A game like Microsoft Train Simulator
is tough to judge. There are the sim fanatics who want everything maximally realistic; they'll have fun here, even if there were a few liberties taken to make the game seem more realistic. Then there are the ones with a passing interest in the idea of heading up a train; they'll probably enjoy themselves for a while. Mass market? Definitely not. And even the casual gamers may grow a little tired of Train Simulator
. There's only so much you can do with a train, after all, and even though the steps are complex, the final result is getting from point A to point B along a relatively straight path.
As in any simulator game, there's no sort of plot or anything here. After going through the training exercises, which familiarize you with most of the controls for the three types of trains you can control (electric, diesel, and steam), you can choose to simply wander the six courses that the game has to offer or take on a number of 'Activities'. These activities range from running passengers from one stop to another to an attempt to stay on schedule despite a bridge outage to listening to the detective while the murder on the Orient Express is being solved. You can pick any activity you like and have at it; the options menu lets you adjust some particulars in the game to make it suit your style.
Because of these adjustments, you can make the game fairly unrealistic or quite realistic. With no derailments, I found myself booking it in Japan at 120kph with nary a crash in sight. While mildly amusing, there's no challenge in playing this way. Turning on the various realism options make the game more interesting, at the cost of having to deal with higher complexity in controls and checks and balances.
The three types of trains handle similarly in some respects--the basic workings of throttle and brakes, for example--but differ in key aspects. By far the most challenging to have 'full control' over is the steam locomotive, where you've got to deal with tending the firebox and the steam engine along with all of the other sorts of things that crop up while controlling a train. Fortunately, you can have the computer automate the firing of the engine, so you don't have to stress yourself with those particulars. The other engines are easier to deal with, although pulling cargo has its own large set of particulars that you can really only learn from experience.
There are a lot of things to do in Microsoft Train Simulator, and a lot of controls to memorize (or constantly refer to). And it's entertaining enough, even for the non-train buff. But those who aren't fans of trains will find themselves growing weary with the game quickly. Sure, there's lots to do, but the very format of a train gives you much less free reign than, say, a flight simulator does.