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Review: Rail Simulator Offical Expansion Pack
Developer: RSDL, Publisher: Just Trains
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 18 June 2008


This review is of a product published by Just Trains and developed by Rail Simulator Developments Limited (RSDL henceforth) called "Rail Simulator: Official Expansion Pack". The RRP for this pack is 19.99 and is available from all good stockists (including us and the JustTrains shop) - or if you shop around over at Amazon or other equivalents i'm sure you can get an even better bargain.

Within this pack there are two principal elements, a UK Class 08 shunting locomotive and an American route, stock and scenarios called "The Cajon Pass". If you only want one or the other you can now go over to the RSDL web site - http://www.railsimulator.com and pick up either one separately. The 08 pack is available for 9.99 and the Cajon Pass route is available for 12.99, so if you want the pair of them you're definitely better off picking up the Just Trains pack (and see in my conclusions section regarding why you might want to consider the Cajon Pass even if you don`t want the route itself...), but if you only want one then you can save a few pounds and just buy it direct from RSDL. Note that the RSDL packs are only available in a download format - so if you want a box and a disc, you'll need the Just Trains add-on.

Ok, time to start looking at what's inside the box.

UK Class 08 Shunting Locomotive

Probably the quintessential locomotive, fundamental to almost all operations for more than the last 50 years on British Railways, the Class 08 can be instantly recognised by all. I'll leave further background to other sources such as Wikipedia for those that don't know the loco! Suffice to say it's a powerful little beast with well over 1,000 of them built.

This pack features the Class 08 in two primary variations (with and without the ladder at the front) covering a massive twelve different liveries that the loco has carried.

The liveries included are:

  • BR Black
  • BR Green
  • BR Blue
  • Railfreight Red Stripe
  • First Group Blue
  • Intercity
  • Network South East
  • Rail Express Systems (RES) - Dark Grey and Red
  • Regional Railways (Provincial)
  • Railfreight Sector Grey
  • BR Blue 'Thornaby'
  • RES Parcels (All Red)

All the liveries have been superbly drawn and have an extremely realistic feel to them. The advanced graphics engine of Rail Simulator does the loco justice with its superb shadowing. I've included screenshots from all of the liveries showing both front and back (though most are only showing from the same side, I have included one or two from a different side so you can see that the model is correctly different!).

The quality of the 3D model itself is outstanding with an enormous amount of detail captured and faithfully represented you can easily lose a good while just wandering around the model zooming in to various bits to marvel at the attention to detail.

There is also an extremely high quality cab view included, you'll be able to appreciate the very cramped operating conditions of this unit as you drive it! You can either look forwards along the engine or you can look back out through the rear windows, which can be useful for when you're backing up to couple to some wagons. Windscreen wipers are also animated in both sets of windows.

I must admit to not having heard an 08 for real (I shall now stand in the corner ashamed!) but the sounds do seem very well recorded and appropriate, certainly when you hook it up to your Rail Driver you'll appreciate the base as you throttle up.

I also have to admit to never having driven an 08, though I dare say most readers will be able to sympathise with that at least... so I can't say whether the physics are good - again though, they seem pretty reasonable, it's a tough little loco that can haul a lot but it isn't going anywhere in a hurry. I certainly have no complaints in this department, but take that along with my lack of first hand experience.

In addition to the 08 in 12 liveries you also get six new scenarios, two for each of the UK routes included in the main Rail Simulator package. A little artistic license has been taken to use the BR Black 08 on the Somerset and Dorset line. The six shunting activities are great fun if you like shunting, careful reading of instructions and watching what you're doing in some of the big yards will yield a successful result in all the activities and while they are interesting and challenging none of them are particularly hard if you do as you're told. There's also plenty of AI traffic running on the main lines to provide a bit of interest in the background as you work in the yard.

Overall I give the 08 pack a very good 95%, extremely well put together and a treat to drive.

As an addendum to this, I would have to say this is one loco that really benefits from the RailDriver - while it operates superbly without one, it is extremely satisfying shunting this little thing back and forth using the controls on the RailDriver unit.

The Cajon Pass

The Cajon Pass is a famous route in the United States with 80 miles of track from San Bernadino in Southern California to Barstow in the North. With two routes, one much steeper than the other and all inclines and so forth faithfully reproduced this one is a challenge for the US freight engineer.

The US release of the base Rail Simulator product includes this Cajon Pass route as one of the default routes; our stateside friends did not get the Newcastle to York route in their version.

According to the manual, the full list of included items is as follows:

  • Highly Detailed Union Pacific ES44AC and SD40-2 locomotive
  • Bonus content - black reskins for the two locos
  • 11 Unique Rolling Stock wagons
  • Seven Scenarios including three new bonus ones
  • Detailed and accurately placed landmarks and notable buildings
  • Realistic Sounds
  • Authentic terrain mapping and track placement
  • AI Train operations

Note: "Bonus" content refers to items that are on this pack but are not included in the base US version of Rail Simulator.

Before I go any further I must point out that I know very little about US operations, so this review is going to be from a casual perspective - I would advise a trip to the forums at train-sim.com to see what folks on the other side of the pond think about the way us brits have recreated a famous part of their country.

The rolling stock appears very detailed and well modelled, liveries are cleanly applied with no visible marks or defects. Overall, it's up to the same standard as the default stuff that came with the base version of the product, and I feel that is a great level to match. Cabs and sounds are included and all seem great.

One addition they've made to the stock that wasn't included in the UK stock is that the caboose (brake van in UK terminology!) has a passenger view. It's a simple thing and it's been done in MSTS and other sims for years now, so i'm not quite sure why it was left off of the UK stock... but then this isn't a review of the base simulator - it IS included in the US caboose and is very good indeed!

The route is where I want to spend a bit of time because this is really fantastic, and i'll be honest and say I normally don't really get much out of many of the US add-ons for MSTS for various reasons - but I have to say that this one really caught my attention. I first saw this one quite early on prior to its US release and was immediately taken by it, the attention to detail is staggering with detailed scenery going back quite a long way to the distance. What is essentially a desert route from start to finish has been brought to life with masses of detailed and varied scenery. There are even a few extra surprises that they came up with for this route that didn't go in to any of the UK routes or the German route (remember that this route was started after all the others were done and thus has all the experience and skill they developed doing the UK and German routes). One such surprise can be found at the signals, i've included a screenshot of the effect as it's much easier to see than to describe. The reflection of the light on to the inside of the signal cover is actually quite a simple effect but it's extremely effective.

While taking the screenshots for this review I took the camera over to some of the lineside scenic buildings to get some shots and you can hopefully appreciate from them that they are extremely detailed models, they really do look amazing. What's great is that this doesn't mean you need a super computer to run the route, lots of "level of detail" reductions are included and if your machine can't cope with the super detail you can just crank it down until you're happy with the performance / quality trade-off.

There is one nice little scene at an Airport which has some nicely built Cessna aircraft, with one even taking off - however note that this is simply hanging in the air and not actually moving. Fine for screenshots, but it does look a little odd as you drive past if you spot it.

There are some dramatic rock effects as you go and the route really will capture your attention for the majority of its 80 mile journey as you take in the scenery.

The scenarios included are a fairly simple set-up, there's nothing that's going to challenge you too much and you won't find any new tricks there that aren't used already in the other default routes. I'd say they were a reasonable introdution to the route and stock but you'll probably want to find others to download or even make up your own.

Overall I give the Cajon route 90% - it's a superb route with some great stock and it's really only the scenarios that let it down, but then that's a common issue with the default routes in Rail Simulator and largely down to some issues in the core product itself.

Final Comments

At 19.99 the JustTrains pack makes for exceptional value if you want both add-ons together - If you only want one of them then do also keep in mind that while the 08 pack is a reasonable download the Cajon Pass route will be several hundred megabytes and it might just be a lot easier to buy the disc. However, at least with the option it's up to you to choose what's best for you and that`s fantastic..

There is one very good reason why you might want to get the pair of them even if you only really want the 08, and it's something that I think RSDL could have perhaps thought about a bit more before letting it happen. We are now in a situation where those in the US have a product consisting of different default routes to those in the rest of the world. Why is this significant? If you want to run a route that is created by someone with the US version of Rail Simulator then you won't have the necessary scenic items if they've re-used anything from Cajon Pass. Similarly, if you have the US version and want to run something that someone else has created using scenery from the default Newcastle route - it won't work. Therefore, even if you're not actually interested in US routes, or not this US route, the pack is probably well worth having just to make sure you're covered and all add-ons are going to work - because if they've used Cajon Pass content then that route will be completely unavailable to you until you do get the Cajon Pass route, the scenery is not available by any other means.

Those with the US version can purchase the Newcastle to York route as a separate download from RSDL for the sum of $15.99.

Finally, whether you want the US route or not (and I do think you'll like it even if you haven't normally been taken by the stateside railroading) I cannot recommend the 08 highly enough, in my opinion it should be a mandatory part of every diesel era fan's stock collection!



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