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Review: Rhine Valley (AKA: Pro Train 1)
Developer: Blue Sky Interactive - UK Publisher: Contact Sales
Reviewed By Peter Peddlesden
Date: 24 September 2002


The Rhine Valley add-on is the name for the UK released version of the original 'Pro Train 1' add-on, newly released and on the shelf in the UK as part of Contact Sales new deal with Blue Sky Interactive. This review was done using the original German release and has been updated with comments from Contact Sales regarding how the UK release will differ.

The UK release date for this product is late October and will have an RRP of 19.99

A Microsoft Train Simulator addon of a section of the German Railway along both sides of the Rhine Valley from Frankfurt, up one side of the Rhine Valley via Koblenz to Cologne and back down the other side of the Rhine Valley returning to Frankfurt. The CD includes the route, 12 activities, the ICE3 HST, DB103 in 2 liveries and Intercity rolling stock to run with them.

Packaging
Rhine Valley is delivered in the standard DVD style case which contains the CD and an instruction manual.

Instruction Manual
The manual has now been fully translated from its German original in to a full English version. The manual covers the usual system requirements, installation and de-installation instructions and then goes on to cover the operator keys for the ICE3 and the DB103. This is followed by a section on the signalling and speed limit signs used on the German Railway. The final section gives a brief description of 6 of the 12 Activities that are included on the CD. In this UK release, all of the activities have been translated in to English as well so you won't need to keep referring to the manual (or your German-English dictionary) to work out what is going on.

Installation
This is straight forward enough. Put the CD in the drive and if you have autorun enabled it will start the installation. If like me, you have autorun disabled you will need to explore to your CD drive, select the folder Disk1, and then RUN setup.exe. The installation will take a while to complete as this route consumes around 850 Mbytes of your hard drive. Once installed you are ready to explore the route or drive an activity.

The Route
This is a very extensive route through the Rhine Valley. On the 'Route and Activity Selection' screen, select the 'Rhine Valley' route and then click on the 'MAP' button.
Map of the Protrain Rheintal Route ICE3 Ready to Leave Frankfurt ICE3 Leaving Cologne ICE3 Stopped at Mainz
From Frankfurt on the right, through Mainz, on to Koblenz, north up through Koblenz and Bonn and into Cologne (Koln), south and then east returning to Frankfurt.

The route as said above is very extensive and could take you a number of hours to do the complete round trip (Activity 1 in the ICE3 - 5 hours or Activities 9 followed by 3 in the DB130 - 9 hours). That said, it is a very pleasant and interesting route to drive.

Crossing the river shortly after leaving Frankfurt Leaving Biebrich - Note the use of low poly count buildings to keep up the frame rates Approaching Bingen, take a look across the Rhine and you can see Rudesheim Preparing to leave Koblenz on the Night ICE3
The scenery is excellent and there are some interesting additions. A number of the ground textures you won't have seen before; the track texture is extremely dark and looks wider than the standard texture; a considerable number of buildings and bridges are unique to this route and the trees are novel in all the different seasonal textures. The last addition worth mentioning are the sound effects. As I tend to ride on the roof of the loco I got to hear some very different trackside sound effects: Birds twittering; Dogs barking; Building works sounds - steam hammers, dump trucks etc; Church Bells; Chickens, all of which add to the experience. If you sit in the cab driving then you probably won't hear the sounds above the ambient noise within the cab.

There are a considerable number of lines that diverge around this route with the main line. The majority of which go absolutely nowhere but a set of buffers a half of a kilometre to a kilometre down the line.

Leaving Koblenz with the DB130 and 8 IC Coaches Passenger view inside the IC Coaches - Note the advertising Crossing the river again Another look at the DB130 and the 8 IC coaches
Take a look at the associated pictures and you'll see shots from the route showing the ICE3, the DB130 and the DB130 TEE.

The large road bridge between Urmitz and Anderach Travelling the edge of the Rhine Looking across the Rhine Valley DB130 TEE leaving Koln
The Activities
There are twelve activities with the route, all of which provide an excellent driving experience. The longest and most difficult is the 2 part activity, 'Lokfuhrerschict'. This has you acting as an engineer (driver) on a FULL NINE HOUR shift. Part 1 (Activity 9) using a DB103 has the scenario of you taking a regional train from Cologne to Bonn; jump train to another regional train from Bonn to Koblenz; jump train again to another regional train from Koblenz to Frankfurt at which point part 1 terminates. To continue your shift you then run Part 2 (Activity 3) which takes you from Frankfurt back to Cologne. A very challenging and time consuming activity, just great for that miserable wet Saturday when you have nothing else to do and fancy a shift on the DB.

1. Rondfahrt
Frankfurt Platform 8 to Frankfurt Platform 7 Time 5:00 This is a complete round robin of the route using the ICE3 Sit back and enjoy the scenery as you travel up one side of the Rhine Valley and back down the other. Watch the timetable though or you could be late getting back.

2. Sonderzug durchs Rheintal Time 1:20 No. 4 in the manual Mainz to Koblenz
The first activity to use the DB103 TEE and it is a special. This trip from Mainz to Koblenz is a sightseeing tour for the lovers of the Rhine Valley and opportunities must be provided for photograph stops. Rapid acceleration and deceleration should be avoided at all costs as many of your passengers are standing in the corridors with their cameras. After driving the ICE3 this made a refreshing change.

3. Lokfuhrerschicht (Part 2) Time 4:00 No. 5 in the manual Frankfurt to Cologne
See first paragraph of activities

4. Morgenzug Koln Frankfurt Time 2:25 No.1 in the manual Cologne to Frankfurt
The morning train from Cologne to Frankfurt. Keep a close eye on your time as you stop at Bonn, Koblenz, Mainz, Frankfurt Airport and finally Frankfurt. There is AI traffic in the form of Regional Trains and you could run against a RED if you are too early or late on the route especially as you are in control of the ICE3.

5. Nachtzug Frankfurt Koln Time 2:20 No. 3 in the manual Frankfurt to Cologne
This activity has you driving the Night Regional Service in the form of a DB103. Very little AI traffic but watch out for the deer that emerge from the heavy woodland areas into your headlights as you drive in the dark with falling rain. USE YOUR HORN!!

6. Schneetreiben Time 3:30 No. 2 in the manual Frankfurt to Cologne in the Winter Snow
This activity has you driving a Regional Train in form of the DB103 TEE as an additional service because of the heavy show. You will have to stop at EVERY station along the route to pick up and drop off passengers who have missed connecting trains. Make sure you use your sand wisely on the gradients and allow extra time to slow and stop at the stations, the ice is wicked.

Activities 7,8, 10, 11 and 12 are short activities but still provide adequate opportunity to get a feel for the route.

7. Eurocity Basel Berlin Time 1:10 Mainz to Ehrenbreitstein
A good medium length starter driving the DB103 TEE around the eastern end of the route. Watch your speed on the curves.

8. ICE Koblenz Koln Time 1:02 Koblenz to Cologne
This is the third activity in the set to use the ICE3. It is however probably the best starter activity to get used to the handling characteristics of the ICE3 over the route from Koblenz to Cologne.

9. Lokfuhrerschicht (Part 1) Time 4:30 Cologne to Frankfurt
See first paragraph of activities.

10. Noteinstatz Time 1:30 Remagen to Mainz
This is another scenario activity that is extremely difficult. It appears that the original Intercity from Bonn to Mainz has broken down and you are the replacement service. Can you catch up to the original timetable and arrive in Mainz on time. I would suggest you try one of the other DB130 activities first to get a feel for the handling of the loco before attempting this activity.

11. Performance Test ICE Time 0:30 Frankfurt to Mainz
This is one very difficult activity. Not for the faint hearted. It is more a test of your ability to drive the ICE3 to its limits AND keep to the speed limits, rather than a Performance test of the ICE3 itself. Extremely demanding and well thought out.

12. Stellwerkfehler Time 0:41 Mainz to Frankfurt
The final activity is again a short one and an ideal starter to get a feel for the DB103 handling characteristics.

Cab view of the DB130 TEE DB130 TEE leaving Frankfurt Side view of the IC coach travelling behind the DB130 TEE DB130 TEE in the snow
Summary
An excellent addon overall but with its minus points which I have left until now as I didn't want to spoil the overall picture on the way through the review.

Minus Points: Trackwork over 99% of the route is top quality but there are a couple of locations where the tracklaying has gone awry. It doesn't affect the driving experience but it does look a bit strange. Finally, and you can take this as a plus or minus point, the textures are a little blurry at times. This I suspect is intentional in an attempt to keep up frame rates.

I would thoroughly recommend this addon as a complete and well put together package. A good choice of route, good choice of appropriate rolling stock and very well thought out activities.

Overall score:

97%


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