Microsoft Train Simulator
Flight simulator enthusiasts have been well catered for, on the PC, for many a year and the wealth of great titles that exist prove this fact. Indeed Microsoft's own Flight Simulator has long been the cornerstone of the genre. But what about Locomotive enthusiasts. As far as I can remember there has never been a great, commercially released simulator that has been satisfactory. This state of affairs simply couldn't go on. After all, there are probably more train enthusiasts in the world than there are budding pilots, so why hasn't there been a train simulator before now? Anyway the wait is over and thankfully the title that ends this wait is one of quality.
The simulation comes with a beautiful collection of locomotives. Steam, diesel and electric trains are all represented. The Flying Scotsman, Dash 9, Amtrak Acela Express, Kiha 31, and the Orient Express pulling Gölsdorf steam engine have all lovingly been recreated and included in this simulation. The train models are excellent, although the cockpit instruments and dials appeared blurry, on our PC, on any resolution below 1024x768.
Train Simulator boasts over 600 miles of track. America, Europe and Asia have been represented and as a result the beautiful scenery is very diverse. Routes include the Marias Pass, Northeast Corridor, Innsbruck - St. Anton, Settle & Carlisle, Tokyo - Hakone and Hisatsu Line. Each route can be taken as a free, exploration ride or one of many activities can be chosen. These activities range from Murder on the Orient Express to driving a train in Japan on a Earth Quake damaged track. These activities, like those in Flight Simulator, offer an interesting change of pace with their clear objectives. It is fair to say though that the activities require a decent level of competence and you will need to be familiar with the handling of the train in question.
Should the routes on offer not be enough for you, an editor is included that will enable you to create your own route/scenery. Even if you aren't the creative sort yourself. you can be sure a strong online community will emerge and a wealth of extra routes will be available to download.
Of course most people will be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of driving a train. This is where the tutorials come into play. There are tutorials for each of the diesel, steam and electric trains. There are also tutorials for freight activity and passenger activity but strangely these are mixed in with the activities and not shown on the tutorials menu. These tutorials while not being fully comprehensive allow you to become comfortable, quite quickly, with Train Simulator.
A variety of camera angles can be selected and range from the drivers seat to the passengers seat. However if you select the passengers seat then you will be disappointed to find that there are no passengers on your train. There aren't any at the stations either, not visible ones anyway (they do exist but are not shown, you're told that your train is loading). I can see that this would have placed greater demands on peoples PC's with the need to render all those passengers but it would have given the simulation more personality and you could have elected to turn them off if it bought your PC to it's knees.
Deaf gamers need not worry about text feedback within Train Simulator. The tutorials, whilst vocal are clearly subtitled. In the activities all the information is provided in text and can also be recalled if so desired. There are a number of driving assist tools that can help you such as the next station guide and so on but it is the Operations Notebook (F11 key) that is of prime importance. Here you can not only access the keyboard controls, the next station information etc. but also, under the procedures tab, you can access the activities or tutorials instructions so you can recap on any details you may have forgotten about. In the options menu, under the sound tab you can enable text captions for audio. Any noises such as horns, bells and guards shouting you can now leave the station, are all captioned. Whilst this is superb I found that the caption for the bell disappeared off the screen after a while even though the bell was still ringing.
Of course being a simulator you'd expect the system requirements to be quite steep. The minimum requirements are Pentium 2 266MHz with 32MB RAM and a 4MB 3D accelerated graphics card. This is just plain wrong and I doubt you would attain anything other than a slide show with this spec. I would suggest a Pentium 2 400MHz with 64MB RAM and a 16MB graphics card as an absolute minimum (to run at 640x480). I reviewed the simulation on an Athlon 900 with 640MB RAM and a 64MB Kyro II graphics card. The game was fine at the 1024x748 resolution under Windows 98SE but a little choppy under Windows XP although I suspect this is a graphics card driver deficiency.
Overall Game Rating: 8.9/10 Considering this is the first Train Simulation from Microsoft it looks remarkably polished. Train Simulator is a highly commendable locomotive simulation and one that will surely be regularly updated in the same way that the Flight Simulator series has. If you have even a passing interest in trains then this will appeal to you. As this review is written there are about 3 unofficial expansion packs available to buy and the online community is already quite large. Just make sure you have a PC with a bit of muscle because the official minimum specification is optimistic to say the least.
Deaf Gamers comment: It is very pleasing to see that subtitles have been included and even better to see that captions for important noises have also been included. Microsoft and Kuju Entertainment have given deaf train enthusiasts the chance to fully appreciate this great simulator and for that we are thankful.