By Todd Allen
There's only so much you can say about a train simulator. If your eyebrows raise and toes curl at the mention of such a thing I strongly encourage you to purchase this game because it's about as in depth as you can get. For those who collect trains and build those massive environments for them this is probably a dream come true. You can build them then tear 'em down and rebuild without any damage to your precious money supply. If you're still shaking your head mouthing "train simulator?" then this game is most definitely not for you. Auran has fulfilled the dream of every train enthusiast, but unfortunately they're the only ones who'll enjoy Trainz: Ultimate Collection.
The real draw for fans will be the amount of detail and depth rather than any great visual prowess. The maps you'll deal with are quite large, dotted with landscape and buildings of your choosing. The amount of material that you can see and manipulate is impressive, but none of that material stands out. Rather, the presentation is a bit drab. The colors appear washed out and dark and the resolution leaves much to be desired. You may place people and animals on your map, but they lack any real animation. There are no real audio points to speak of, so prepare to bring your stereo or headphones.
Trainz offers three main modes of play. The first mode is Surveyor. Think of it as a quick battle option in a strategy title. You may start with one of several existing train routes or choose to build your own. At this point you'll get to play around with the game's robust map editor. This may prove a bit overwhelming because you have the responsibility of building a very, very large map to populate with buildings, animals, cars, and people. Of course this could be tackled in one sitting, but I would recommend doing a little bit at a time. Trainz's interface doesn't make this any easier. This is quite possibly one of the most complex games I've ever played. The abundance of buttons and gauges will daunt all but the most determined.
The next mode is called Driver. Ever wanted to strap yourself into the engineer's seat? This will probably be about as close as you'll ever get to the real thing. You can choose from either an easier set of basic controls or the real deal, gauges, buttons, and all. The realistic controls include physics and other factors you'll need to pay attention to unless you want to find yourself jumping the tracks. This mode offers a couple different viewpoints. The first is a default, behind the loco view, while the other is the real deal cockpit view.
The final mode is composed of several scenarios where you'll put your driving skills to the test. Tasks set before you range from carrying passengers to running timetables. The manual suggests that players use TrainzScript, a program used to script different scenarios, to create challenges to share over the net. Trainz also gives you a chance to showcase your achievements in the My Collection section. Any trains you've created are displayed along with their stock in all their 3D glory. You can also tweak different paint jobs for your locomotives. Fans of the game really will have no limit to the amount of content thanks to the Trainz Download Station. Their site on the web contains hundreds of different maps and scenarios for Trainz players.
This game is really a playground for diehard train enthusiasts. If you always wanted one of those big train setups with all the trees, buildings, and mountains but you couldn't afford it, this is your ticket. That, in effect is Trainz' blessing and its curse. Its narrow appeal will probably keep out the other 95% of gamers out there. If an easier motif were used like that of the Tycoon series or Simcity, more gamers would be attracted to the title. As it stands I can't imagine Auran's product reaching many homes.