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.