Microsoft Train Simulator
What we said
"The attention to detail is superb and, cliched as it is, there's an undeniable thrill about pulling the whistle cord on the Flying Scotsman as you hurtle through the English countryside. Technically, there's no faulting it."
What you thought
- Relaxing. Exhilarating. Majestic. Just three words I could use to describe MS Train Sim. I eagerly awaited its arrival for many months, but always had a concern about a game on rails. Would it be too limiting? After playing it now non-stop for the past three days, I can assure you it is not. I have rescued a stranded passenger train, hauled goods through the night in a snow blizzard, shunted cargo cars through a massive network of junctions and sidings, and at one stage lost control of the train on a steep hill and smashed into a buffer at 50mph. We will always have fast action games such as Quake and Half-Life, but Microsoft Train Simulator otters the player a comfortable slow-paced game where mastering the rails is not just a must, but also very enjoyable. I highly recommend this game.
- Some people will say Microsoft Train Simulator is just for geeks, but look at how well it's been selling. Personally, love it and have been playing it for more than a week. There are so many different things to experience (not that you'd believe it when you think you don't even have to steer). It's a really entrancing and relaxing game, and I think you were absolutely spot on with your review. Many thanks for not marking it down simply because of its theme. It's that sort of impartiality that makes me read your magazine above any others. Keep up the great work.
Who would have thought it? A train simulation that is actually fun. When you think about it, though, it's not really all that strange. Just take a look at the success of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000, in which you get to pilot a plane from one airport to the next (In real time), during which your most dangerous obstacle is the occasional stray pigeon, and you'll understand what I'm getting at.
Microsoft Train Simulator's strongest feature is its realism. To a certain extent we all try to live out some of our dreams through games. Our very own Chris Anderson, gets to fulfil his boyhood fantasy of being an all-powerful bearded necromancer with a pointy hat and a ridiculous beard every time he plays EverQuest, while Rhianna regularly indulges her sadistic desires by torturing pixies in Dungeon Keeper 2. Then there's Steve Hill's well-documented obsession with Championship Manager. The same thing can apply to Microsoft Train Simulator, well sort of anyway. Its relaxing pace and attention to detail allows you to sit back and simply enjoy driving trains without the risk of getting beaten up by Irate commuters.
Download Microsoft Train Simulator
Trains are a part of the magic buried in our collective dreams. Whether it’s the adventure of a mystery on the Orient Express or the romance of an overnighter to Niagra Falls, there’s something about a trip by rail the speaks to our souls. From the opening of the American west to steadfast reliability of British Rail or the speed of modern bullet trains, for nearly 200 years railroads have captured the hearts and minds of thousands.
When I was growing up, the local Lions Club park had an old decommissioned steam engine in the playground -- all the kids in the neighborhood would spend hours playing there, recreating in our imaginations everything from hijacking in the old west to journeys across the Alps. That old engine in the playground is now gone, but with Microsoft Train Simulator you can bring the power and excitement of some of the world's most famous trains to your PC, placing yourself in the role of engineer.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Train Simulator, like Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series, is focused on bringing as accurate a representation of driving the powerful steel beasts as is possible. Every control, down to the smallest switch and instrument dial, is present and rendered in exceptional detail. This is not a game -- it’s designed to provide the user with complete control over a real working train in an environment that matches the real world.
The game includes six routes: Marias Pass in Montana, the Northeast Corridor (Washington D.C. to Philadelphia), Innsbruck to St. Anton in the Austrian Alps, The Settle & Carlisle Line in England, and the Tokyo-Hakone and Hiatsu lines in Japan. Each route is detailed down to yard branchings, sidings, signals, and buildings around the tracks. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out the trees along the tracks are placed exactly as they are in the real world.
The tracks aren’t the only place where attention to detail is evident. The game includes a collection of locomotives ranging from the giant steam engines of yesteryear like the famous Flying Scotsman to the massive diesel powered Dash 9 and hyper-modern electric commuter trains like Japan’s Odakyu 7000 Luxury Super Express. Every detail on the engines is perfect -- down to the spinning of the wheels against the track as you try to start a massive train moving and steam escaping from the cylinders of the steam trains.
Add to the engines the mix of passenger and freight car groupings that can be attached and you can recreate just about any rail adventure you want to set your hand to. Like its Flight Simulator cousins, Train Simulator includes not only a free-form explore mode, but offers a set of challenges for you to master. These range from keeping a passenger train on schedule to coping with various failures in your engine as you try to maneuver your cargo safely down the side of the Alps. Then if you run out of excitement with the included adventures and challenges, a complete set of terrain, track and adventure editors are included.
While all the control detail is there, Train Sim also includes several features that will make getting started easier for the beginning engineer. Most useful is the automatic fireman on the steam trains that will take over the tedium of stoking and trimming the boiler. I tried several runs operating the boiler myself in addition to controlling the engine -- I ended up either bursting the tank or letting the fire go out and finding myself sliding backward down the Alps. For younger engineers (or those who want to get started quickly) there’s also a simplified control model. With full control detail on, you will find yourself constantly adjusting gearing, engine power, steam pressure, etc. to keep your train moving smoothly.
Graphics & Audio
The graphics in Train Sim are very impressive, but also extremely demanding when it comes to processing power. On my Pentium III 600 running a GeForce 2 card I was able to turn on all the detail options and enjoy all the eye candy the game has to offer, but only at the cost of a noticeably slowed frame rate. It takes a gigahertz class machine with a top end 3D accelerator to run the game smoothly at full detail -- playing on a 1.2 gigahertz Althon with a high-end Nvidia card gave smooth performance and spectacular graphics.
As I noted above, the detail of the scenery is amazing. Trees are placed individually along the tracks and each crossing and signal is there -- all with fully functioning lights and bells. You can view your train from all angles, including that of a passenger. Both the interior and exterior if each train is detailed down to a smoking cigar resting in an ashtray in the lounge car on the Orient Express. Add to the detailed graphics sound effects that match each train exactly and you have a package that brings the rails to life.
Pentium II 350 MHz equivalent or higher processor , 3D Accelerator recommended, 32 MB of RAM for Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME; 64 MB for Windows 2000, and 4X or faster CD-ROM drive.
Train Simulator is not for everyone, but rail buffs will absolutely love it. Where other train simulations have attempted to recreate a model railroading experience, this one is designed to give you a taste of the real thing. Microsoft has recreated not only modern railroading, but has brought the billowing smoke and rumbling engines of yesterday's steam locomotive era to life in exquisite detail. Grab your engineers cap and head for the tracks if you’re looking to create your own railway adventure -- you’re sure to find it here.