of cabs, attempting to manage an entire rail service – and makes some effort to streamline them to fit the controls and hardware limitations of smartphone engines.
It’s an admirable effort, and one that will intrinsically appeal to anyone with a love of locomotives, but poor performance and bland graphics will stop casual players in their tracks.
Riding the rails
Unless you’re a Trainz aficionado (or have more railway experience than just watching Denzel Washington pull levers in Unstoppable), you’ll have to grind your way through a trio of jargon-heavy training modes to get to grips with driving cabs, pulling freight, and learning why going through red lights is a bad idea.
Once you’re ready to take the training wheels off, Trainz Simulator offers a dauntingly impressive array of play options. From simply guiding a train in Free mode to fixing up and running an entire rail yard and its team of AI controlled drivers, there’s a wealth of content to get stuck into.
All the missions are customisable, too, so you can choose to act as conductor for the fleet or hop in and out of individual cabs on their routes.
Plus, if the range of tracks bundled with the game (from the rainy hills of the Midlands to the wilds of the Australian outback) isn’t enough, you can build your own. All the tracks, landscapes, and train setups can be fiddled with using an exhaustive and, frankly, intimidating level editor.
Bugs on the track
Trainz might be loaded with enough content to sink dozens, even hundreds, of hours into, but the technical shortcomings mean only the most committed simulation fan will experience even a fraction of it.
Played on a tablet, like the Asus Transformer used by this reviewer, the wide open scenery should be a joy to explore. Instead it’s a jagged mess of angular hills, triangular trees, and chronic texture pop-in that all conspire to suck you out of the virtual world.
Shifting viewpoint and zooming using the touch controls is juddery, making the game feel unoptimised – like running the full PC game on a low spec Netbook. The realistic trains fare better up close, but the blurry dials of the driving cab make early flight sims look detailed.
Upon closer inspection, the irksome controls are equally likely to derail your experience.
The tiny dial used to control speed is ridiculously sensitive, meaning that you’ll often end up pushing the accelerator up when the speed limit is telling you to slow down (which can fail a session), or rolling past a red light.
You can opt for the ‘Full Cab’ realistic experience, but then even stopping becomes a panicky blend of near identical lever-pulling and hoping for the best.
Out of track
If you’re a railway nut with a decent Android tablet, Trainz Simulator is still worth a look, as – providing you can tolerate the design weaknesses – there’s generous amount of stuff to do, and endless opportunities for customisation.
Casual players, however, might be better off sticking with the gentler, less sim-focused My First Trainz Set, or waiting for the addictive Train Conductor series to finally switch tracks from iOS.