TSW2: Sherman Hill


Managing the brakes is what Sherman Hill is all about.


The Sherman Hill route is in Wyoming, and runs from Laramie in the West to Cheyenne in the East, with Sherman Hill summit being roughly half way through the 58-mile Rocky Mountain run. Built in the early 1860s at a peak elevation of 8,015 feet, this is a small part of  one of the crowning achievements of America’s Transcontinental Railroad: the crossing of Sherman Hill is understandably a much-requested addition to the TSW2 network... 

Featuring mile-long trains of over 100 rail cars and the familiar SD70ACe and SD40-2 locomotives resplendent in Union Pacific yellow, Sherman Hill is about as iconic an American route as you can get, with scenery that would be just as at home in wild-west adventure Red Dead Redemption 2. 

Sherman Hill has 24 Journeys, 4 Training Modules and 6 Scenarios (including one titled 'Sandbox Switching', which lets you cut up and build consists and shunt/switch until the cows come home, much like the Cumberland Switchback scenario for Sand Patch Grade.) There are also 121 Timetable services–Sherman Hill is no lightweight, in more ways than one. 

An enormous yellow freight train with carriages disappearing way into the distance.

But here's the problem; freight trains are slow. Travelling at 30-40 miles per hour (if you're lucky, slower uphill) for an hour or so ain't exactly exciting, no matter how much of a US railfan you are. Also, a train that takes a minimum of 10 (yes that's TEN) minutes to set up and get going may be realistic, but it's not much fun when you have to set up the brakes etc. on a computer screen with tiny buttons, hampered by the Xbox controller's inexplicably twitchy level of control, which only seems a factor in TSW2 cabs.  Do yourself a favour and plug in a USB mouse, if only for the setup sequence for the SD70ACe. 

Having to set the individual locomotives up and waiting 8-10 minutes for them to pressurise their brakes may be realistic, but it doesn't make for interesting gameplay, or a good start to any Sherman Hill run. Would even PC simulation aficionados have complained if the trains released their brakes in say, 3 minutes and the trail locos were already set up? I doubt it. 

A low-angle shot of a yellow freight train, with Union Pacific emblazoned on the front.

Although for the most part Sherman Hill looks fine, it also has pop-up like I've never seen before in TSW2 (or TSW 2020), and I even include the much more epic scenery of the Sand Patch Grade and Cane Creek routes in that. There's some terrible pop-up of distant vehicles, structures and trees, which is disappointing but not entirely unexpected, despite the rather sparse scenery–but that's pop-up I can grudgingly accept. The real spoiler is the way the game engine draws everything when you change views. This is presumably caused by the game engine prioritising drawing the train first above all else, and struggling to display anything else because the trains are SO long. I honestly didn't believe my eyes when I switched to the exterior cameras and moved to the rear of the train...The train is drawn immediately, then the rails beneath it and then the landscape and then any landscape detail like buildings, bridges, hills, boulders etc. I wonder who at Dovetail thought "yep, this looks & works great" but they need their heads tested, when the Unreal engine clearly can't handle that many rail cars! Pop-up has been an issue with TSW2 since day one, but I expected better from my Xbox Series X, from Dovetail, from the Unreal Engine–and from Sherman Hill. 

I'd love to end on a positive note, but the well-documented 'Save Bug' is alive and well in Sherman Hill too, and means that despite many services taking around 2 hours to complete, this is unacceptable to all but the most hardcore, dedicated simnut, and I'm not one of those (yet.) 

Two trains side-by-side, rolling along a track in an open, barren landscape.

But.. And it's a big 'but', time and time again TSW2 with all its bugs, idiosyncrasies, failings and irritations finds a way of drawing me back, making me want to learn how to get these awesome machines running (and stopping), and Sherman Hill is no different. 

Managing the brakes, using the Independent, Dynamic and Automatic brakes (and sometimes all three on the steeper downhill sections!) is what Sherman Hill is all about, and I found it addictive as hell once I'd actually got the hang of getting the locomotives running. At times it definitely feels like masochism or self-punishment... But I love trains, and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Thanks to Lick PR and Dovetail Games for the review code.