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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Sim

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Microsoft

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q2 2001

 

 

- This is the only game in town for locomotive enthusiasts

- Basic tutorial mode gets you right into the game

- Wide variety of tracks, engines, and objectives

- Weather effects

- Ride or drive

- Easy menus to navigate

- Excellent sound

- Comes with a "Track Builder" for enterprising engineers

- "Realism" options

 

 

- Aimed at a very, very specific audience

- Mouse control not responsive

- How do I know how accurate it is when Iíve never taken control of a locomotive?

 

 

Review: Railroad Tycoon 3 (PC)

 

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Train Simulator

Score: 8.5 / 10

When Train Simulator (TS) showed up, I was hesitant to say the least. A train simulator? Whatís next? A drying paint simulator? Iím one of those people that likes "go anywhere" games, where you arenít confined to one place, where you choose the path. Being on rails is the antithesis to being able to go anywhere. But all that being said, TS surprised me.

ms_train_sim-a.jpg (16613 bytes)          ms_train_sim-b.jpg (10058 bytes)

After the game finally installed (take the time to read the manual) and just over a gig of hard drive space was eaten up, I jumped right in. "Drive Train" I selected. After all, how hard can it be to drive a train? Plenty hard, because even after ten minutes of random button pressing the train still sat at the station. I found the horn though (and of all the features I like it the best). I backed tracked out to the main menu and started a tutorial.

The tutorials are very good at teaching the basics Ė how to start the train, where the brakes are, how to get outside views, and, most importantly, where the horn or whistle is located. But some of the more advanced techniques like learning when to drop a load of sand on the tracks to gain more traction or hooking up other cars are left to trial-and-error. The learning curve might not be so bad if there was only one train to use but there are many engines to learn. Like most people who will play this simulation, Iíve no experience of driving a train in real life so I canít address how accurately they handle or control placement. One assumes that as a simulation, the developers have strived to make everything as accurate as possible, so thereís a 

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certain of level of trust that they did their jobs right. Just by carefully observing the game in action youíll notice the cars rocking slightly as they switch tracks, the steam and smoke associated with steam engines looks like it should, and the exhaust spewing from diesel engines. The execution is very good and is complemented by a very easy to use set of menus, but without a reason to play, some kind of objective, whatís the point?

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Fortunately, TS has a ton of different options to keep players interested. You can ride as a passenger, which isnít exactly engaging, but it makes a good screen saver. Driving is much more interesting. To complement the number of drivable trains (steam, diesel or electric), there are a number of routes to travel as well, such as the Marias Pass in the US, the Hisatsu Line in Japan, and the Settle & Carlisle Line in England. If that isnít enough, you can choose the time of year, day and weather conditions on each route. Starting in the middle of the line is just a click away too. But the most important list is the list of Activities.

Activities give you a reason to play. Activities are basically challenges for each line that youíll have to complete on schedule and without violating too many rules (i.e. crashing). Several of the activities appear on all the lines but since the trains and tracks are different, the approach to success must be rethought. Some are unique to each, such as the "Murder on the Orient Express" scenario for the Innsbruck-St. Anton line (in which you receive orders as you go from the detective on board). Youíll receive a work order as each Activity starts that lays out your timetable among other things. But just following orders isnít enough, youíve got to watch for signage indicating hazards or speed changes, and worry about how smooth the ride is if youíre pulling passengers. Each scenario can be played in any order, as many times as you want. And if you donít want to play through the longer Activities in one sitting, you have the option to save your game. Once you finish an Activity your performance goes through an evaluation based on aspects like how on time you are, train handling, and obeying posted speed limits. The evaluation is tracked over time so you can see how youíve improved. Or, in my case, gotten worse in my attempt to beat my best times by going all out, full steam ahead. I have yet to derail a train, but since this is a serious simulation and the focus is on safety, the manual doesnít tell you how to successfully do it. (At the back of the manual there are some gruesome stats about trains.)

ms_train_sim-c.jpg (14450 bytes)         ms_train_sim-d.jpg (9357 bytes)

The graphics and sound are very good. After doing some research, I can safely say that the engines look like their real world counterparts. There are towns and bridges to drive passed and they look good, while not repeating too much. Some areas you travel through are sparse in the "neat things to look at" category, but thatís just like real life. The weather effects add a certain level of believability Ė the rain looks like rain, the snow looks like snow. I especially like the night runs where you can turn on your headlights. The sound matches the graphics. Itís good, especially the voice acting during the tutorial sections. The main controls look slightly cartoony, which is most noticeable when you look left and right in the cockpit. (Those areas look sharp but you donít need to worry about handling any controls located there.) Everything moves along at a good pace.

Mouse control isnít very responsive. Sometimes youíll click on a control and nothing will happen for a few seconds. Holding the button down doesnít help. I found it far easier to manipulate the controls via the keyboard. Sure, there are a plethora of commands to memorize but itís far less frustrating than trying to apply the brakes with the unresponsive mouse as you arrive at a station. And even if you forget which keys do what, the help menu is easily accessible for view and printing.

Train Simulator is clearly aimed at locomotive enthusiasts and hardcore simmers. If you fall into those two categories, youíll not be disappointed. There are many Activities to try out and trains to drive in a variety of real-world conditions. And if you get tired of the game activities, try making your own with the included Editor. (I hate technical stuff so I didnít spend much time with it.) The Editor is sure to spawn many homemade scenarios for download off the Internet. I have to admit that I somewhat enjoyed my time with Train Simulator. It didnít make me a convert to sims but it did help me relax after a long day at the office.

- Omni

 

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