Over the last few month’s I have really come back to the world of train simulating as it offers a new outlet to explore and introduces new challenges. When I wrote my review of the Rail Driver hardware from PI Engineering, I had mentioned that I had bought Kuju’s Rail Simulator and at that time there still were no drivers available for Rail Simulator and Rail Driver.
The time has come and I have not only experienced Rail Simulator with Rail Driver, but I have had the luxury of adding several different add-on packages designed specifically for Rail Simulator. First off, we will look at what makes Rail Simulator the sim that it is and how it stacks up against its competition.
You might as well call Kuju’s Rail Simulator, Train Simulator 2 as the folks at Kuju are the ones that brought us the original Train Simulator from Microsoft; and after spending some time with it, you will definitely notice many similarities especially when it comes to key assignments. For some reason or another, Microsoft decided against this latest incarnation and decided to move forward, luckily for us Electronic Arts picked it up here in the states and was distributed via EA and published by Kuju Entertainment. Now, Rail Simulator was originally sold in Europe as Railway Simulator so it was not exactly new when it hit shelves and it already had a decent following.
Rail Simulator on DVD ROM can be found at just about any software outlet here in the US and if you look hard enough, you can still find the European version. I ordered mine from Amazon.Com, as there was an offer to get additional content with my purchase, though that turned into more of a hassle than it did anything else! I did manage to get it at a good price and I was up and train simulating in a matter of days.
Installation of Rail Simulator is simple, insert the disc and go! There is a registration code and it is located in the printed manual that comes with the game. Once installed, the product requires roughly 3 gigabytes of hard drive space and do keep in mind that if you are going to build routes or add routes, you will need to keep a good supply of free space available as well as extra space for added content such as rail cars and scenery objects.
At the time of its release, Rail Simulator included four routes, well over 1000 miles of track covering the United States, England and Germany. The routes that are included, along with the trains and their accompanying content, is what makes Rail Simulator so incredible looking! Taking the routes into consideration and throwing in the masterfully designed engines and their content, Rail Simulator is definitely one of the most beautiful train simulations on the market! The SD-40 is one of the most realistic representations I have ever seen in a sim, visually, and that coupled with the Rail Driver unit, is what makes this product just so darn good.
At the heart of the program is the World Editor! This little, and dare I say powerful, program brings so much to an already great program and offers the user endless hours of rail building. When I first installed Rail Simulator I think all I did was build cities and rail, I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning adding upon what I had already done and when I had a new idea, I would move onto a new project. I think at one point I was working on three different maps at one time, none of which are done to this date, but they look good!
The First Time Out
Before you get started and jump right into Rail Simulator, I recommend going to Railsimulator.com and downloading the latest service patch, this will correct many issues with the original release and will make things much better for you in the end!
The first time you boot up Rail Simulator you will need to adjust the settings from within the sim. The sim will detect your hardware and adjust your settings to what it thinks your hardware can handle, but I found that the program actually underestimated my PC and I ended up going back to the start and configuring Rail Sim on my own so that it would use its highest settings and look its best. Currently, I am running everything on high with my screen resolution set to 1680X1050 and the sim actually runs really well. Only once have I kicked the resolution down and that was when I was building. For some reason I have problems when trying to build at the higher resolutions.
No matter where you choose to go in the Rail Simulator world there are different types of trains and content that accompany them. In total, there are nine different engines to choose from and they are; the 7F 280 Locomotive, Black 5 460 Locomotive, BR294 Shunter, DB BR101 Express, Class 166 DMU, A High Speed Train, A Rail Freight Class 47, ES 44AC Locomotive, the SD-40 and the ES 44AC locomotive. Each individual engine was meticulously designed to match that of its real world counterpart thus giving the user a very authenticate feel either when looking in or outside the train. There were times when I watching the SD-40 against the Cajon backdrop that I almost forgot I was watching a sim; it was almost picture perfect!
The engines and its rail cars all have their own physics model and react to over-speed and anything else that might get in the way. When you are in the cab and if you are in a turn and are going to fast, you can almost feel the train leaning and in some cases, it will literally fall off the track and derail sending both you and your train into a twisted wreck.
Each engine also includes its own sound suite, although I could have really done without some of those European horns. Stll, it was the sound that actually pulled me in deeper into this simulation. You just can’t get the full effect until you hear it yourself, so crank up the sound, turn the subwoofer up and you are in for the train ride of your life!
Choosing A Route and Scenario
Included with the US version are four different routes, 3 European and 1 US Route. The included routes are Oxford to Paddington, Bath Green Park to Templecombe, Hagen to Siegan, and finally Barstow to Sand Bernardino. Each route is created as close to the actual route as the sim will allow, towns are historically accurate as are the roads and farmlands that encompass each area.
In total there is over a 1000 miles of track between all four routes, thus offering long-term playability with each. You will also find that you can edit existing routes and make them your own or add onto routes where some of those phantom tracks go. One of my biggest complaints about this program are the routes that have track that goes nowhere. The explorer in me always manages to find the wrong track and I end up crashing before I realize the route is subsequently ending. I know, pay attention to the map, but the scenery is so much fun to look at and the switches tend to sneak up on you kind of fast!
My other complaint is the inclusion of dead track and that is track that is placed just for eye candy rather than use. This can be a bit confusing when trying to set the switches properly. If it is there then one should be able to use it! I found this to be an issue when I was using a route that had four sets of track going in the same direction, one being the high speed routes, and although there were 4 sets of track only two actually worked.
Choosing a scenario is a double-edged sword for me. In one instance, it can be a lot of fun and in another it can be the most ridiculous part of this sim. I decided to try out the Cajon Pass scenario that has you going up and over the pass. I had a lot of fun and did the scenario in its entirety. But when it came to getting to my destination, I went and switched several of the switches on the map thus allowing my train to get where it needed to be. Low and behold a message came up saying the scenario was over because I changed the switches. What!? What good is the scenario if you cannot change anything? All I was doing was making it easier to get my train stopped where I needed to stop.
There was another scenario that I did that involved taking a train out on Halloween and transporting passengers to some castle. The scenario implied that you would get spooked out and to watch for any strange happenings; the end result was I kept getting text messages saying power went out in part of the train and passengers reported seeing a ghostly figure. Keeping my eyes glued to the windshield, I never saw a thing outside the train and the “strange happenings” were all delivered via text in the cab. At the end of the scenario there was a message asking if I was scared or not. Huh? There was absolutely nothing scary about that train ride!
The scenarios that have you keeping time and picking passengers or cargo are the best ones, just do not expect a lot in the reward department. Personally, I think I prefer the free roaming scenarios just because you are not limited to the mission parameters and can still pick up passengers or cargo.
Driving the Train
Reality is the name of the game in Rail Sim, controlling your train in any mode except expert is really just a waste of time. The only time I found the "beginner" mode helpful was when I was creating routes. Setting it there allowed me to just drive a train and view my route, otherwise I am always locked onto expert mode. Because I have the Rail Driver unit, controlling each individual train is relatively easy. But for those without it, you can use either the keyboard or the mouse. If you choose to use a mouse, you will be pleasantly surprised that everything in the cab is clickable, thus allowing very little keyboard usage.
Driving each individual train depends on what engine you are driving. Take for instance if you are driving the ES44AC Diesel in the US, it is going to be completely different than driving one of the European electric engines or even the European diesels for that matter, and they do take some getting used to. I also found that it is important to listen to your train. Many times you can judge speed simply by the sound of the engine and whether or not it is going too fast.
Controlling the trains relies on maintaining proper speed and schedule, as there are other engines out there and if you don’t follow the signals and alerts, you will find yourself head on with another train. All I can say is that I learned the hard way! Controlling a train requires proper braking and speed control during all aspects of movement.
Unfortunately, there is one inherent bug that plagues the US version as well as the Cajon Pass add-on of this program, and that is that the program fails to recognize the dynamic brake in any of the diesel engines. This is especially problematic when using the Cajon Pass scenario, as properly descending requires the use of the dynamic brake. Your actual brakes can be used, but in reality, excessive use of the hydraulic brakes would burn them out on this particular decent and you would wreck the train. The dynamic brake does work on the electric engines though, and there are a few work-arounds out there on the net to make the sim think the US diesels are electric, but I think I will wait for a patch.
Creating Your Own World
I have to tell you, I do not think I have spent half as much time as I have with the routes then with the World Editor. This program adds so much to this program that I just cannot express it in words. The editor, though not quite as easy as the one in Trainz, is pretty simple to understand once you get a good feeling of how it works and how to place scenery and track.
The biggest problem for me to overcome was realizing distance, laying a track to what I thought was a long route turned out to be deceiving, as out of the three routes that I played with over the last three months, I have only managed to take my trains 30 miles.
The other big problem for me was getting the track to work correctly on inclines. I usually ended up with more of a roller coaster ride than I did with a working rail system. The other problem I had was making two ends of track meet up and actually connect end to end. I found this to be near impossible and usually just created another switch to make the two tracks connect with one another. When starting out, it is important to realize that this program was not designed to make circular railroads, like model railroads, but designed to create real world railroads that go from point A to point B and C.
Creating new scenery using all of the existing objects is possible in Rail Simulator, thus increasing the level of detail you may desire. When you are in the world editor, you must add the content from the developer’s page on the left of the screen. Simply clicking each box will add the new scenery and content allowing you to use it all in your own design.
Building and object placement is relatively easy, and with the list of objects to choose from, the worlds you can create are almost endless. Just remember, you are only going to see what is close to your train and not anything that is in the far distance will be visible from the train. I am like a kid in a candy store with programs like this and I tend to build and build, but when it comes down to looking, I find that half of what I have created isn’t even viewable and was a plausible waste of time.
I must admit that I jumped into this one and had I gone to look at some of the online tutorials first on Youtube for this sim, I would have been much better off in the end. There is a good deal of information available, especially concerning inclines and track connection. If you download the developer’s kit from the Rail Sim website, you will find a plethora of information as it includes all of the necessary documentation and how-to’s you could ask for! The kit does require that you register at the site and have a legit copy of Rail Sim to be able to get access, but once you get it, it will make your rail editing days a lot easier!
After doing some reading, I was off again and what I ended up doing was creating a route that essentially had three different types of train traffic. Two being passenger services from one city to another and the other being a kind of tourist train that takes people out to an old castle far out in the countryside. I used diesel and electric trains to create my service routes, along with an extensive rail yard with a shunter to move things around. The pics I have included for this portion of the review are from my route, even the little town in the snowcapped mountains! Ironically, my route only covers about 35 miles. While it is still fun to play with, it does not offer a very long train ride, but nonetheless, I like it and I have had a lot of fun creating it.
As you become a model builder, you can share your routes on the web. Although I have yet to post mine, there are some very good ones and I strongly recommend them. One being Port Ogden and Northern US 1 and the other is called Metropolitan Suburban Transit System, both are available at Train-Sim.Com and the detail in each is extraordinary.
Cajon Add-On for the European Version from JustFlight/Just Trains
The Cajon Pass add-on is essentially the European version of the Barstow to San Bernardino route that was in the US Version of Rail Sim. This package was created for the European version to simply add this route and it also includes the Class 8 Shunter, which is available as a separate add-on for US owners at Railsim.com
I had the opportunity to add this add-on to my installation of the US version and I cannot really say that it did anymore for that route than what I already had. Personally, I was really hoping it would fix the issue with the dynamic brake! Though it was nice to have the extra Shunter, this product would not have been worth the price of admission for the entire package if you already owned the US version of the game.
Now owners of the European version will find that this package adds both and it is well worth the money and adds hours more enjoyment out of an already great simulator.
Newcastle to York from Railsimulator.com
This is the first big official add-on for the US version of Rail Simulator as it adds the Newcastle to York run from the European version of Rail Sim. It covers the UK East Coast Main Line that was built back in the 1800’s. It focuses on the route as it appeared in the 1970’s and the engines are reflective of that era of rail. I have not had a lot of time to look over the route, but from what I have seen, I like it.
The Newcastle - York route is for the high-speed train setting types. Once you get clear of the stations, open up the throttle and watch the countryside go by! This is a long route, but considering the speeds you will be traveling at it doesn't take that long to get from A-B!
As you traverse the English countryside you will find small towns as well as acres and acres of farmland, but at either end of the route, you will also find some incredibly detailed cities along with their accompanying train yards.
EMD CLASS 66 from Railsimulator.com
As I finish this review and another trip to the Railsim website, it has been revealed that Kuju has released yet another add-on. This time around, it is another engine and it is the EMD Class 66. The engine is meticulously detailed and the sound is some of the best I have ever heard for a train simulation. Buying this add-on will add quite a few more scenarios and options when using this train with other routes.
In The End
If you have not guessed I like Rail Simulator a lot. It has subsequently replaced all of my other train simulations with the exception of the original MSTS. As Kuju and Just Flight/Just Trains keeps putting out add-ons and people start building more routes, I think Rail Simulator will be a must have for any rail nut. For me, it is all about the updated graphics and physics. You just cannot go wrong, and with the easy to use world editor , it just makes it all that much more fun!
Editor's Note: I have the European version, and it is just as exciting as Gene's version. The Expansion pack adds more adventures to this sim. Rail Simulator has been a great diversion from aircraft flying, and I look forward to Just Train's next expansion pack.
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