Picture a field in your mind and scale the size of it according to these phrases. Number of PC gamers in the world... BIG... number of PC gamers who love simulation titles... quite big... number of PC gamers who love trains... getting smaller... number of PC gamers who love simulation titles about trains. Okay, you get the general idea - it's a small market but one that's certainly worth a publisher having a go at. Microsoft thought s 2192 o too, and seven years ago they commissioned UK-based Kuju Entertainment to produce their first Train Simulator game. They had planned a sequel but things went wrong for Kuju for a while, forcing the cancellation of the deal. However, the plucky developers soon got back on track (groan) and ploughed full steam ahead (even worse) with their own Rail Simulator - "an authentic railway experience."
That's what the box claims anyway - in fact, it goes so far to claim it has a "family-friendly interface". As a child born into the British rail industry (my father worked his entire life for British Rail), I can tell you all now that the number of families that are all keen on trains or, more specifically, train simulator games, is pretty small in number. The reason for this enthusiastic approach to the marketing is because of the publisher: EA. It has to be said that the much-maligned media giant deserves praise for taking on this title; vehicle sim games not only have a niche appeal to them, but they're also notoriously difficult to develop well.
Basically, Kuju have taken what they did for Microsoft's Train Simulator (MST) and tweaked it somewhat, with various attributes being heavily influenced by the train sim community. For example, their first title sported six routes from around the world, but this time there's only four, with just one outside the UK (this being the British version of Rail Simulator reviewed here - other regions will have routes similarly localised). This decision was based on the fact that the fans didn't like the shipped routes in MST all that much, criticising them for being inaccurate, and instead spent more time creating their own content for the community, than playing with Kuju's. So rather than using a good portion of the game's development time-budget to make routes, the coders put a lot of effort into the built-in editor.
Although it's clear that a decent amount of effort went into appeasing the nerds... sorry, train simulation fans, it's rather less obvious if one wishes to ask the same of tackling the wider market. The lightweight manual is one such concession but it lacks any real information about driving a train, or being a professional driver. In fact, there's a complete dearth of "beginner missions" or simple guides to getting started; compared to what can be in Microsoft's Flight Simulator X, it's embarrassingly unfriendly to the beginner and casual sim fan. Kuju, I'm almost certain, would claim otherwise, highlighting their simplified control system as proof: yes, a two button approach to handling a several hundred ton locomotive is certain basic, but how is one supposed to learn about speed limits, the points system, braking for a station and so on? The answer is that you don't: you either know it in the first place or you'll just have to learn it as best as you can, whilst playing the game.
Games: Rail Simulator
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