August 27, 2012
Trainz Simulator 12
Trainz Simulator 12 is the latest in the long running railroad simulation series by Australian developer N3V Games. Trainz Simulator 12 is available in several platform specific variations including Mac, iPad, and Android. This review is based on the Windows Trainz Simulator 12 product, and should not be confused with any other platform specific versions. My review sample was delivered via Steam, though boxed DVD and other digital download options are available through various outlets.
Trainz Simulator 12 presents itself as a package which lets you build and operate your own railroad. Included are a collection of prebuilt routes (listed below) and a sizable collection of locomotives and rolling stock. These can be enjoyed in the various scenarios included, or built into custom routes and scenarios from within the “Surveyor” editor module. Additional content is available both free (quoted as more than 100,000 items) as well as paid DLC addons. In addition, Trainz Simulator 12 offers multiplayer and chat functionality.
Diesel freighters passing along the Mojave Sub.
Included rail routes:
- Balezino - Mosti
- Debrecen - Nyiregyhaza
- ECML Kings Cross - Newcastle
- Mojave Sub Division
- Municipal Transit Railway
- Norfolk & Western - Appalachian Coal
- Northeast Corridor - Wilmington To Philadelphia
- Southern China
- Springfield Industrial District
There are far too many locomotives and rolling stock to attempt listing them all. There is a considerable collection provided, many with multiple colors and rail company markings. There are a few unique vehicles, like airliners and helicopters, as well.
A long freighter winds out of sight.
The included documentation for my Steam based Trainz Simulator 12 consists of a single 242 page PDF manual. This manual is divided into chapters devoted to each major aspect of the software. Particularly useful are the sections detailing the operation of each type of locomotive in “Cab Mode”, including description and advice on various types of brakes, and the more intricate operations of steam locomotives. A large section is devoted to the “Surveyor” route creation module, covering everything from crafting the terrain itself to placing scenery and tracks.
The presentation is clean and well written, and information is generally easy to find. There are a few shortcomings. One item I was not able to find related to placing a drivable locomotive in the “Quickplay” mode. The instructions make it quite easy to place a few preconfigured consists (assemblies of rolling stock) on the tracks, adjust the time of day and weather, etc. But I was not able to find any instructions on placing a separate drivable locomotive to actually begin enjoying the “Quickdrive” sessions. In another example, one of the “Easy” diesel locomotive scenarios titled “Mojave to Bakersfield” repeatedly suffered from couplers failing pretty early in the session, and I was not able to find any useful hints within the manual as to where I was going wrong.
A handful of tutorials are included that present the operations for both the DCC (essentially a toy train with simpler physics) and Cab control (full detail physics) modes. These are easy to follow and are accompanied by text windows that detail each step of the current topic. I appreciated the walk through for the various braking systems, which provided a good introduction to things such as lapping the train brakes and working with grades. The tutorials focus on diesel and electric locomotives, leaving the more complex steam locomotives to the written guidance in the PDF manual. While the PDF manual's coverage on operating the steam locomotives is in depth at a full 7 pages, a guided tutorial of the same quality as those included for diesel and electric trains would have been a nice touch.
Steam locomotive making it's way out of the railyard.
Gameplay - User Interface
Players get started driving a train by clicking on “Routes” from the main Trainz Simulator 12 menu. Here you choose one of the installed routes, and click on either “Quickdrive” or “Sessions”. As noted above, the “Quickdrive” system does not appear to allow me to place a separate locomotive. The selected route loads up and am given a straight forward interface for setting some options and easily placing various complete consists on whichever tracks I prefer. Unfortunately most of these consists have no locomotive, and thus I was unable to drive them. Those placeable consists which do include a locomotive are a simple jump in and enjoy experience, and the player is free to experiment with a variety of trains and routes with ease. For example, I was able to place a complete French TGV super train on the Mojave Sub Division route and tour it's expansive scenery at better than 200 mph, while using the DCC controls and simplified physics.
The “Sessions” button shows a list of available scenarios for the selected route. There are between one and five scenarios included with each of the routes, and highlighting one will display a description of the scenario and in some cases the estimated skill level and time required for completion. Any saved sessions will also show in this menu, as well as any sessions created by the player. Clicking on the “Edit Session” button will launch the Surveyor module (more on that later).
The Cab Control interface with the information dialogs down the right.
Once a player is ready to drive a train, they are presented with a choice of controls and realism, DCC or Cab Control. The DCC system is visually and functionally based on a digital model railroad controller. On the display in the lower right, a single knob sets the speed, and a few buttons are provided for things like horns and lights. The physics model with DCC mode is simplified, derailment and grades are not much concern, nor is stopping a heavy train. Essentially the experience is the same as enjoying a model railroad layout.
Choosing Cab Control mode enables the fully detailed physics, which appears to vary a bit based on scenario designer preferences. Controlling the locomotive is possible through clicking on the 3d models of handles and switches within the locomotive cab, or via the multiple lever control display on the lower right. Clicking on the 3d controls is easy and intuitive once you learn your way around the cab. It must be mentioned that a few of the locomotives appear to be modeled at a lower level of detail, and I was not always able to use the 3d controls on those models. For both DCC and Cab Control modes, keyboard shortcuts are listed in the manual for nearly every command.
Finally, a few words on the camera view interface. There are five different views available while driving: Cab, Chase, Lineside, Free Roaming, and Map. The Cab and Chase views are pretty intuitive, using either they keyboard arrow keys or right click and drag to change the camera view, and scroll wheel to zoom. The Cab view is further enhanced by many locomotives offering a variety of points of view within the cab, such as standing near a door or seat, or leaning close to the window for a better view outside. The Lineside view moves the player's perspective among any cameras placed along the route, handing off one camera to another as the train moves along. Free Roam is a very handy view for exploring or moving ahead to check and set junctions and is easy to use, with right click to move the focus point, or right click and drag to glide over the terrain. The arrow keys adjust the camera position in this view, and the scroll wheel zooms. The map view is a top down display that allows zooming from train level all the way up to seeing the entire route. Right clicking centers the map, and scrolling zooms. The map has several toggle option overlays that show the names of various objects within the session, and named objects can be searched for, if you know the names.
A low Chase camera angle looks along a passenger train in southern China.
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