reviews\ Dec 9, 2002 at 7:00 pm

The Ultimate Trainz Collection - PC - Review

Amazing. What else can be said? That, alone, is enough to send train enthusiasts scrambling to pick up a copy of Ultimate Trainz Collection. What I found in this multi-dimensional game was challenge, creativity and dimension. Though I never tried my virtual hand at the original Trainz, I do know from research that this one has many more enhancements and abilities. So, if you think you know the series, think again.

Being new to this Strategy First sim,  I expected something I am more familiar with, which is Railroad Tycoon or MS Train Simulator. I was very very wrong-- and I normally hate being wrong. In this case, it was a wonderful surprise-- though, it IS somewhat more close to the latter mentioned game. UTC (Ultimate Trainz Collection) is a mix of a simulator, a "CAD" project and challenges to complete. It can be anything you want-- along those lines. If you want to spend DAYS designing your own rail-world, you can undertake that task. If you want to just sit down and drive a train with ultimate realism, it's there as well. It will definitely keep you busy.

Designing your own world is a challenge, and thorough review of the manual is mandatory. I tried, being a stubborn gamer, to jump in and wing it, but that was a failure. Once I held the manual as I designed simple tracks and environments, it became more clear. Guys don't like directions-- even when designing railroad lines.

This is where I have to briefly throw in some of the serious negatives that keep me from scoring the game higher. I found the design interface very complicated-- unless you want to keep the manual in hand for long periods of time. It was intuitive. I'd complete a few tasks, but still not have a grasp of what each control system could do. Back to the game.

In Design mode, you get a generic, blank grid (think: "The Matrix"). You have tool trays to lay out as much or as little environment as you desire. You can make rivers, canyons, hills and mountains; along with all of the required bridges or tunnels to traverse your terrain. It IS complex. As mentioned before, you can spend a LOT of time laying out your world without ever running a train. There is no "quick" tool for making a river, for example. You must first lay out the concave area, decide it's depth and curve, then use a separate tool to put a water element in your dry bed. It is unlike a sim game where you just click and drop and body of water wherever you want it. This is what makes it superior in it's CAD-like feel. Armchair engineers will spend many happy hours with this project. Of course, once you are "done" (if ever), you can insert a train and traverse your world. Though, you will likely want to tweak things as you go along. There is a whole element to this where you are able to make your weather environments. The creative variations are endless!

Don't want to spend hours making a world, and just want to jump in and go? Well, they have that, too. In Driver mode, you can play Engineer and control your train along the tracks watching scenery and either doing everything hands-on, or just minor adjustments. I actually learned how to drive a train! That was amazing. There is a lot more to it than blowing a horn at crossings. You have to be aware of switches and braking. Did I mention it is amazing?

There is a "mission" type option in which you can be assigned tasks to complete. Like a regular driver's daily runs. Get there on time and do your job. If only this one paid you for the work. It feels so real, I think it should be a paid position! You can accept an easy task, or a complex, more critical endeavor. Again, UTC showing it's expansive nature. 

There are a lot of locomotives to choose from. There is also a "paint shed" in this Ultimate version, which allows you to customize your machines. I stick with a green diesel that looks like my first HO train from my childhood. I still have the train, though it does not currently work. Through UTC, I was able to see a reasonable facsimile of that train ride once again. 

Scale-wise, you can select the size of the train you want to use. From full-sized to miniature trains that a hobbyist like myself might own. Diversity once again in this game.  There is also the ability, like in Maxis' Sims, to go online and interact with other users and use their content. Though I did not try this option, they allow the apparent ability to share trains and etc that you create-- with others. With the hard-core train enthusiasts in Europe, this promises to be a grand feature. 

Speaking of Europe, when running in Driver mode, you can select from where you want to drive. There are many countries and terrains to choose from. I stuck mainly with the US, but did sample Germany and France among a couple others. 

Thanks to the strong graphics, the visuals of various countries were excellent. It was far superior to Train Simulator, and I thought that was pretty good. The sounds were not up to par with the graphics, but there has to be a weakness somewhere, right? The sounds were not bad, nor annoying, but almost "weak" and not as amazing as the rest of the environments.

I have to mention a severe problem that I experienced. Perhaps, no one else will go through this, but it needs to be mentioned. As said over and over, this is a intensely detailed game in many ways. I mentioned the learning curve as well. The biggest problem, however, was not manuals or designing tracks. I had serious technical issues running the game. I installed THREE times to try and correct it-- based on their recommendations. I got an error telling me that there was a problem with the installation, and/or that the video card needs to be reinstalled. Something to that effect. My video card is new, and I installed the newest drivers just a week ago (thanks to an unfortunate crash and reformat). Every other game I have plays fine. Even after the three re-installs, the game gave me the same errors. Their web site was useless for FAQs in this matter. However, the game still played. Yes... it played, though told me it would not. Every time I load it, I get the error screen. I do have some problems with hang-ups and have had the system lock on me more than a few times in the many hours of play. I learned to save often, but this is a matter that is more than a little annoying. This keeps me from giving the game the highest marks I have yet to give as a reviewer. I am running with far more than the minimal system requirements (available at the GameZone site), but still got the feeling that it was lacking somewhere. If you are barely meeting the requirements, I might suggest upgrading, or at least expect the worst. 

Perhaps there is a patch in the works, or like I said, maybe it's only ME. In any case, I hope no one has to go through this ordeal in order to play this otherwise rewarding and addictive Simulator. I recommend this highly-- to anyone that likes trains, or even just folks who like to design and create "worlds". There is nothing to compare to this one. 

Gameplay: 9
Once the basics are learned, and the terrains are created (in Surveyor mode), this is a blast to play. Handling the switches and gears to drive the train was a great experience. I learned a great deal about the complexities of railroading. If you're into design, you will spend hours and/or days designing tracks, mountains, valleys, bridges and landscapes. It grows and grows with you. 

Graphics: 8.5 
Stunning landscapes and colorful train designs abound. In motion, the terrains looked nice, and far better than most other moving sims I have experienced. I guess having things moving on a level horizontal field helps (as opposed to flight sims that go up and down), but in any case, it looks great. Some jerky glitches and pixel/polygon issues at times, but not too bad. 

Sound: 7.5
Maybe it's not fair to rate the sounds this low compared to the other great things-- because they weren't "terrible", but there were some issues here and there. It's hard to describe, but the sound was almost "inconsistent". There would be moments that you feel like you are IN the train, but then it seemed like you were hearing one through a plywood wall. 

Difficulty: Medium
I can rate this game either: Easy, Medium or Hard. It is all three. It is challenging to learn, or not so much so-- depending on what you play. You can jump in and run on auto-pilot as if you're riding up front with the Engineer, or you can spend days laying out your world and installing complex switches to navigate. Hence, it is everything. 

Concept: 8.5 
Not the first train simulator to hit the tracks, but the best I have seen so far. Adding the various ways to play the game (I hate calling it a "game"!) makes it a multi-dimensional experience with many levels. The grid for designing it a blank palette for your creativeness. There is great depth to that. They have not forced anything on you and made you work with it. That is special, even if the idea of train sims is not. 

Multiplayer: N/A 
Though not really a multiplayer game, it's ability to enable you to interact with other users online and exchange content almost makes it that kind of experience. But, it is really a solo project on it's own. 

Overall: 9
Did I like it? You bet I did. Did I have some technical problems, and issues with the tools for design? Yes, I did. It is an amazing game, and I will keep referring to it as that-- amazing. I spent many hours playing it, but have not cracked the surface of where it can take me. I like to design, and love trains. It's a Pandora's box of value for my taste. It's a must-have for train enthusiasts-- even if they don't want to design. Without that feature, you'll have enough fun running trains and creating custom engines. Try to create one from your childhood. It worked for me. The Green Giant rode again!!!


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