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Review: London and South East
Developer: Making Tracks UK Publisher: Contact Sales
Reviewed By Mike Wilson
Date: 7 April 2005


Introduction

I was born in Margate, and my earliest railway memories are of trips to London on the EMU. Later on, my first cab ride was on a night train from London Bridge southwards, and I still have vivid memories of that journey. So when I first saw the screenshots of this route, it’s fair to say that I was excited. In fact, although I don’t spend a lot of money on the sim, I knew I would have to buy this product, and recently I did. On balance, I’m glad that I did.

London & South East (L&SE) is the first release from Making Tracks (MT), and is published by Contact Sales.

What you get

The add-on comes in a standard DVD-size case, containing a CD, glossy manual and some advertising ‘bumf’ from Contact Sales. The manual is useful and well written, and contains a brief description of the route, stock used in the time period, activities and signalling conventions. I felt that the registration card – stapled prominently inside the manual – detracted slightly from my experience. But at least I remembered to register!

It is worth reading the installation instructions, and it’s also well worth registering the package. Apart from the free month subscription to UKTrainsim, you get access to free stuff from Making Tracks more of which anon.

First Impressions

Installation was easy, straight out of the box. It is quite a big package, and my PC is not the most modern so it took a little while to complete. But fifteen minutes after opening the box, I was driving a Crompton on the Christmas Mail train.

My first impressions were very good. The cab view and sounds are excellent and the scenery looks like what I remember of the area. Unfortunately, my enjoyment was interrupted by some missing scenery items which caused the sim to crash.

The lesson from this is that if your copy is not labelled v1.2, you need to download and install the patch from the MT web site. Normally I check these things as a matter of course but in my excitement I forgot.

I wonder how many people will experience this problem, then throw it away? It actually irritated me - and I expect things not work out of the box. Still, full marks to the team for developing a really thorough patch and getting it out quickly.

Having done that, I settled down to an enjoyable hour or two playing trains. I was instantly struck by the quality of the sounds and the cab views, and the consistent look and feel of the whole route. It’s clearly been designed and built by a small team, with a consistent palette - and it looks good.

Stock

The route is supplied with very well modelled rolling stock that suits the time period and region. Where appropriate, stock is included in a variety of liveries, including BR green, blue and blue/grey. It includes:

Locomotives

  • Class 33 Diesel
  • Class 71 electric locomotive
DEMU Thumpers

  • Class 201 Hastings sets
  • Class 205 Hampshire set
  • Class 207 Oxted set
EMU

  • Class 411 4-CEP
  • Class 414 2-HAP
  • Class 415 and 416 EPB sets
  • Class 419 MLV Motor Luggage Van
  • Class 421 4-CIG
  • Class 423 4-VEP - including the very attractive Blue livery with small warning panel
  • Class 427 4-VEG
The CEP and VEP sets are the ones that appeal to me the most I used to travel to school on these units.

Loco hauled stock

There’s not much of this, but included are:

  • Various Passenger rated parcels stock (CCT, GUV and NPV)
  • Coal Hopper (HTV) and
  • 15T Ballast open

I don’t think this small amount of non passenger stock is a problem. Certainly the stock I remember seeing the most of was parcels stock (at the Margate Red Star depot) and I don’t see the lack of another version of the BR Mark 1 coach as a significant disadvantage.

In any case a version of the Mk1 in blue grey was included on 30th December 2004 as part of the Free stock Friday programme. This is a good feature of the MT website that has recently included stock that could be seen in the area, at the time. In my view this is a good initiative on the part of MT, and certainly has kept my interest in their web site.

There is a minor issue with the width of some of the stock, I think that the 33 and MLV models are decidedly wider than they should be - you can see this in some of the screenshots. This is a minor error that detracts from otherwise excellent products.

The only item of stock that was missing for me was a version of the venerable class 09 diesel shunter. While there are a couple of freeware versions floating around, there is nothing as nice as the locos on this add-on.

Cab Views

The Class 33 in particular has an excellent photo-real cab view. I’m not quite sure what is wedged up behind the instrument panel... but I hope it’s only a 1970 era BR sandwich. The 71 cab does not compare as favourably - but this is understandable given the difficulty of finding one to photograph.

All of the EMU/DEMU stock uses a common cab-view which is again excellent and ‘photo-real’. However, I personally doubt that BR(S) managed to achieve the same degree of standardisation. A different cab for the Thumper units would have been a nice touch.

A more significant omission for me is the total absence of passenger views. I know that a lot of folks never press the ‘5’ key. However, I like to be able to watch the countryside go by from the dubious comforts of an overstuffed armchair, and I can’t with this add-on.

Sounds

For me, the sound package is possibly the best feature of this add-on. I especially like the EMU sounds, which are well-synchronised, appropriate and realistic. The sound of the Westinghouse brake recharging is particularly evocative for me and the two tone horn is also well rendered - although perhaps not quite drawn out enough.

Activities

On the whole the fifteen activities are well conceived and executed. They concentrate on commuter and passenger services (12 out of the 15) - but if you like the heavy freight scene then you probably won’t be considering buying this add-on in any case.

A lot of the commuter trains are intensive stop-start services which are technically quite challenging, especially if (like me) you don’t have a Raildriver. Thirty second station stops are particularly difficult to manage, if you haven’t got the hang of the brake yet...

The ‘freight’ activities are not as challenging, but one (Activity 15) does require good engine handling skills don’t forget the loco brake uses the [and ] keys. I did :)

It might have been nice to include the Class 71 or the MLV in activities, especially since the 71 is the poster locomotive for the route. But then, there is clearly scope for expansion at a later date.

For the activity builder it is clear that there is a lot of room to create within this package. There are a lot of consists included for reuse - but I found the naming conventions confusing and inconsistent. When I tried to make an activity, it was difficult to figure out what might be appropriate AI traffic. It might also have been useful to include documentation on which cars fit in which sets - either in the manual, or on the CD somewhere.

I also noticed that the appearance of another train while driving was a pleasant surprise, whereas in fact, they’re part of the scenery. Now this might seem a bit critical, but if you’ve ever caught a train to Cannon Street in the rush hour, the thing that will strike you is the volume of trains that pass by on either side from about New Cross Gate onwards - at the convergence of the two lines to cross London Bridge.

You just don’t get that sense in these activities. I accept that in part this is a limitation of the MSTS platform - and frame rates are already getting a bit sluggish on my machine as you creep towards the capital - but maybe a ‘deluxe’ activity could have been included for those of us who have supercomputers at home?

This might be a bit easier now that the team is reworking the EMU models to include multiple Levels of Distance. On the other hand - why not build some generic ‘lite’ sets for the AI traffic?

Route and Scenery

The scenic features are what save the commuter trains from being a bit boring. As I said earlier, I really like the feel of the texturing in the London area especially. Significant structures are all there (at least, according to the data that I have) and there’s lots of grimy bricks to be seen. Frame rates are a bit slower here, as you’d expect, but the team has done a really good job considering it’s such a congested area.

My favourite parts have to be entering Cannon Street station in the evening and the flyover that leads to Crystal Palace. Brilliant.

Out in the country, the lines to East Grinstead and Oxted pass through the rolling countryside of the area and are modelled convincingly. I was a bit surprised at the lack of housing in the area - but it was probably a lot more rural in 1970.

The stations in particular feel right, and include the typical SER staggered platforms. According to my PSL field guide the layouts are pretty much correct and the stations are in the right places, so that’s good enough for me.

There’s a lot of route mileage here - the package says 420 miles, and I probably haven’t come close to seeing all of it yet. The package is interesting enough that I am looking forward to doing so.

The trackwork is awesome and by far the best exposition of UK Fine Scale track that I have ever seen, and it’s used very well to represent the ‘hairy’ track layouts in some places.

There are a couple of minor errors of placement - there’s a little landslip on the London Bridge side of Hither Green, for example. I feel a bit petty pointing this out, but it underlines the fact that the overall layout is so good that tiny errors like this really stand out.

While I’m being picky, it’s a bit odd to be driving commuter trains and not see anyone on the platform. There are a couple of places where I noticed people particularly - but this only served to highlight the lack of crowds - especially at rush hour. I know this is an area of difficulty for the sim - but I wonder whether flat people might have been usefully employed here?

The other area in which I felt a bit let down was the signalling. This looks right and works consistently well, but the colour light poles feel a bit ‘two dimensional’ to me. On the other hand the gantries are superbly executed. It is a measure of how far the hobby has come since 2001 that this is my only real criticism of the scenery.

Conclusion

Why would you buy this route? If you like the Southern region and Electrics especially, then you can’t go past this route. It captures the era that I remember very well, and is very well executed throughout. I really like it, and will be driving the route for a while yet.

If you like British trains, but don’t know anything about the Southern then you should definitely consider buying it. I’d also recommend a visit to the Southern E-Group Web site http:\\www.semg.org.uk to learn more about it all.

Apart from a couple of minor criticisms, the only things that really let the route down are the lack of passenger views from the rolling stock, (especially given that this is primarily a passenger railway) and the absolute need to patch that first release.

Overall:



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