Every little kid reaches a point in their life when they develop a fascination with trains. Sometimes it proves to be just a phase which is gone almost as quickly as it started or it grows into a love that lasts a lifetime. When it does become a lifelong hobby it often becomes expensive and grows to encompass things far beyond a variety of Thomas the Train Engine toys. Have you ever seen the realistic model train set ups that true enthusiasts get involved with? They are as detailed and intricate as anything that you have ever seen. They are also super complicated, as is a realistic train simulator, which is exactly what Railworks 3: Train Simulator 2012 (TS12) is.
Just as the name implies, TS12 is a robust and detailed train simulator. This isn’t necessarily a game in the sense of having missions and goals, or and “end point” per se. The sole purpose of the software is to deliver an accurate portrayal of the engineering experience. If that sounds like something that you would be interested in then strap on your conductor’s hat and pull the steam horn because this train is leaving the station.
There are a variety of things you “railroders” can do in the game with standard, career, free roam, and create modes available. The standard and career modes are similar in the sense that they both challenge you to put your skills as a conductor to the test. You are given a variety of missions and challenges to deliver either passengers or various goods to a predetermined location safely. Along the way you will have to try and be mindful of thing such as weather conditions and rail speed limits in order to avoid catastrophic accidents. This experience will come across as extremely mundane to the stereotypical gamer but train hobbyists will be awed by the level of detail and complication of the experience.
You truly have to know what you are doing to succeed in the game as it isn’t as simple as pressing one button to go and another to stop. Granted, the beginner setting in the game simply gives you a throttle and a directional switch, but to get the total experience you will want to choose the more advanced options. These consist of a variety of multitude of buttons and options including horns, throttles, direction levers, rail brakes, and lights and things function differently depending on the type of train that you are conducting. You will have to monitor various gauges and meters for different things when you are operating steam, diesel, and electric variations of different train models. There is a lot to learn and it is something that only the diehard will appreciate.
I never quite grasped the concept of effectively conducting the trains enough to dive feet first into the career mode(s). Most of my time was spent in the slightly simplified free roam area of the game. You still have to content with all of the various instruments and requirements of the different trains but you aren’t under the pressure of completing your tasks in a certain amount of time. This mode gives players a chance to sit back and just enjoy the experience of taking control of multiple tons of steel.
The other option available is a robust creation suite for gamers. In this mode, players can design and share their own track creations with friends. This proves to be quite a handy tool to the community as the base tracks in the game are rather lackluster and limited in their quantity. The game is really an entrance portal to a bevy of add-ons and expansions from the Railworks team. Additional tracks and content is pushed at you through the various menus and screens which you can purchase to extend the experience. Just like the rest of the game, this is the sort of stuff that true fans of the genre will likely eat up while other gamers will simply scoff at the concept of forking over a couple more bucks for a track based in the English countryside.
One area that I will say that the game did thoroughly impress me with is the visuals and amount of detail put into the experience. The developers went all out in crafting a gorgeous world to drive these locomotives around in the. The rolling mountains and country sides are beautiful and the expansive draw distances, assuming you have the video card to power them, really add an amazing sense of depth to the experience. Those looking for a chance to get away from life and just enjoy the road could easily get lost in watching the fields just fly by. The weather effects are equally as impressive too as the introduction of precipitation into your trip really looks phenomenal.
Unfortunately, the visuals and effects are so detailed that it takes the game an incredibly long amount of time to load a track. When I say long, I am not talking about 30-45 seconds, I mean a matter of r3-5 minutes. Every track in the game takes an immensely long time to load up which really dampens the exploit for someone who isn’t really dedicated to the experience. I tried it on a Dual Core, 1.8 GHZ machine with 4 GB of RAM and a Dual Core 2.2 GHZ machine with 6GB of Ram and the load times were nearly identical. They just appear to be a fact of life in the game and serve as just one more thing, on top of the complicated controls, that will turn off gamers who aren’t here due to their love of trains.
What else can I really say? This is a train simulator after all. Life as a conductor may seem exciting and “cool” as a kid but the reality is that it is actually pretty dull. This isn’t an exciting experience filled with fast paced tracks and exciting gameplay. Fans of the genre will undoubtedly love every second of the accurate representation of the conductor’s job but everyone else is going to grow bored and not appreciate what TS12 has to offer. This game is the definition of a niche simulator and something that will appeal to a small (and I mean small) base of fans compared to other titles hitting the shelves this Fall. If you love “railroading” then look no further as this is about as detailed and realistic as they come but if you could care less, keep moving along.