Although I was a fan of Microsoft Train Simulator for the PC platform, it was ageing less than gracefully in more recent times. My inklings for a graphical presentation that would eke every last morsel out of my computer hardware became stronger and soon I realised that a new contender should take prominent position in my simulation library, available ironically on a store and software service called Steam.
RailWorks not only improved the much needed visual qualities I was hoping for, it also reinvigorated my once dwindling interest in rail simulation as a whole. Featuring locomotives including steam, diesel and electric plus routes from the UK, US and elsewhere. I soon became hooked on the offerings RailWorks provided, so much so that I asked to interview Paul Jackson, CEO of RailSimulator.com to feature on my podcast and more recently in a video along with other members of staff down in Chatham.
RailWorks 2 which released on the 18th October 2010 sets out to open the doors to a much wider audience while not forgetting the hardcore enthusiasts who have followed the series right from the beginning in the shape of Rail Simulator. Best of all for owners of the original RailWorks, Railworks 2 is a free update!
To be frank, I was becoming a little lost within the RailWorks front end menus. Locating the exact parameters I wished to use within the game became a trek through a bewildering selection of options that with just a few add-ons purchased started to become a confusion. This lost sensation is totally removed with a vast rethink of the menu system by the developers.
Everything is now sorted within sections, allowing for quick and more importantly simple navigation between all of the core content and any add-ons you have installed. The first screen shows a ‘Resume’ option. This as the name suggests allows you to pick up where you left off on your previous visit to RailWorks 2. If you broke off to make a cup of tea or to let out your howling mutt, the chances are you decided that your latest train trip would continue another day. Resume provides a single click operation to place yourself right back into the driving seat without the hassles of locating your previous settings.
Secondly is the ‘Drive by Train’ option and by digging into this area reveals a far better method of sifting through the rich content selections RailWorks 2 provides. This is achieved by selecting from a series of tabs that filters locomotives into steam, diesel and electric. Once a locomotive is selected, another filterable list is shown to select from standard, career mode and free roam scenarios. These are also sortable by name, class, difficulty, duration, author and more. Finally if you are still unsure of your choices, you can select the ‘Train Information’ button to unveil an image, highlighted specifications and description of your currently selected locomotive plus the train listings themselves also make a little more sense as well. If instead you are craving a particular location, the ‘Drive by Route’ area is the place for you with similarly filtered options.
Everything has also been given a tweak here and there to improve the overall appearance. This is also the case within the game, as menus appear with rounded edges and a hint of transparency. The Briefing window now only shows tasks that are incomplete, removing the need to scroll endlessly during a journey to locate the next important request.
For well over a decade, the traditional method of controlling a simulator was achieved by memorising a long list of buttons on a keyboard and various combinations that in turn moved, stopped or operated objects on the screen. After many months you may consider yourself an expert of rail simulation once you have all the required keystrokes preserved in your now aching brain, giving you the kudos of rail simulator enthusiast extraordinaire. For many, the requirement to stick a keyboard map of all the commands to your desk is the more likely result yet this can now be avoided with a massive overhaul of the control interface found in RailWorks 2.
Many locomotives feature a bewildering selection of levers, dials and equipment that would scare most people off without a single button being pressed. This immense stress is overcome by a new interface that simplifies and standardises many of the elements used to operate the mechanical beast. Located at the bottom of the screen and toggled by the ‘F4’ key is a Cab Control, which is a whole new selection of graphical representations of certain functions and all far more recognisable than ever before. You can of course hover over any controls you may struggle to identify to reveal a text description, however for the most part only a short amount of time is required before you can successfully set off for the very first time.
In the middle of this new panel are three levers. The way in which they operate may differ from locomotive to locomotive yet in principle they remain intact. Typically the left red lever acts as the throttle, the middle blue lever the reverser (for selecting whether to travel forward or backwards) and the right black lever the brakes. To the far left displays the current scenario time, your next instruction, targeted time to reach next destination, estimate of arrival time and number of miles remaining. Speed, speed limit and other such vital information is also displayed within this section. To the right quick access to the ‘Alerter’ can be found plus selections for the wipers, lights, horn and further displays indicating fuel, water and pressure levels.
Below these controls is a brand new view for any upcoming signals, stations and other important events. The problem with RailWorks before this update was that as a simulation you knew the exact state of any signals ahead laying in wait for your reaction. This was actually unrealistic and led to player laziness as you inevitably slumped into your chair confident of what the future would bring. Now the emphasis is on driver experience, so as a regular driver of the route you would know that a signal is ahead at a particular section, but you wouldn’t know the state of the lights until you reach them. Upcoming speed limits, stations and other information is also displayed, but again only the placements a driver will have learned through years of travelling along the same route.
The train is represented by a series of coloured blocks, green for the trailing goods or carriages and red for the actual locomotive itself. Not only that but the gradient is reflected also, so as you climb a hill the line adjusts accordingly. Scaling of this information is also used to great effect as the quicker your train travels the further in the distance you can view ahead, however slow down to a crawl and everything becomes much larger and more significant to the user.
Finally on the right hand side yet more selections for camera views, zooming in and out and just in case an ‘Emergency Brake’ button. Career Mode challenges also reveal additional gauges within the new interface, including a graphic that represents the amount of G-force your train is experiencing, vital if you want to keep your passengers happy.
Fear not though as for those who prefer to stick with the old reliable controls can still utilise the keyboard as before and view the old box that sat on the left of the screen detailing upcoming signals, distances and so on. I do encourage those whose immediate thought may be to scoff at this new design to give it a good try out before passing judgement. Personally, I hate using the old control scheme now feeling totally disconnected with the action unfolding in front of me.
As an Xbox 360 gamer, the yearning to unlock achievements resides strongly within my gaming soul. RailWorks 2 now also features these challenging critters for those who desire recognition for their simulation efforts. These include awards for mileage driven, hours played, number of locomotives driven, scores and so on. It will help to show your similarly minded friends your extreme efforts in taking on the rigours of the RailWorks 2 scenario and career systems.
Although the sheer pleasure of driving locomotives and gawking at the lush locations sap up a tremendous amount of time, the ‘Editor’ will if anything use up many more simulation hours as your imagination runs riot. Here you create your own original routes or replicate real-life locations, laying track, adjusting gradients, adding landscapes, placing a network of signals, setting out the buildings and stations and so on.
Although the Editor isn’t a new feature and at first glance not a lot has changed within this area, it shouldn’t be forgotten either as it is a wonderful extra for those who wish to experiment with a set of powerful creation tools. Being able to customise the route and scenario details from the front-end is surely a welcome addition at the very least!
There are plenty of other little changes you may or may not notice immediately upon your epic journeys, however the most notable visually has to be the level crossing animations. Previously the level crossings remained statically closed, however now they will lower and raise depending on your train position. Watch as your upcoming train causes the crossing to close with all its flashing light activity in progress and distinctive warning sounds, the traffic then waits patiently at the barrier, your train passes and the gates raise after a brief moment of time so that vehicle normality can continue.
For those who love career challenges will adore the fact that RailWorks 2 comes along with additional point scoring quests with one for each of the core routes.
Some may suggest that the new simpler interface somehow alienates the existing core audience, however in fact it serves both the newcomer and dedicated fan. The mouse control actually offers a far more tactile experience than the traditional keyboard can provide on its own. Of course, potentially attracting a new audience to rail simulator who may have panicked at the thought of so many keyboard combinations will now feel far more comfortable within the control environment. This is important for RailWorks to prosper and deliver a future with superb possibilities yet dedicated enthusiasts should also delight in the new interface, feeling increasingly a part of the action occurring on-screen and only knowing placements an experienced driver would have learned over many years of travelling the same routes. If you are still sceptical I implore you to try out the new method of control for at least a little while as it really changes for the better the interaction between you the driver and the locomotive.
The real beauty of RailWorks 2 though is that even with all these changes, tweaks and additions there is so much more still to come for us avid owners as the software continues to evolve and expand its original title.
- RailWorks 2 Announced – James Woodcock Interviews RailSimulator.com in HD Video
- Podcast #29 RailWorks Updates – New Career System and Future Interface Plans
- Podcast #27 – JustTrains.net Interview with Alex Ford Regarding Train Simulation Products
- Podcast #26 – RailWorks Train Simulator with Paul Jackson CEO of RailSimulator.com