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Microsoft Train Simulator

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Kuju Entertainment
Media: CD/2
Players: 1
Genre: Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Microsoft Train Simulator are definitely more impressive than I would have thought. The world around the train tracks is rendered in exquisite detail, and it's worth using the external camera views just to get a good look at the countryside that you're running through. I've never personally ridden on any of the lines represented in the game, but I can imagine that they're pretty true-to-life--at least, given the amount of information that Kuju could have gotten about the lines in the 20's. I jacked the resolution up to 1024x768x32bpp and it looked and ran quite nicely.

The game does have issues with dithering the interface--or, more specifically, dithering the inside of the cab. At 800x600, many of the meters are unreadable; at 1024x768 a lot of them still looked very blocky, but the numbers themselves were discernable. The issues with the 2D seem a bit strange, and it does detract from the realism, but it's not insurmountable.

Train Simulator has no music, and the sound effects range from neat to strictly utilitarian. Some of the sounds you hear inside the train repeat too frequently (especially in the electric train), making a sort of anti-white noise track that can get on your nerves. Some of the sound effects, on the other hand, are very cool--I really liked the Dopplering of the train warning sounds at road crossings. Neat stuff, that, especially when you're looking from the outside view. The voice acting is limited to the tutorials and whatnot, and while it's high quality, there's not much of it. Most of the game is spent in relative silence, listening to the train and sailing through the countryside on metal rails.


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.


There's definitely a learning curve as you try to master all of the various controls. I still haven't gotten the steam engine down, and end up leaving the computer to manage the fire stuff; I'm just not quite that capable yet. The ability to adjust the realism level is definitely handy, as young kids can have fun with it if you turn off derailments and other complexities. The more realistic, the more complex and difficult the game is to manage--simple enough, eh?

Game Mechanics:

Microsoft Train Simulator uses just about every key on the keyboard, but it fortunately comes with a not-so-quick reference card to help you manage. The in-game help is quite useful for giving you tips on the more complex things, and the manual is more complete than most game manuals nowadays. The core engine of the game is solid, giving realistic results (speed + hairpin curve + realism = derailment), although I'm not enough of a train expert to know just how realistic the simulation is. It seems very well researched, though, and I'm not one to doubt that.

Microsoft Train Simulator is definitely interesting, and it will almost definitely appease the train fans who have been wanting something like this on their computer--the editor that comes with it will even let you create your own routes, which is a nice touch. The more casual gamer, on the other hand, may be turned off by the complexity of the game and the necessarily limited scope--it's all about trains, and that's all you do. If sims are your sort of thing and you like trains, by all means, pick up Microsoft Train Simulator--there's days of fun to be had here. But if you have just a passing interest, you may want to skip this one: keeping casual interest is not Train Simulator's strong point.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/Me/2K, P2 350, 32MB RAM, 500MB HD Space, 4x CD-ROM, mouse, keyboard

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Ms. Pac-Man: Quest for the Golden Maze Windows Myst III: Exile

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated