Railworks 3: Train Simulator 2012ESRB:
Platform: PC Games
So, yeah... driving trains, be they steam, electric, or diesel. Coupling cars, uncoupling cars, loading and unloading passengers, and making sure the trains run on time. By driving them yourself. It's an obvious niche product, but was it able to grab my interest nonetheless? Read on.
To be fair, the graphics of this game are already “okay” at the default settings, with occasional moments of “lovely”, but, providing you have a computer that beats up other computers and steals their pocket money on a regular basis, the graphics can be set to “Bloody good”. As it is, the game's trains are well rendered, smoke puffs convincingly from steam trains, and passengers look realistic enough, considering you will only ever see their faces in one camera angle. Of thirteen. The GUI for the game is a little simplistic, but does the job it's meant to do, and, if you want a complicated dashboard, you can always go to driver view and look at one, while you manipulate the simpler one with your mouse.
Because this is a simulator, sound is relatively rare in the game, but the in-sim sounds are at least convincing enough. Carriages bump, wheels clatter, steam goes chuffa chuffa chuffa convincingly enough, and the brake noises are fair. What is good, however, is that different sounds are heard from different angles. In the passenger compartment of a steam train, the chuff chuff is quiet, and mostly what you hear is the normal bumping and clattering you'd expect. Outside the train, or in the driver's car? Trains will whoosh by, quite literally whoosh if they're going fast enough, and the sounds, in general, add to the realism of the experience. Except for the lack of people apologising for the lateness.
Even with complex controls, there's not a lot to keep an eye on here. You have various gauges and numbers, varying with whether it's steam, diesel, or electric, you have three levers (throttle, direction, and brake), a small multitude of buttons (for things like windscreen wipers, lights, horns, et al), and another multitude of buttons for camera angles (12 main angles, free camera, zoom in, zoom out).
As far as the routes go, there are only a few that come with the game, but the modding community for sim games is always active, and there are already more to download. Most of the routes are passenger routes (go to station X, pick up, then go to stations Y, Z, A, etcetera, and do the same), and you're ranked at the end of them based on how long you took, whether you drove flawlessly, and whether you did everything without quitting in the middle. Not much of a sim player, I obviously did not drive flawlessly (my last route had me speeding four times early on, making the passengers uncomfortable for about a minute for some reason or another, and only having half the passenger cars on the platform most of the time, which strangely didn't seem to count against me). Obviously, derail the train or crash into another train, and it's an instant game over, along with the “You made a fatal error” part of the debrief screen that is, essentially, your slap on the wrist.
The menus are fairly basic in-game, although you're obviously not here for the menus, you're here for the trains, although the startup menu does have a load of options to tweak the game (so many, in fact, I instinctively avoided fiddling with it too much). There's also an editor, which, while fairly comprehensive, is also fairly obtuse, but hey, at least it's there, right?
As to flaws, some of the trains and tracks don't seem to load properly, but, again, the modding community is no doubt active, and the community support appears quite useful, so, while a problem when you first try it, once you get on the interwubs and start looking for your extra fix of train driving goodness, the problem mostly goes away.
Okay, so it was vaguely interesting for me, but, train nuts out there, by all means add a point or two to the score. It's a niche sim, but it does exactly what it says on the tin, does it fairly well, and has only a few bugs, none of which are truly gamebreaking due to the nature of the game and its community.