Wednesday, November 10, 2010

RailWorks 2 Train Simulator Review

RailWorks 2 Train Simulator, developed and published by
The Good: Excellent informative interface, adjustable control complexity, variety of trains and scenarios with plenty of additional downloadable content (for a price), map and scenario editors
The Not So Good: No multiplayer
What say you? Like trains? Get this game: 7/8

Nothing describes PC gaming more than authentic simulations. Learning curves be damned: if it doesn’t fly/drive/perform like the real thing, we don’t need it. Count as a part of this proud tradition airplanes, race cars, buses, boats, trucks, and those DCS titles that I am too intimidated to try. Another niche entry is the train simulation, obviously inspired by model train enthusiasts who would like a more digital approach to conducting. I have no idea what RailWorks 2 adds, because I never played RailWorks 1, so that’s how I am going to review it: as a whole product. Plus, owners of the original game get to upgrade for free, so reviewing only the improvements would be completely pointless! Let’s get trainin’! Woooo woooo! (that was a train whistle)

RailWorks 2 features some nice visuals. You can tell that the graphics are limited to the available sight lines along each linear train route, but it doesn't matter because they are incessantly detailed. I would wager that the trackside objects and signage are to-the-letter accurate for the five actual layouts, which is an impressive accomplishment. You can also experience a number of weather and time-of-day effects during your time on the tracks. In addition, each of the trains are nicely modeled and also look great. Your passengers have poor animations and look robotic at best, but this is a small concession in what otherwise is a very nice graphical package. I did notice the occasional lowered framerate as more detail came into view, and pop-in can ruin the immersion, but both of these phenomena are admittedly on the rare side of things. On the sound front, the trains sound like trains, and your ride is generally quiet, save for the occasional clicky-clack of the tracks. Overall, RailWorks 2 does as a modern simulation should in the presentation department.

RailWorks 2 Train Simulator simulates trains. Weird, I know! The game features around fifty scenarios of varying difficulty and length, from simple passenger shuttling to coupling of freight to high-traffic scenarios: about the most variety you can expect in a train sim. The scenarios are organized by train or route (though not by difficulty) and offer up clear objectives to complete during your time in the cab. I did have some problems with objectives not checking off correctly; I’m not sure if I was doing something wrong or missing a step, but I swear I attached that cargo or stopped at that station. In addition to the more structured scenarios, you can “free roam” along any route, albeit without AI trains (disappointing), or undertake one of the several career scenarios that give you a performance score and are very strict in their rules enforcement.

RailWorks 2 features eight routes (five real ones) that are quite detailed, and if that’s not enough (it never is), the game comes with a complete editor where you can create custom routes and scenarios. Sixteen British, American, and German trains are available for your driving pleasure, comprising steam, diesel, and electric (boogie woogie woogie) varieties with authentic interiors. There are a number of vehicles to tow behind your engine: passenger coaches, wagons, cattle vans, coal hoppers, oil tanks, refrigerators, gondolas, and hobo boxcars. And if that’s not enough, RailWorks 2 features a ton of downloadable content: NINE HUNDRED FREAKING DOLLARS worth of it. The only complaint I can levy against RailWorks 2 is the lack of multiplayer: can you imagine the splendid chaos that would ensue? Nevertheless, RailWorks 2 features quite a complete package.

One thing that eases new players into RailWorks 2 is the excellent interface. It starts by giving players the option of using an informative graphical presentation of the track ahead, train information, and overall map, or turning off that data altogether for the ultimate realism experience. This flexibility that permeates the simulation makes it approachable to new players without sacrificing realism for those who desire it. The driving interface provides a side view of your train and its cargo, and indicates the track incline and the distance to upcoming signals and speed limit zones. If you turn it off, you can get four driver’s guide displays that give a 2-D map oriented to the train, a list of upcoming speed limit changes, and gradient and coupling information. You are also given a handy overhead 2-D track map that highlights your path based on junction settings in blue, current speed and speed limit, and scenario instructions. Finally, RailWorks 2 features abundant train statistics, such as fire mass, steam generation rate, brake pipe pressure, and other pertinent information. I love the flexibility and depth of information RailWorks 2 gives to the user.

The flexibility continues to the controls, which can be as complex as you’d like. You can opt for a super-simple scheme with one throttle control, or go more realistic with a throttle/regulator, reverser, and brake. You can adjust your speed by clicking on the simplified interface at the bottom of the screen, using the keyboard shortcuts, or by manually clicking on the buttons in the 3-D cab (commonly the only option in flight simulators). Even more options include the small ejector, cylinder cock (heh heh…cock), lights, wipers, pantograph, sander, horn, and handbrake. You are also required to hit the alerter 2.7 seconds after receiving a warning, and you can employ an automatic fireman to take care of coal management, injector control, and the damper and blower, unless you are some sort of control freak. Success in the scenarios involve following the rules: not accelerating or braking too fast, stopping at red lights, conserving fuel usage, observing speed limits, and (of course) avoiding a fatal blowback. The trains seem to handle like real trains (I’m sure they do); I must say that I was surprised by how powerful the engines are, able to accelerate heavy cargo with little effort. A train is not as complex as an airplane and it is restricted to a predictable route, but RailWorks 2 does an admirable job keeping it as interesting as possible while supporting a range of experience levels.

RailWorks 2 Train Simulator is almost a complete train simulator. The game does a great job supporting a range of experience levels: you can opt for the super-simplified controls, or eschew help altogether and drive using the in-cab feedback alone. The interface does an outstanding job presenting pertinent information in a readable format: the driving view clearly displays distance to the next signals and speed limit changes. You can completely ignore the in-cab controls if you’d like and opt for a single interface, an advantage RailWorks 2 has over flight simulators that restrict you to a higher learning curve. The simulation is quite detailed, recording boiler pressure, water level, brake cylinder pressure, and offering an automated fireman to deal with shoveling coal on steam trains. While the game’s fifty scenarios are scripted, with the designer determining the placement of AI trains and your scheduled stops in advance, RailWorks 2 does offer a good variety of tasks to complete. You must follow the rules or be subject to scenario failure, though you can enjoy the free roam mode and not receive a score deduction. The sixteen trains and assorted rolling stock are all quite detailed, as are the eight routes you can travel on. If this isn’t enough content, RailWorks 2 offers a large amount of downloadable content that can be purchased, in addition to an editor for creating your own layouts and scenarios. The only shortcoming is the lack of multiplayer, which prevents the game from achieving true perfection. For train aficionados, it doesn’t get much better than RailWorks 2.