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Review: Heidi Express
Developer: SimTrain.ch - UK Publisher: Aerosoft / Contact Sales
Reviewed By Peter Peddlesden
Date: 15 November 2002


This review has been done using the original German release. I have been informed by Contact Sales that a version with Activities in English will be on the shelves in the UK by the end of November 2002.

A Microsoft Train Simulator add-on of a section of the Swiss Railway - Rhatische Bahn - that runs from Landquart in the North West to Klosters and then on to Davos. The CD includes the route, 8 activities, 4 locomotives - Ge 4/4 II, Ge 6/6 II, Ge 4/4 III and Gmf 4/4 and some appropriate rolling stock to run with them. What the manual doesn't tell you is that the package also includes a Steuerlok. This is the Swiss equivalent of the UK Driving Brake Second Open (DBSO) as used originally by ScotRail and now by Anglia Railways. It comes with its own cabview (key 1). The associated locomotive can be located at the opposite end of the train or, as in one of the supplied consists, in the centre of the train. The manual identifies and explains the 8 activities, however, there are in fact, 12 activities.

Packaging

Heidi Express is delivered in the large box format which contains an enveloped CD and the intruction manual. As this review is of the original German version, I will mention that the manual is in three languages, German, French and English. The manual introduces the route, identifies how they built it, explains some of the compromises they have made to keep frame-rates up and finishes off by mentioning why certain signals have been omitted.

Installation

I will say right now that this is the hardest part of getting the Heidi Express Add-on running. Put the CD in the drive and if you have Autorun enabled it will start the installation. If like me you have Autorun disabled then you will need to explore to your CD drive and click on the 'setup.exe' file in the root directory. You are first asked to select your setup language - German, French (Standard) or English. Having selected your setup language the install shield wizard starts and on completion a second box appears. This is where the installation problem exists. Aerosoft have chosen to use a software protection method referred to as Page, Line, Word. You NEED the manual to identify the word required to be input to continue the installation. And that's not all. It may sound simple enough to pick a word out of the manual and type it in. First of all, is the protection CASE sensitive? Second when you count the lines, do you include title lines and blank lines in your count? It could take you a number of attempts to pick the right word. The installation aborts after 3 failed attempts and you have to start the installation again. I could go on.
It is unfortunate that Aerosoft have chosen this method of protecting their product as it is one of the easiest for Hackers to disable. So the only people that they are stopping installing and running the software are the genuine purchasers of the software, which is a big negative point against this package.
If you are fortunate enough to hit the right word then the installation will continue to completion and you will have Heidi Express installed.

The Route

The route itself is a single track end to end of 50 kilometres. There are passing loops at most stations but very few sidings for those that like to create freight activities. The main stations, Landquart, Klosters and Davos offer more scope with a number of platforms and sidings so that you have the opportunity to create activities that make up a train and then drive off to some destination.

GmF 4/4 on freight GmF 4/4 on freight approaching Klosters Ge 6/6 II on mixed freight Ge 4/4 II leaving Landquart

The terraforming and landscaping has evidently had some considerable effort put into it as it is extremely good. However, inadequate time has been put into the tracklaying. There are too many locations where the track is bumpy (like the UK speed bumps on roads) that cause the whole train to lurch up and down. I also identified two locations between Klosters and Klosters Platz where the track is above the ground. Not by any great amount, but sufficient to make it look totally wrong. It is an unfortunate pity that the extra time wasn't spent getting the track right. It would have made the difference between what is now an average route into a great route.

Shortly after leaving Landquart, note the Steuerlok at the rear of the train Sitting in the cab of the Steuerlok ready to leave Davos In the cab of the Ge 6/6 II about to cross the bridge as we leave Landquart Sitting in the cab of the Steuerlok again, this time in the dark as we leave Klosters

The Activities

There are 8 included activities identified in the manual but as you will see in the Route and Activity Selection screen there are in fact a total of 12 that have been programmed using the real winter 2001/2002 timetable.

1. Introductory Train Ride.

The purpose of this activity is to introduce you to the whole of the RhB route and to show the different signals that you will encounter along the way. As is to be expected there are a considerable number of message windows that pop up as you drive along to explain the different signals and the need to sound your horn at unmarked crossings. Unfortunately they are all in German which detracts somewhat from the whole purpose of the activity for non German speaking users. This should have given Aerosoft the opportunity to have 3 activities in the 3 different languages and to have loaded the appropriate one based on the language selection at install time. If you can ignore the messages then this is a good activity for exploring the route and ample opportunity to get the feel of the Ge 4/4 II over the undulating terrain of Switzerland.

2. Duty Train 9037.

This activity has you driving the Gmf 4/4 shunting loco. Make up your train at Buel and then drive it to Klosters. This is a little bit tricky to start with. You have to collect the 4 ballast trucks in the Buel Yard before you set off. Two of them are behind you in the same siding and the other two are in an adjacent siding. Because of the terrain in the sidings (it drops behind you and then rises again before you get to the trucks) it is very easy to try and couple at too high a speed. Once collected together off you go to Klosters.

3. Goods Train 5051.

Drive the Ge 6/6 II from Landquart to Fideris with a freight train. Picking up and dropping off along the way at Schiers, Furna and Fideris. A good activity for learning the vagaries of the Ge 6/6 II.

A close up side view of the Ge 6/6 II Sitting in the cab of the Ge 4/4 III waiting to leave Davos A close up side view of the Ge 4/4 III leaving Davos Landquart Station. Ge 4/4 II ready to depart

4. Train 335.

Driving the Ge 4/4 II again from Landquart to Klosters. Look towards the rear of the train and you will see this consist has the Ge 4/4 II driving but with the Steuerlok on the back. This is a stopping passenger service that runs to a tight timetable with a target arrival at Klosters of 11.31. You need to have carried out Activity 1 to get a feel for the route and the handling characteristics of the Ge 4/4 II before doing this activity if you want any hope of arriving in Klosters on time.

5. Train 380.

This activity sees you driving from the cab of the Steuerlok on a night train service from Klosters back to Landquart. Watch your speed as you leave Klosters Platz heading for Klosters Dorf, it is so very easy to exceed the 50 Kmh speed limit here.

6. Goods Train 6035.

Back to the Ge 6/6 II again with a freight train from Schiers to Buel. Slightly more difficult now as it's autumn and the autumn rain is gently falling. (Wet leaves on the line)!!

7. Train 15.

The Ge 6/6 II again in this activity with a novel twist. It is low season and hence morning goods train does not run. Therefore the goods trucks are coupled to the back of your passenger train. One piece of advice here. You are driving a mixed traffic train and the speed limits are governed by the freight you are hauling and not the passenger stock. An opportunity to travel the entire route from Landquart to Davos with the Ge 6/6 II. It is early morning and dark so take great care.

8. Train 60.

Our first sighting of the Ge 4/4 III. An ideal opportunity to get the feel of the handling characteristics of this loco as you take the afternoon passenger service from Davos to Landquart in the rain. And don't forget to sound your horn at the unmarked crossings - failure to do so results in an instant Activity Ended - Failure to provide adequate warning!

9. Train 65.

This is a rerun of the Introductory Train Trip from Landquart to Davos without the annoying message boxes and a shorter train. Another ideal opportunity to learn the handling characteristics of the Ge 4/4 II with a short train.

GmF 4/4 waiting at Klosters The bridge and tunnel at Klosters on the route to Davos Klosters Station The airborne building and canopy at Davos Platz

Activities 10, 11 and 12 are for seasoned drivers on the Heidi Express Route. They are difficult to say the least but very rewarding when you succeed. Don't expect to get it right first time, but you will get there with practice. As I have said before, use one of the easier activities to get a feel for the handling characteristics of the locos and then try these ones.

10. Goods Train 5032.

You are driving the Ge 6/6 II again with a LONG freight train, hence a HEAVY freight train from Davos to Landquart.
You will need your wits about you as you throttle up to climb the hills and you may even need EMERGENCY braking on the downhills to stop the whole train going runaway. I would recommend you run Activity 3 at least once before attempting this one to get the feel for the Ge 6/6 II.

11. Sports Train 928.

You drive from the Steuerlok again from Davos to Landquart. A lot of winter tourists travel on this train which will make the activity much more challenging. I recommend trying Activity 5 first to get the feel for driving from the Steuerlok end of the train.

12. Train 31.

This is the SNOW activity and thus proves to be extremely challenging. To make it just that bit harder there are additional coaches added to this train to carry all the skiers heading for Klosters. The journey is from Landquart to Davos using the Ge 4/4 III. Again, I would recommend running an easier activity (No. 8) to get a feel for the handling characteristics of the Ge 4/4 III loco.
Keeping to the timetable with this activity is a nightmare and thus I would rate it Extremely Difficult.

Summary

This could have been such a good all round package. It has a good choice of location for the route, Landquart via Klosters to Davos in Switzerland; the terraforming and landscaping are excellent; the choice of locos and rolling stock is very good; the activities are numerous, well thought out and make for some excellent driving skills to be learned.

BUT!

1. The inclusion of a software protection that is so easy for the hackers to break and difficult for the genuine buyer to understand and install makes this overall experience a bad one from the outset. Perhaps I'm just a Klutz and can't count, but it took me 18 attempts to get it to install the first time round. To see if there were any changes with the different language installations I have since re-installed it three times. On each occasion it has taken numerous attempts to find the correct word to continue the installation. A less interested user may well have given up and taken the product back the retailer for a refund!
Overall score reduced by 10% for not thinking about the genuine user of the product.

2. The poor attention to detail in the tracklaying, bumps too numerous to count and 2 locations where the track is above the ground seriously detract from the driving experience.
Overall score reduced by 16% for poor tracklaying. It greatly reduces the experience.

3. In a few locations the scenery is in mid air, most of which do not provide too much distraction but one particular item stands out like a sore thumb - The station buildings at Davos Platz, at the far end of the line, stand well above the platforms and it looks hideous.
Overall score reduced by 7% for bad scenery placement.

Ge 4/4 II waiting clearance to depart from Davos Platz Davos Platz Station with the Steuerlok taking up the rear of the train Landquart in winter Klosters in winter

Overall score:

67%


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