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MICOSOFT TRAIN SIMULATOR
on 31 March 2002
When I was a kid, I got a model train set one Christmas. It was great! It came with a simple loop track and about three cars, including the locomotive. It was a bare bones starter set, but I didn't care. I think I had more fun putting everything together than pretending to haul freight across country (it was a very small country) since I was more of a tinker than a train fanatic. Then one day, I think I accidentally stepped on the track and cracked it, stunting any growth I might have had in becoming a train fanatic. But in the interests of sparking an old flame, I chose to review Microsoft's Train Simulator.
Getting the Wheels Rolling
MS Train Simulator has a very simple interface, which remains prevalent throughout the entire game. Basically, you choose to either create a custom train simulation by setting up things like the locomotives, cargo, tracks and conditions, or you choose a pre-made "scenario" that has all these conditions pre-selected, as well as some scripted goodies, such as weather worsening, broken track, and timetables to keep.
Some of these scenarios are more complicated than the others, reflected by the difficulty setting. One thing I didn't like about this setup was that you couldn't tweak the scenarios. There is also an editor that allows you to import train skins, create new routes, and make scenarios of your own, which will extend the shelf life of the game. I found some elements of the editor simple to use, while others, such as the Cab editor (which allows you to create custom locomotive controls) to be daunting
The actual control interface varies from train to train, but all except for the steam-powered locomotives share common controls: throttles, brakes, sanders (to help wheels grip the track in slippery conditions), and reversers (which tell the train to go forward, backward, or neutral). There are also vanilla items like horns, bells and headlights, which help the train see and be seen. I liked the headlights, not only were they actually useful, but actually came on when they were activated. The use of these controls could not be simpler. The mouse can push buttons and drag levers, and that's all you need to drive a train There are three types of locomotive in MS Train Simulator: steam-powered, diesel, and electric. The electric and diesel are almost identical, but the steam-powered locomotive is a real challenge. Without going too in-depth, the steam locomotive requires an outside supply of water and coal, has twice the number of controls of the other locomotives, and is infinitely more difficult to drive. The steam engines should provide a real challenge for anyone who's mastered the art of driving the other trains.
There are six famous routes in Train Simulator, all modeled exactly like their real-life counterparts: The Marias Pass, a mountain route connecting the east and west sides of the Rocky Mountains; the Northeast Corridor, a New England commuter route; the famed "Orient Express" route through Europe; The Settle & Carlisle Line, running between England and Scotland; and two Japanese railways, the Tokyo and Hisatsu linesThere are eight trains in Train Simulator, two steam-powered, three diesels, and three electric. The trains look and feel different from each other, even if the same class of locomotive has similar controls. If you get tired of driving the various trains, you can do more complicated tasks, like switching tracks, coupling and uncoupling cars, and driving commuter routes keeping a timetable. The tasks can even be interrelated, such as when a train drops off cars and picks others up at a train yard, then moves the freight to another station. Adding to the complex tasks can be weather conditions and unforeseen accidents (broken track, maintenance, etc.) to hinder your job. All in all, it is a robust package for such a simulation. Another thing I particularly disliked about the scenarios, however, was that if you so much as ignored a traffic light, the simulation would end. I would have liked more freedom to make mistakes, personally.
Graphics and Sound
MS Train Simulator actually pushes out some decent graphics as well as sound effects. Even at a low resolution, the train's individual cars are detailed, allowing you to differentiate between all sorts of cargo and passenger cars. At high resolutions the game performs admirably, pushing out high frame rates even as your 100-car train goes over 100 miles per hour. The sounds are realistic, each train's horn and bells have been captured, as well as various train sounds such as the tracks, brakes, and so on, providing more elements of realism to the game's incredibly difficult to review a game so one-sided towards a particular type of consumer. On one hand, the simulator will wow train fanatics and will probably give them all they want. On the other hand, casual gamers would most likely be bored to tears. I'll say this, and let you decide: Microsoft Train Simulator is easily the best train simulator on the game market right now. If a train simulator interests you, then you need look no further. Final word if train simulators interest you, this is a must-have