Title: Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004
Developer: In-house
Publisher: Auran
Date Published: 02/11/2003
Platforms: PC
Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004, abridged as TRS2004, published by Auran, and the long-awaited proper sequel to their popular Trainz product.

Note that TRS2004 is billed as a railroad simulator, and not merely a train-driving simulator, like Microsoft Train Simulator, Boso View Express, Mechanik and others. Auran again promise to add a myriad of features allowing you all aspects of railroad operations, from scheduling and yardmastery (heh) to industry supply and, of course, the actual driving of trains. So, what improvements does the new version offer over its siblings Trainz and Ultimate Trainz?

Better AI

Yes. You can now assign 'drivers' to each train, with an accompanying picture of a man in a hat and beard. Seven can assigned, which seems a bit stingy. Each driver can be given a queue of orders to follow, such as 'drive to here', 'load this cargo', 'uncouple this boxcar' and so on. In theory, this allows for the living railway which only strategy games have had so far (Microsoft's simulator had other trains which mindlessly followed a specific route only). Unfortunately, the AI also likes getting stuck behind signals, going the wrong way down one-way tracks, failing to throw switches, and other annoyances. Thus, the illusion of being part of a bigger picture is swapped for that of being an omnipotent boomer god; you are constantly forced to leave your own train to fly, disembodied over to a stuck drive to throw a switch or clear a signal or just... reverse direction you moron, you've driven down a siding! This is even before I mention the AI's insistence on turning left at every opportunity.

Better Industry

If you've played Transport Tycoon, you know exactly what to expect from this. When building your layout, you can plonk down a variety of so-called interactive industries, which serve to give purpose to your driving. They form very long processes...

Forest produces logs -> Lumber Mill produces woodchips -> Pulp Mill produces goods -> Container station puts goods into containers -> Seaport takes the containers away. Whew!
Further, these industries are nicely animated, with little lumberjacks sawing trees, forklifts driving around, and so on. Unfortunately, only one design of each industry is included, meaning each layout that uses them will have the same identical oil refinery. To get around this, Auran have included the 'multiple industry' which can be programmed to accept and/or consume infinite amounts of anything. This is a great idea, until you notice that, when driving, they are all indicated by the same icon on the waybill, with no indication as to what they accept. All in all, though, the industries are fantastic.

Interactive Rolling Stock

In order to use the interactive industries, you have to be hauling 'activated' rolling stock. These are boxcars, hoppers, flatbeds and so on that contain the neccessary GMAX data to depict them carrying cargo. No indication is given as to which cars can carry which cargo (most of the time it's obvious, but when a huge CP hopper refuses to load woodchips, an eyebrow raises). And again, as with the industries, the selection is limited, leading to always seeing the same GATX tanker cars rolling past on every layout.

Steam Locomotives

Steam was something of an afterthought in the original Trainz... the focus there instead was on huge, stupidly powerful diesel locomotives. If anything it was a smart move by Auran since they managed to make their Alco FPA1 and EMD F7 models account for close to third of the engine count of the original with mere cosmetic differences, but that's the cynic in me talking. Now, though, we have a steam control system that should put Microsoft Train Simulator's to shame. The cab is full 3D, and looking around, pulling levers while the scenery rushes past the windows is VERY atmospheric. One locomotive even features a fully animated (albeit blocky) fireman who shovels the coal into the firebox. Unfortunately, the physics are not yet convincing, but Auran claim to have fixed this in the first service pack which, typical of Auran, was announced the day the game shipped. Sadly, this 'patch' demands an entire gigabyte(!!!) to install, and I can't bear to part with that much drive space. So there.

Improved scenario handling

In the old Trainz, driving was a simple matter of dragging locomotive and stock icons together to form a train, clicking a starting point on the map and driving away. TRS2004 instead forces you to go into Surveyor, the map building tool, and place all your trains there. You can also assign 'rules' to a session, such as weather changability, driver assignments, derail realism, and so on. Scenario support is also improved, but to my regret it's not something I've touched on much. Scenarios in Trainz are like the activities in Microsoft Train Simulator... instead of being free to drive, you are driving in a huge scripted sequence.

The other nice additions

  • Reams of new locomotives including: the TGV, the GG1, the DDX40, the Big Boy, A4 'Mallard', and more.
  • TRS2004 will automatically download any add-on scenery missing from your layouts - just like in Ultimate Trainz
  • Tons and tons of content for map building - proper catenary, signals, loads of buildings and track types, and more!
  • You can now change your position inside the cab... either stand or sit, move to the other side, peer out the windows, or (terrifying) stick your head out!
  • New cab graphics and sounds
  • You can swap ends of a dual-cab locomotive
  • It's not all steam and sunshine, mind you (the bad bits)

  • The included layouts are filled with bugs - incorrectly placed signals, missing switches, and more.
  • All the industries are designed to be driven through like UK merry-go-round coal services... the AI can't handle the concept of collecting or delivering cargo to an industry on a siding.
  • There are still no really good showcase routes included. The Razorback Railway is probably the best, but you have to download it separately.
  • View distance still doesn't beat Microsoft Train Simulator - seeing the mountains looming ahead in Marias Pass was spectacular.
  • A lot of the content is reused - all the suspect Class 37s and such from the original game two years ago are back again, looking identical, as does a lot of the scenery.
  • Passenger operations are not included!!!! Auran claim this was because they 'weren't happy' with the implementation when the deadline hit, and so are promising it for the next service pack.
  • Once again, a lot of rolling stock from previous versions is incompatible because the way the physics model works has been changed.
  • Pantographs *still* are not operable in cab-driving mode. This has been an issue since the first ever version of Trainz, and some enterprising soul has created a little script to automatically raise them.
  • It's not really the fault of the program, but the easy-to-use map editor (Surveyor) means a dearth of buggy, badly-designed fan-made layouts. This would never occur in Microsoft Train Simulator, as they sheer effort required to produce a route for it seems to also inspire the authors to make sure everything is perfect.
  • So, in conclusion, TRS2004? Sorry Auran, but once again you've provided the bare bones of a great program and expected us, the fans, to fill in the gaps. Saying that your new code allows all sorts of wonderful things *if* someone will go and program them is not good enough. We want games that are complete and fulfilling straight out of the box, not ones that require a day's downloading of additional content. Not ones that have two service packs announced before our pre-order copies have even arrived. There is still no sign of Service Pack 2 as we enter the second week of February, and I suspect a lot of people are getting restless.

    Most disturbingly, the 'you fill in the blanks' attitude is rubbing off on the community. The download station (where fan-made content is stored) is filled with scores of half-finished routes - routes with just tracks and no scenery, or even just DEM terrain so the inclined can build their own route on it - if they can be bothered. Personally, I can't. I loved Microsoft Train Simulator because I had six huge, complete routes at my disposal. I love the huge range of equally huge, complete routes that I can download from fansites. Unless Trainz pulls its socks up, it's going to the scrapyard, hauled away by its flashier competitor, Microsoft Train Simulator 2.

    Long overdue update 21/12/2004: Service Pack 2 came out ages ago and was severely underwhelming, adding only more grief after Microsoft Train Simulator 2 was canned. Functioning like an industry, the new passenger stations are very few and very rubbish. This also means tearing up your old, non-enabled stations to put in the new ones. When running, hordes of static models of passengers appear on the platform until a train hauling 'interactive' passenger cars (again, these are very few) arrives, at which point the passengers... dissolve into thin air. If this is what we waited almost a year for, I hate to think what Auran 'weren't happy with' during the development.

    In addition, there's been a Service Pack 3 which reportedly fixed a few problems with the horrendously inefficient Jet-2 engine the game runs on. However, a good third of the community seemed to have endless problems and many needed to reinstall the game. Many bugs like the inoperable pantographs remained, and Auran is now working on Service Pack 4. Auran seem to be suffering Peter Molyneux syndrome - promising the world and being completely unable to deliver it. Railfans, bless them, are a very tolerant bunch when it comes to these programs, and so Auran are getting away with it, still. As for me, I'm going to finish my route which I've had since the very first version of Trainz three years ago (Speedy2004) and then probably never touch it again.

    Final update 06/10/2005: A seemingly pointless Service Pack 4 followed SP3, which added and fixed very little. A fortnight ago, Trainz Railroad Simulator 2006 has been released, to very mixed reactions. Some fans are delighted at a new version, and welcome its new features (which have not been clearly advertised). Others, however, see this as the fourth iteration of a game that has essentially not changed in as many years. Hope is being held for the new generation of product which will finally shed the 'legacy support' for content from the older versions (which seems a bit preposterous to call a feature - each successive release has a new way of handling content that renders old content worthless until it is revised by the author)

    However, a lot of diehard supporters of the franchise are struggling to maintain their enthusiasm in the face of what could be considered apathy from Auran. An Auran spokesman has recently posted on their forums that Auran quite simply can't afford to make Trainz any more than it is - they can't even scrape together layouts of their own - which suggests Trainz will forever be hopelessly dependent on the community to make it into anything beyond a skeleton. With problems remaining in TRS2006 unfixed from the very first release of Trainz, Auran need to pull off some serious tricks for their new generation of products, especially in the face of competition from rival products from Trainmaster and Kuju.

    Maybe that wasn't so Final 02/02/2006: Auran have now started accepting applications to beta test a Mac OS X version of Trainz, and yours truly has applied. Trainz 2006, meanwhile, came out to angry cries from the community. Once again, the way the game handles that all-important user content was change, masses of that content stopped working, the game was buggy and crashed, and a large number of users either reverted to Trainz 2004 or flat out left the community for good. Things seem a bit better now, but 2006 was not well recieved in any sense of the word.

    Definitely Final Update 16/02/2008: Part of Auran, Auran Developments, have gone kablooie following the poor performance of their MMORPG, Fury. Auran Games, however, developed Trainz, and continue to exist. However, the company is now in dire straits and can't really afford to run a helpdesk any more. There are two Trainz products at the moment: Trainz Classics and Trainz Driver. The future is uncertain.

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