One of two Playstation VR titles just released by indie developer Sumalab, TrainerVR is essentially a model train simulator realized in virtual reality. Here are our thoughts.
The notion of a model train simulator isn’t new, as we’ve seen plenty of examples over the years. There have been “regular” train sims that take a bit of a serious approach, but in 2017 we got Excalibur’s Tracks – The Toy Train Set Game – an early access release on Steam that takes the classic wooden train track system and turns it into a videogame. It’s been hugely successful in its early access phase, and I can imagine it’s been a source of inspiration for the team at Sumalab.
But where Tracks has received countless little quality of life improvements and content additions over the course of the last year and a half or so, TrainerVR feels a little rough around the edges at this – though it does manage to provide plenty of fun along the way.
Being a train (play)track sim, the core concept of TrainerVR is fairly self-explanatory. It gets brought back to the basics in the game’s core mode, which is just an empty white sandbox for you to craft your railway empire in. Your box of tricks includes the usual suspects, including bridges, tunnels and track splitters – but you can further populate the game world when you’re done (of while you’re working) with things like people and trees.
Want to stick with track creation? Then you can also switch to a non-white backdrop which already has a detailed world laid out for you. Here, you’ll find scenery filled with hills, waterfalls, elevation changes and more – once you come to grips with the basics, it’s the perfect place to experiment in and challenge yourself and your creativity. In that sense, the white backdrop served mainly as a tutorial for me, though I’m using that term loosely as the game would have benefitted from an actual tutorial of sorts – or a few scenarios to show you the ropes, which also aren’t there.
Building and playing with your creations (which includes making a mess of things, for which you can even use dynamite) is fun, even though the control system is a lot less smooth than the one in Tracks. Part of that is a few VR pitfalls return in TrainerVR – click turning and teleportation being the two obvious ones, but awkward positioning (of you and/or the camera) also being notable.
So while (for the right crowd) it’s a lot of fun to play around with an almost infinite toolbox of train set stuff, TrainerVR is definitely rough around the edges. A few tutorial scenarios and a more streamlined control/camera system would have improved things a lot here.