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Game Review of:
Microsoft Train Simulator
Trains for the PC


Steve Arvin is a business owner and red-eyed late night PC gamer. 

From the January, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

‘Twas many nights after Christmas and not even a small black and white puppy dog was stirring in the house so you crept downstairs, spied the HO gauge train set under the tree you should have taken down three days ago. You felt a sudden yearning to sit on the floor put on an engineers cap and listen to the clickity-clack of the train as it goes around the track. Well if you are like me this is just a way to placate your childhood desire to be a train engineer. So instead of waking the house playing with that model train under the tree I thought I would try out Microsoft Train Simulator. 

The first subject to cover is installation Microsoft tells us that a Pentium II 266 MHz or better with a 4MB 3D video card and 32MB of RAM will run this SIM on Win 95, Win 98 and Win ME. Windows 2000 & XP are supported but require 350 MHz and 64MB of RAM. Don’t even bother with Windows NT, it is just not supported. I’ve run it on a 1.4GHz AMD with a Nvidia GE Force2 DDR video card, 256Meg of DDR RAM and a DDR Motherboard for the purpose of this review. Needless to say at 1024x768 resolution there was no chop in the video and the screen changes were seamless. 

The game play is relatively easy to control and the interactive tutorials explain them well.  Although the voice layer of the sound does need help, crank up the volume and live through the scratch in the voices and you will be on your way. The train sounds and track sounds are just extraordinary by the way, I have no idea how many hours they must have spent recording, and listening to Trains but you will be impressed with Microsoft’s results.

There are six keys that will set any train in motion and the majority of the key strokes are common to all of the trains in Train Simulator, once you learn them you can start out to drive any of the trains in the Simulator. The mouse can also be used to perform these functions but the controls seem slower and harder to manipulate if you try to use only the mouse. A combination of the mouse and keyboard, using the mouse to control the buttons and the keys to work the switches and levers worked better for me. The game will also come with a quick reference card for keyboard shortcuts and signs & signals.  Mastering the signs & signals is a little more of a challenge since they vary from one rail line to another. The first time you derail a train because you missed a switch and didn’t stop in time or crack up into another train you suddenly realize hey I need to learn the signals for this track. Fortunately Microsoft did not record the screaming that goes on when you crash an Amtrak passenger train headed into Philadelphia. 

So for all of us childhood model railroaders out there it is gratifying to find out that signals the world over are more complex than “No I was beep, you were beep, beep and he was beep, beep, beep.” That line is paraphrased by the way from a movie made in 1951 with Cary Grant as a middle aged doctor and model railroader called People Will Talk. The other thing that will make your experience more enjoyable is reading the Engineers handbook. It is in PDF format on one of the disks so you can print it out if you like and it is full of good information.

The train simulator physics are as near to being there in real life, as you will ever want. You actually feel like you are speeding up or slowing down or coming to a stop. The visuals are excellent but I would like to see more detail like hoses, bolts, ladders and handles on the Train Locomotives and more passenger car detail in future versions. The only other things that are conspicuously absent are people in the passenger cars and people disembarking at a station when you pull in, or any rail yard workers. All in all this doesn’t detract from the train driving experience but the detail would be a great addition. 

There are about 10 Locomotives that come with Microsoft Train Simulator. Diesel, Electric and Steam locomotives are all well represented, the Cabs are all very detailed and as authentic as the game will allow. Each control panel is different and the placement of the controls allows you to engineer any train from the central screen which is a good thing but it begs the question what are all of those buttons and switches supposed to do when you look to your left or right. Too much realism could be a bad thing if it detracts from the game. There are many routes to travel and a multitude of activities to complete from something easy like a track with no switches or intersections where all you need to do is travel to the next stop on time and pull into the station, to a complex track with many switches to watch and tasks to perform. You can also change which train you want to run on a certain route. 

The most interesting thing about this game is that you can use an editor to create your own routes and the Internet already abounds with additional locomotives that seem to look just as good as those that come with the Simulator. It seems that Americans do not hold a monopoly on a love of trains because there are many international web sites putting time and effort into plugins for this simulator. Apparently train simulators caught on in Japan long before Microsoft got in the game. Check out these web sites for more Microsoft Train Simulator fun. 

there is a patch already up on the Microsoft Web site for Train Simulator. The game was stable before I installed the patch and has been since.

In conclusion this is the most fun I’ve had with a train since I was twelve and climbing on box cars at our old rail siding or running model trains all around the house from room to room and tripping up my parents. So if you are a train buff or have kids that are, rush out and pick up this SIM as it has been worth the time to learn and play just to get a look in the cab of such a wide variety of locomotives.

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