Best Train Simulator Games in 2024

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Patrick_Yu
edited June 12 in Gaming

What is a train simulator game? At its core, a train simulator game is a type of simulation software that allows players to experience the operation and management of trains. These games can range from highly detailed and realistic simulations, replicating the intricacies of train controls and physics, to more simplified and accessible experiences for casual players. Whether navigating picturesque landscapes, handling freight logistics, or exploring complex rail operations, train simulator games offer a unique way to indulge in a passion for trains. 

There are different types of train simulator games, each catering to various aspects of train operation and management: 

  1. Realistic Train Simulators: These games focus on providing an authentic and detailed simulation of train operations, featuring accurate physics and real-world routes. Examples include Microsoft Train Simulator, Train Sim World, and Run8
  2. Arcade Train Games: These offer a fun and engaging experience with simplified controls and gameplay mechanics, making them accessible to casual players. Examples include Train Sim and Mini Metro
  3. Transport Management Simulators: These emphasize strategic planning and management of transportation networks, where trains are a significant component. Players build and maintain railways, optimize routes, and manage resources. Examples include Transport Fever 2 and Railway Empire
  4. Historical Train Simulators: These games recreate specific historical periods and routes, providing both educational and simulation experiences. Examples include Railroader and Trainz: A New Era
  5. Survival and Adventure Train Simulators: Combining train simulation with survival and adventure elements, these games add unique challenges such as managing resources and dealing with environmental hazards. Trans-Siberian Railway Simulator is a notable example. 

Each type offers a distinct experience, catering to different interests and expertise levels within the rail enthusiast community.  

Now, let's dive into some of the best train simulator games in 2024. 

1. Microsoft Train Simulator 

Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS) offers numerous structured scenarios that challenge players with specific objectives, such as managing freight operations or handling emergencies, while an activities editor allows for the creation and sharing of custom scenarios. Moreover, MSTS supports a robust modding community, encouraging ongoing development of expansion packs and third-party add-ons, similar to the framework established by Microsoft Flight Simulator. 

Kuju Entertainment, the developer behind MSTS, eventually went on to develop Rail Simulator, which was released in 2007. Rail Simulator aimed to build upon the foundation laid by MSTS, offering improved graphics, more advanced physics, and a wider range of routes and trains. This game evolved into the highly popular  Train Simulator series, now known as Train Sim World by Dovetail Games, which continues to be a leading title in the train simulation genre. 

Despite its age, MSTS retains a special place in the hearts of train simulation enthusiasts due to its depth of simulation and the community-driven content that continues to keep the game relevant. It stands as a testament to Microsoft's dedication to providing an authentic and engaging train simulation experience, cherished by fans for its nostalgic value and comprehensive gameplay.

2. Derail Valley 

Derail Valley is an immersive train simulation game that originally launched for VR but is also accessible in 2D. The game has recently received a substantial update called "Simulator," which adds a host of new features such as a dynamic day-night cycle and weather system. Players take on various jobs including logistical hauls, shunting, and handling hazardous materials to earn money and unlock new licenses and locomotives.

The gameplay emphasizes realism, requiring players to manually couple and decouple cars, manage brakes, and handle the intricacies of train logistics. In realistic mode, the game increases the difficulty and immersion by removing some conveniences and forcing players to perform all tasks manually. Additionally, a sandbox mode allows players to experiment freely, including causing dramatic derailments and explosions, highlighting the game's advanced physics. Derail Valley Simulator offers a rich and detailed experience for train simulation enthusiasts, combining realistic operations with the freedom to explore and experiment.

3. Transport Fever 2

Transport Fever 2 is a comprehensive transport simulation game where players build and manage an extensive transportation network using various modes of transport, including trains, trucks, buses, planes, and ships. Players aim to connect cities and industries, ensuring efficient transport of goods and passengers to create a profitable business.  

The game offers a blend of strategic planning and logistical management, with a focus on economic optimization. While reminiscent of classic transport tycoon games, Transport Fever 2 stands out with its modern graphics and user-friendly interface. However, it has some cons: the simplified gameplay can make it too easy for seasoned players, and the lack of complex logistical challenges and industry-building options may limit long-term engagement. Despite these drawbacks, the game provides a balanced and enjoyable experience suitable for both newcomers and experienced players.

4. SimRail 

SimRail is a detailed train simulation game set in Poland, featuring over 300 kilometers of one-to-one scale track. Released into Early Access on January 13, 2023, it includes passenger and freight trains, with a focus on realism in controls and environments. Players can drive trains or manage dispatching in single-player and multiplayer modes, with real-time weather and time based on actual locations. 

A major update in November 2023 introduced new electric multiple units (EMU) like the EN57 and EN71, along with variants and liveries. The weather system, sky, and lighting have been improved, adding autumn and winter seasons. The game now uses an updated Unity engine for better graphics and performance, including new anti-aliasing options and improved vegetation. 

The update also includes a new input system for gamepads and joysticks, additional multiplayer signal boxes, updated textures for existing locomotives, and new timetables. A Loco Depot feature lets players view and learn about each locomotive in detail. 

SimRail's commitment to realism is evident in its sound design, dynamic weather, and detailed modeling. The game supports various control schemes, though customization may be needed to avoid conflicts. Despite being in Early Access, the game shows great potential, with ongoing development enhancing its depth and realism. 

Overall, SimRail offers an authentic train simulation experience, with continuous updates adding significant content and improvements, making it a strong competitor in the genre.

5. Railroader 

Railroader is a notable addition to the genre of rail simulators, joining the ranks of essential titles like Derail Valley, Diesel Railcar Simulator, and Train Simulator Classic. Priced at $29.99, Railroader offers a unique combination of branchline management and hands-on locomotive operation, set in 1940s-50s rural North Carolina. 

Players run the Tally-Ho Corner Railroad (THCR), managing freight and passenger services between small settlements and local businesses. The gameplay includes complex shunting puzzles and operational challenges, providing an engaging experience. 

Railroader's strengths lie in its dynamic contract system and mission-style milestones, ensuring varied gameplay. The AI assists with driving but has limitations, such as requiring manual intervention to avoid obstacles. The game’s physics are realistic, though some systems, like boiler management, are simplified. 

Despite its early stage and some current limitations, Railroader's charm, detailed operations, and immersive environment make it a must-buy for rail simulation enthusiasts.

6. Trans-Siberian Railway Simulator

Developed by Pentacle and recently released in early access, Trans Siberian Railway Simulator is a strangely satirical train simulator game, sometimes featuring stereotypical elements of the USSR. It combines train simulation with survival elements. Set in a bustling Soviet-era train station, the game tasks players with managing a locomotive, completing transport jobs, and interacting with various characters, including the mafia.  

Players must maintain their train by repairing parts, managing resources such as food and drink, and dealing with environmental challenges like extreme cold. The game features crisp graphics and realistic mechanics, including starting and operating the train through a complex sequence of steps. Additionally, players can engage in activities like purchasing supplies, interacting with NPCs, and navigating through hazardous environments. Despite its quirky nature and the occasional chaos, the game offers an immersive and entertaining experience for those who enjoy detailed simulation games.  

7. Trainz: A New Era

For over 15 years, the Trainz series has engaged hobby train drivers, competing with Microsoft Train Simulator and Train Simulator 15. Trainz: A New Era offers punctual train operations without strikes or schedule reductions. It includes comprehensive tutorials for both simple and complex controls. Players can operate trains using in-cab switches, an on-screen widget, or a simplified model railway-like dial. Tasks like managing track switches are also available. 

The game features four routes in the USA, UK, and Australia with improved graphics and good visibility. Gameplay requires attention to signals, speed limits, and schedules, but mistakes result in minor point deductions, and derailments are realistic but not dramatic. The few included missions are conservative and lack variety, with no unexpected incidents to add realism. 

Trainz: A New Era benefits from a strong community creating content available through the "Download Station" and an in-game browser. However, the interface is less user-friendly than previous versions, making it hard to navigate the 250,000 available items. Official add-ons are expensive, around $40 for a route expansion. 

In summary, Trainz: A New Era provides a detailed train simulation experience but is limited by its mission variety and cumbersome content download system. Community content enhances the game, but accessing it can be challenging.

8. Railroads Online 

Railroads Online, developed by Stefan Kelnberger and published by astragon Entertainment, is a sandbox-building game in Early Access on Steam since October 1, 2021. Players start with minimal resources and must explore the map to discover and build more, managing a rail transport business in a first-person view. The game offers both single-player and multiplayer modes, allowing up to 16 players to collaborate on construction and cargo delivery. While a brief tutorial introduces basics, players may need additional resources to master track-laying and train operations, which involve managing fuel, brakes, and reverser.

The game features open-world exploration, track and facility construction, cargo transport, and equipment customization, with twelve detailed locomotives. The graphics are stunning, with beautiful environments and immersive locomotive sounds. Though still in development, Railroads Online provides hours of engaging gameplay for train enthusiasts, with the potential for further improvements based on player feedback.

9. Run8

Run8, currently in version 3, is a highly realistic railroad simulator designed to provide an in-depth and authentic experience of managing and operating trains. Unlike traditional train simulators that feature missions and game-like elements, Run 8 focuses on simulating real-world railroad operations, including dispatching, industry interactions, and train movements. The game offers extensive customization options, allowing players to choose various skins for locomotives and cars. It features both single-player and multiplayer modes, with community servers where users can collaborate or operate individually.

Run 8's gameplay involves complex mechanics such as manual locomotive startups, air pressure management, and troubleshooting, all contributing to its immersive simulation. The game covers numerous routes across different regions, with additional routes available as add-ons, and supports a vibrant community that creates and shares detailed worlds and scenarios. Run 8 is not a game for train simulator casuals and is more tailored for enthusiasts seeking a comprehensive and realistic railroad simulation experience.

10. Train Sim World® 4

Train Sim World 4, developed by Dovetail Games, the former masterminds behind Microsoft Train Simulator, continues the series with an impressive array of features and improvements. This latest iteration maintains the robust training system from its predecessor, offering step-by-step tutorials for operating a variety of locomotives. Players can transfer previously purchased trains and routes as free DLC, providing continuity for long-time fans. The game stands out with its highly detailed and realistic train models, enhanced lighting, and improved weather effects, delivering an immersive experience, especially on high-end systems like the PlayStation 5. 

The gameplay includes multiple modes such as timetables, scenarios, and a new Free Roam mode that allows unrestricted exploration. Three new routes are introduced: the Antelope Valley Line in the USA, the East Coast Main Line in England, and the S-Bahn Vorarlberg in Austria, each offering unique environments and operational experiences. The Creators Club returns, enabling players to design and share custom liveries and scenarios, further extending the game's replayability. While Train Sim World 4 doesn't vastly differ from its predecessor, it provides a solid entry point for newcomers and enough new content to justify the purchase for dedicated train enthusiasts.

All aboard for departure

Train simulator games offer a diverse and engaging way to explore rail transport, catering to various interests and skill levels. From realistic simulations replicating real-world operations to more casual, arcade-style experiences, these games provide unique gameplay, including strategic management, historical recreations, and immersive, hands-on train operation. Classics like Microsoft Train Simulator retain nostalgic value, while modern titles such as Train Sim World 4 and SimRail enhance realism and graphics. Innovative games like Derail Valley and Railroads Online introduce sandbox and survival elements. As technology advances, train simulators continue to evolve, promising exciting experiences for both enthusiasts and newcomers.

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Patrick Yu is a Senior Project Manager at Level Interactive and has 8 years of experience writing business, legal, lifestyle, gaming, and technology articles. He is a significant contributor to Acer Corner and is currently based in Taipei, Taiwan.

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