Microsoft Train Simulator
Microsoft’s Train Simulator is as self-descriptive as their legendary line of civilian flight simulator programs. You’re almost guaranteed the same response if you look at the creative force behind the program – Kuju Entertainment, best known today for their very own line of train simulator games bearing the same name, sans ‘Microsoft’. UK-based Kuju started their own train sim series with Rail Simulator (2009), but before that they were hard at work with Microsoft, creating what would be one of the most lasting non-flight simulators to hit the PC.
Just about everyone who sees and hears a locomotive roaring up-close for the first time can’t help but be gripped by either a sense of awe or fright, sometimes in equal measure. You don’t need to be an engineer to realize there’s a lot of power tucked away in those machines, but Microsoft’s Train Simulator, or MSTS for short, lets you do just that, placing you behind the controls of one of these intimidating engines.
You get to drive a host of locomotives from different periods and do your best to arrive safely to your destination as part of several realistic activities (both passenger and freight) spread across four countries – North America, Great Britain, Austria and Japan. As gripping as this may (or may not) sound, MSTS doesn’t have much in the way of raw excitement, but rather meticulous multitasking and a nice hard look at the driver’s manual; but, as with most commercial flight simulator games, it also offers a great sense of satisfaction once you’ve mastered the technical know-hows needed to drive your trains.
So how hard can it be, right? Nothing you can’t pick up in an hour or so. The very basics of driving are clearly laid out in three interactive tutorials, one for each engine type, describing specific workings and driving technicalities.
A total of nine locomotives are featured in MSTS (two more are added with the 1.2 patch, hundreds more scattered online), and these range from timeless steam locomotives to diesel / diesel-hydraulic and modern electric engines. Among these you’ll find the American Dash-9 diesel engine, the GP38-2, Odakyu 7000 Super Luxury Express, the British ‘Flying Scotsman’ of the LNER, or the Golsdorf 380, also known as the Ã–BB kkStB 380, an Austro-Hungarian engine that serviced the Orient Express between London and Paris. The actual physics holding these heavyweights on track is rock-solid, as is the amount of actual control you have over each engine (one that’s even greater in some respects than Kuju’s much more modern Rail Simulator).
Each locomotive handles quite differently, and learning how to tame each beast is part of the fun – electrical engines, such as the elegant Amtrak Acela, drive high-speed passenger trains that can top 165 MPH, and are also among the most user-friendly and easiest to drive. Diesel locomotives require quite a lot more care than their high-tech counterparts, and steam locomotives are the most challenging of them all, though doubtless also the most rewarding. All of these engines, but especially steamers, are in constant need of corrections and careful adjustments as you go, all while keeping in mind that you have a timetable to keep track of while respecting safety procedures (such as keeping within the speed limit or using the whistle when approaching cross-roads). Applying the correct braking pressure during stops becomes an art form. At the end of each activity you get a final score reflecting your performance.
Fortunately, you don’t need to know everything about everything when prepping and driving a train. A more lenient beginner mode will relax things considerably, but getting into the thick of it is largely the point of the experience. A host of interface aids will help with your situational awareness, such as reviewing your timetable or map. The cabs featured in every engine look quite complete, made up of pre-rendered 2D shots. Most dials, levers and displays are functional on diesel and electric locomotives, and most of the valves and levers on steam locos can be manipulated (non-essential stuff like manifold shut-off valves, ashpan levers, water gauge levers or measurement taps cannot be used).
The popularity of train sims gradually took off after MSTS, and the range of stuff available for this old timer is broad indeed. If anything, the interactive tutorials and detailed manuals will have you learning more stuff about trains than you could ever have imagined, its educational value alone being worth the ticket.
System Requirements: PII 266 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, 4 MB Video, Win 9x/ME/2000, 1.8 GB HDD
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