Too few scenarios grinds Trainz to a halt.

The first thing you should know about Trainz is that the main focus aren’t really the trains themselves, but rather the scenario and level editors. It’s a product that tries to recreate the charm of those miniature railway sets. There are an estimated 3 million model-railroading enthusiasts around the world, and Aussie developer Auran thought they would want to build a virtual railroad alongside the model ones. Trainz consists of three separate modules: My Collection, Surveyor, and Driver.

The first of these is a viewer that you use to study all of the locomotives and rolling stock in your inventory. Trainz ships with over two dozen diesel and electric locomotives and five dozen freight and passenger cars from railroads all around the world. A high degree of expandability means that new additions can also be downloaded from Auran’s website as they become available.

Surveyor mode lets you create complex scenic backdrops and track layouts for your virtual railroad. No need to muck around with papier-mâché mountains here, as Auran has developed an extremely powerful (and simple) 3D terrain- and object-editing suite. You can manipulate topography; paint ground textures; model buildings, bridges, and trees in 3D; add dynamic road traffic; and, of course, lay track.

10When on the rails, you have the option of controlling the locomotive in DCC mode that emulates the classic model-railroading electric controller, or Cabin mode that grants you complete control over the train levers. Driving successfully is the usual ballet of throttle controls, braking and adjusting the direction, and much of the skill stems from calculating when and how much power you should apply to keep to your schedule while not exceeding the speed limit. A point system neatly lets you track your performance through scripted scenarios.

Though the Cabin mode makes a reasonable stab at real-world physics, they’re still a far cry from the excellent train dynamics found in Microsoft’s Train Simulator. Another significant flaw is the near-absence of any proper collision detection. You can derail trains by running them too fast, but head-on collisions aren’t possible, and trains will quite inexplicably pass right through one another at crossover junctions.

20What Trainz ultimately fails to deliver, however, are actual scenarios. There are only eight available out of the box, and while they are pretty fun, they are far too few of them to keep the action going. Also lacking are the types of locomotives – mainly diesel, some electric, but no steam. With so few skill-testing assignments to pursue, no lengthy Orient Express–style routes to explore, and zero multiplayer options, you’re essentially left with an operational yet instruction-free model train set that just happens to fit neatly onto your PC’s hard drive.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 1.1 GB HDD, WinXP

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