|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Kuju Entertainment||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jan. 16, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
There's just something about railway travel that possesses a meditative quality. To some, the clacking of the tracks, blasting of the whistle, gentle rocking motion, and passing scenery act as serene white noise to lull the senses into a state of relaxation. For others, their interests lie in the mechanics of train operation: a world full of switches, levers, meters, and dials.
Players can approach Electronic Arts' Rail Simulator from either perspective, derive whatever form of enjoyment they choose from the game, and leave the rest. As a railroad sim, the game will be most appreciated by train enthusiasts who find titillation at the controls of a chugging engine as they thunder past countless mile markers, but prospective armchair travelers will find much to like in terms of sight seeing and "travel" without leaving the comforts of home. Of course, the pacing may feel more than a tad too slow for some.
Potential players who are not already well acquainted with the meticulous world of railroad simulation be forewarned: Rail Simulator offers something quite different from games in more common genres. For better or worse, it's really less of a game in the traditional sense and more of a unique experience. It's possible to literally spend hours just leisurely meandering along the tracks amidst lush green fields and open skies with no pre-determined goals. On the other hand, players can roll up their sleeves and dive into the structured routine of picking up and delivering passengers on a tight schedule, hauling cargo, and keeping your train from careening spectacularly off the tracks. It's this duality and freedom that makes the game oddly interesting and well-suited for a range of different play styles. For the most part, players will get back what they put into the game; a little patience and an interest in trains will certainly help things along. Though slogging away on the rails sounds dull, it's actually a very interesting experience when you approach it with an open mind.
The two primary game modes offer different ways to enjoy Rail Simulator. Free play mode gives players complete control over what they choose to do while a scenario mode gives specific objectives to complete on different routes. The game is packed in with fifteen scenarios across four unique routes and a reasonable selection of different trains to pilot. It features a strong mixture of old school engines alongside more modern train models. The routes themselves vary greatly in terms of scenery and design, but it won't take long for hardcore rail buffs to work their way through all the basics of the main package. The ability to create custom maps may be one of the most enticing features of Rail Simulator for serious train enthusiasts. It also greatly extends the life of the game. Additional trains are available for download, and it shouldn't be long before the online train simulator community begins whipping up voluminous custom maps, scenarios, and routes. The built-in world editor is tricky for the uninitiated, but it allows players to devise their own custom tracks right down to the fine details.
Audio in the game is virtually non-existent. You'll find the basic sounds of the tracks, the hiss of the engine, and the blast of the horn, but there's no music, and most of the time it's fairly quiet. Each train is painstakingly detailed and the scenery is impressive, but closer inspection reveals the visuals to be rough around the edges in some respects. This is less apparent with the bells and whistles cranked up to the max, and it's a minor point since the game looks good overall. The inclusion of an immense range of ways to view the train is the key to enjoying the railroad experience. The view can be made to follow the front or back of the train, zoomed in and out, or rotated around in any direction. You can drop the camera ahead on the tracks to watch your train approach from the distance, watch from a birds-eye view perspective, or even take a first-person perspective from the control room. That latter allows you to make adjustments on a highly detailed control panel using the mouse (each train has its own uniquely designed control booth) to operate the train. Also, the flick of a key will put players in a passenger car allowing you to gaze out the window from a first-person perspective. The camera controls are simply excellent.