Microsoft Train Simulator is, at the time of this writing, the latest in Microsoft's "Simulator" series of games, pioneered by Microsoft Flight Simulator many years ago. As can be understood from the title, Train Simulator puts the player in control of a train - or rather, a locomotive attached to one. Locomotives and routes in various parts of the world, ranging from the Northeastern corridor in the USA to the far east, are included - And yes, you can go on the Orient Express if you want.

The game, which is obviously intended to be as realistic as possible, features a number of steam, diesel and electric engines as well as a massive selection of cars - and more are being released every week by the unusually large fanbase which this game has acquired, despite the lack of action - other than the odd time when you happen to crash your train. Just like in real life, this is fairly easy to accomplish; but you can turn that particular "feature" off if you want.

However, the game comes with several features to "dumb down" the knife-sharp realism (which extends to everything but the graphics, which is considerably less than photo-realistic on many occasions) so that even newbie drivers can get a quick start. A nice set of tutorials are also included. However, what the die-hard train geeks are likely to find most appealing is how easy it is to add new engines, cars, even entire new courses to the game - provided one has the time to sit and build them, of course. The first of the two CD-ROMs on which the game is delivered holds all the information one could ever need about how the files which define the Train Simulator world are structured, and how to edit them. There are also some nice tools included for creating custom routes, consists, and activities.

All in all, I believe Microsoft has done a very good job with Train Simulator - sure, the graphics could be better, but most of the people who will by the game won't really care. If you do buy the game, be sure to check out some of the many fansites that are already numerous and full of modifications to game, many of which are very nice to have - they improve realism, perfect some of the visuals and add new trains to your set. Excellent!

Having said this, Microsoft Train Simulator is not for everyone. Believe it or not, if you break too many rules, drive too fast or do something else which would be very stupid in real life, the game will end and it will tell you what you did wrong. The game is obviously not intended for the Quake-playing armies of teenagers, but rather for the serious train hobbyist who wants something cooler than his model trainset to play around with.

The two things I did miss in Train Simulator: Music, and people. As you speed through the landscape, there are cars on the roads but when you stop at a station, there are never (ever!) any people there waiting to get on. This is possibly yet another side effect of the graphics engine .. Oh well. Maybe there'll be a patch or something.

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