Review: London Brighton Express|
Developer: Europeanbahn, Publisher: Aerosoft
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 30 July 2003
You can obtain London Brighton Express through UKTrainSim via the CD Ordering screen
or you can alternatively pop in to any shop that sells MSTS Add-ons such as Game, HMV,
Virgin, PC World and so forth. The Add-on is normally around £24.99.
In the interests of full disclosure I feel it necessary to add to this review that
UKTrainSim has been involved with the London Brighton Express project for quite
a while - not as developers, but we have had beta test versions and feedback was
submitted. There are also a number of billboards along the route that feature
an advertisement for UKTrainSim, this advertisement was not paid for.
UKTrainSim are always keen to help any developers in any way that we can, whether
they are commercial or freeware, as we have done in this instance, we do not ask
anything in return for our assistance or advice.
It is also very true to say that the developers of London Brighton Express, Europeanbahn,
are very much interested in the UKTrainSim community and are keen to see it grow, indeed
some of the newer talent on their team are from the community. It is for this reason
that the banners are in place.
UKTrainSim are also hosting all the registration facilities for the product and when
you register you will automatically receive 1 month free Premium access to UKTrainSim,
no charge has been made to Europeanbahn or Aerosoft for this service.
This disclosure is so that you can understand the relationship between
UKTrainSim and London Brighton Express in order to put this review in to
context according to how you weigh the above considerations.
I first saw this product in a very early stage back when we did the Brighton Model World exhibition, Ken
made it available to us because of the obviously very relevant content and it became part of the demonstrations
over the Saturday and Sunday that we were there. Several people watched as the route was demonstrated (it didn't
go the complete length, although there was a fair bit to see) and a couple sat down with us as we drove it and
gave their thoughts - not one person was unhappy with what they were seeing and I have to admit that the route
looked very good indeed even though I had no knowledge of the route myself. Things went quiet on the route front
for a little while and then recently the final product was released - quite a bit different from that beta
London Brighton Express comes with a completely new track system - unsurprising as the area depicted uses
a 'third rail' electric system. For those unfamiliar, this is a third rail that contains the electric power
for the locomotives, as opposed to conventional overhead electric. The new track properly shows you the
third rail, although as MSTS does not properly support third rail electric this is largely just for effect.
The new track system is one of the flaws in the product as well as one of its shining points, and the flaw
is almost entirely due to the fact that MSTS itself really doesn't cope with other track systems very well.
In order to try and make London Brighton Express as compatible as possible they have been working with the
'Standardised TSection' author and Build 19 (included in LBE) of the Standardised TSection file now includes
all the 3rd rail track from LBE. This makes LBE completely compatible with UKFinescale, XTracks and any other
track type that the community might have created, unfortunately it is incompatible with any track system not registered such as the Maglev 2005 product. If you have Maglev 2005 then uninstall it, install LBE and then re-install Maglev 2005 (assuming your Maglev 2005 is the second version!) and you should be ok.
The route depicted in the product runs from London Victoria to Brighton including Gatwick Airport with both the fast and slow lines modelled. Anyone suggesting that they model an area of London has to get at least some
credit for being partially insane in my opinion, it is a very tricky area to get right and one that if you get it right the chances are the frame rate will be appalling because there is so much scenery. Europeanbahn seem to have pulled it off quite nicely, masses of tracks and a very complex area around Victoria make you definitely feel like you are driving on a very busy line indeed. Lots of scenery around the tracks and a nicely modelled station
definitely impressed me and I think that while almost certainly holes can be picked, what has been produced is
very good indeed given that the end product must work on more than a handful of PC's.
As you travel the route most people that I've spoken to who have travelled the route for real can recognise the
stations as they approach them including some of the surrounding scenery - which to my mind is a massive vote
of confidence. If you don't know the route then you will have a really good time and I think can drive fairly
safe in the knowledge that it's pretty close to the real thing. All the textures appear to be based on photographs, which bumps the realism up quite nicely.
For those of you using a 'Cam Hack' (alternative camera configurations) that allow you to zoom out for miles and
get a satellite or model railway view of things, you will find the scenery disappointing as it does not stretch out very far beyond the tracks. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't personally see this as
a bad thing. Once again the key thing that any boxed product must keep in mind is frame rates on your average
persons PC - so having extremely detailed scenery for a mile either side of the track would kill frame rates and
frankly you can't see most of it normally because it's so dense. What they have done is provide a superb cab
experience as well as the default view 2 and 3 (External) being well looked after, if you have an alternative
configuration then you're on your own and will have to deal with the missing scenery. I will say that until
somebody else mentioned this fact to me I had not personally noticed it.
The route is a really fun one to drive - I'm not normally a fan of modern mainline stuff and especially not
boxes on wheels (diesel/electric) - but this route has got what I look for in a passenger based add-on, the route
keeps you in the seat all the time. If you are looking for a new screensaver where you can set the throttle and then
sit back and watch it then forget it, this product is not for you. If you are looking to drive a train, constantly watch
for speed restrictions, speed limit changes and regular stops at stations then this is a
superb product for you. The scenery that has been done is very good indeed, there is the odd anomoly such as
a fence that appears to have gone slightly askew but for the most part it is very good indeed.
There are some wobbling issues with the track, sometimes it'll jog to the side a little, sometimes it'll be an up-down bump
and sometimes a little of both, plus occasionally a joint that is not made at the correct height and the train visibly bumps up for
falls down to the new piece. I have spoken with Europeanbahn at length about this, they have done their best to try and rectify the
errors or smooth them out and where they could not make it work completely they have use a standard Temporary Speed Restriction on
the route which alters the speed limit so that you can safely pass over it. It's a shame as it is one of the few larger detractions
from the overall quality of the product. Unfortunately commercial realities had to take over, re-tracking the route and rebuilding
scenery to fit the different track system would have set the product back at least another 6 months. I am happy that they have tried
to rectify the errors and they have made sure that speed limits are all achievable, so you won't find yourself derailing when you are going
within the speed limit.
The only other comment I have to make about the route is that where tracks disappear off and are not relevant
to this product they terminate visibly instead of being taken far enough that they just vanish round behind trees or something. It's a
fairly minor point as it doesn't detract from the mainline route but certainly one thing I look for in any simulation is whether
it successfully allows you to believe what you are seeing, which this
product does very well right up until you see a line terminating very close to where you are at.
The locomotives included are very good indeed, the 319 being my personal favourite. They all have interiors,
passenger views and superb cab views. My only comment on the cab views is that the controls wobble a little and
there are some minor artifacts as they animate however overall the rendering of the cabs is quite excellent. All of the locomotives
have 3rd rail shoe flash which looks quite cool. There is one train class that is included
only in AI form, the rest are all fully driveable - perhaps we may see a patch in the future to make this train
driveable, I don't know.
The sounds on the route are quite superb, a lot of effort appears to have been put in to making player and AI
trains sound realistic with some excellent rail noise as an AI train shoots past and even honking their horn as
they pull out of a station, very nice indeed. Some of the stations have a tannoy which also adds to the effect.
There are a good selection of activities supplied using all of the stock including the Railtrack MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle). The time tables are quite tough and you will have to drive quite hard to make sure you arrive on time at each station along the way.
Another nice touch is that the product installs a new "Introductory Train Ride" which also includes a completely new script that tells you about the real route and the product, rather than the normal one which whitters on about Train Simulator itself.
Overall I am loving this product, it feels great to drive and I haven't got even slightly bored with driving up and down between London and Brighton over and over as the scenery is very pleasant to look at along the route with lots of Speed Limit changes, tight timetables and Stations to keep you concentrating. There are a couple of flaws as I have mentioned above but I personally feel that this is a product that is well worth having in your collection.
One thing to watch out for is that the product makes use of a very small number of objects from the default routes so make sure you have
them all installed or you will run in to problems.
There is a patch out for it that fixes some issues people were having as far as unreliability, this is available for download from the Europeanbahn "user club" site, linked to from their home page.