Review: West Somerset Railway|
UK Publisher: Just Trains
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 17 July 2004
The West Somerset Railway add-on has been bubbling away in the background for what seems like a very long time now. The add-on was developed by Railwaves who are very well known for producing some quite excellent sound add-ons for Microsoft Train Simulator, and published by JustTrains, who also have another famous preserved line on their catalogue - the Severn Valley Railway.
I bring up the Severn Valley Railway because it's bound to be compared - so let's get that out of the way first. There's nothing like as much rolling stock on WSR, but there's more than enough to keep you going and framerates are significantly better on WSR although the scenery isn't as dense it is more than sufficiently dense enough I think.
I'll start with the manual - there are two important points in the manual. The first is on page 2 and refers to installation of the route. You must have the default
Settle and Carlisle route installed or else you will run in to a lot of missing objects when you try to run the installed version. This is because the WSR route is borrowing some objects from the default routes - some people may not approve of this practice but it is certainly more and more common place. The second is in the section where there are two 'How to drive a steam engine' tutorials - the first is the only one you should really be looking at, that's the one written by the authors for this add-on and relates directly to the Manor loco that is included. The second was written by me for UKTrainSim Live exhibitions and was included in the Severn Valley Railway manual - the problem is that the Manor on WSR uses a different style of controlling the brakes than the loco type referred to in the second tutorial so it is actually wrong in this instance and will no doubt cause confusion. I will describe the new braking system in the loco section (next) but please do read the manual and make sure you understand it before wondering why you can't get your loco's to move :) Otherwise than those two points the manual is up to the usual high standards of JustTrains.
There are three items of powered rolling stock included in the route -
- D7017 Hymek
- D7017 Hymek with Yellow Nose both ends
- Class 117 DMU
- 7820 Dinmore Manor
- 7828 Odney Manor
Non-powered stock includes:
- Mk1 Chocolate and Cream coaches (7 types)
- SDRT Advertising Van
- GWR Toad Brake Van
- 12 Ton Plan Wagon
- GWR Siphon G Van
- GWR Gunpowder Van
- LMS 12 Ton Metal Box Van
- 4 Wheel Shell Tanker Van
- Milk Tanker
- Catfish Ballast Wagon (2 versions)
- Dogfish Ballast Wagon (2 versions)
As you can see, the stock list is quite a bit smaller than the obvious peer add-on, Severn Valley Railway - however it is much more along similar lines to 3DTrainStuff's
excellent Cambrian add-on. I don't think this add-on necessarily requires lots of stock to make it work, there's essentially one item of each type with something for each to haul.
The braking system on the Manor locomotives marks a departure from the normal and anyone who fails to read the manual carefully
(or indeed reads the second 'how to drive' tutorial) will become quickly confused. Conventionally Steamers in Train Simulator have
worked on a RELEASE-RUNNING-APPLY sequence, so to release the brakes you use the release key until the brakes read RELEASE and you can
then see the brake pipe gauge changing as the brakes come off. In the WSR Manor locomotives you will only be able to get your
brakes to the RUNNING stage and not in to the release stage - so at first glance you can't get the brakes off and your locomotives
won't budge. This is where 'RTFM' comes in. Using the Small Ejector (J) will release the brakes, press it while your brake
lever is in the RUNNING stage and you will see the brakes come off, once it's finished releasing you can press J again to close the
small ejector. It takes a little getting used to if you are familiar with the normal mechanism but it does seem to work quite well.
Far from being difficult for the sake of it, the reasoning behind this change is that it apparently more accurately reflects the way that you
use the brakes on the Manor (I can't comment on whether it actually does or not as I have no idea!).
Quality of the build is fantastic. The Manor locomotives look stunning and I would hazard a guess are photo textured. The hymek doesn't look quite right some how though I am not an expert (by any stretch of the imagination) so I can't tell you why it doesn't look quite right - either way it's not far off. The DMU is also stunning, overall a fantastic effort on the stock.
The Mark 1 stock unfortunatley does not have a passenger view, although the DMU does.
Cab Views - readers of my previous reviews may remember that I much prefer the rendered style of cab view similar to Blue Arrow and many other companies, in particular the cabs on Nene Valley Railway I found to be absolutely appalling to use - while they might be photo realistic, they aren't in the slightest bit practical, not to mention how grainy they look. None of this is true with WSR. The cabs supplied with WSR are done from photos so they look about as good as they can get, but they are perfectly clear, animate smoothly and just generally look as stunning as the loco's they are attached to. I may have to rethink my views on photo-based cab views after seeing these.
Just as the cab views have blown me away, so have the sounds. Sound effects on all three locomotives are out of this world - however I am less surprised about this having experienced Railwaves expertise in this field with their previous products. Sitting in the cab of the manor as you pull out of a station is so atmospheric it's unbelievable.
The only comment I would have about the stock is that it seems the bounding boxes are at the maximum extents including buffers (they ideally should only contain the main body of the stock with buffers and corridors sticking out) - the problem manifested by this is that you may find coaches buffeting around as you navigate gradients or curves.
Overall I am extremely impressed with the stock, the only one that just doesn't look right to me is the Hymek but that might just be me - there are screenshots of it included in this review, please judge for yourself on this aspect.
The real West Somerset Railway runs from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead, with a link line from Bishops Lydeard to Norton Fitzwarren that links the preserved line with the mainline railway. The route contains all of this, including the link to the main line - although scenery beyond Bishops Lydeard towards the mainline becomes quite sparse indeed and I would suggest is not intended for regular running. The full length of the route
is 23 miles.
Speed limits are the usual 25mph as with all preserved lines though you will have periodic drops to 10mph and 5mph these don't occurr too often.
Scenery across the route is excellent, while it isn't super-detailed like the Severn Valley Railway was and lacks some of the fun extras such as the animated fisherman, tractors, radio controlled plane and so forth it has more than sufficient to allow you to fully immerse yourself in the simulated world. The benefit of having less than super-detailed scenery is that the frame rates are superb and juttering is minimal, so I would suggest that this route can be run on a slightly lower spec machine.
I don't know the WSR myself having never visited there, however the route presents itself to you as being complete and well put together with some nice terrain texturing to colour the landscape as well as some superb models along the route.
The quality of track laying seems very good, there are some slightly odd bends in certain places but I didn't observe any bumps or kinks in my journeys around the WSR.
Overall I'm going to give the route itself top marks.
Finally the activities. There are a couple of minor errors with consists where coaches are facing the wrong way and thus their bogies and wheels turn the wrong way - though these are incredibly minor problems half the users of it are not likely to even see. The activities are fun though the route being single track doesn't lend itself to large amounts of AI. Activities include training runs for each of the three types of loco, passenger runs and some oddities like the Fish and Chip Special and bringing a loco back off the main line and in to the WSR.
Overall I am extremely pleased with this add-on. It is exceptionally well produced and completed to a high standard, it is able to run on a wider range of machines than some of the other routes that are available and the stock/cabs/sounds are just out of this world. If you are interested in the preserved railway scene then I absolutely and entirely recommend this add-on for you. If you are looking for 60mph+ main lines then this won't satisfy you at all, what there is of the main line has very little scenery and certainly not enough to be able to do any main line running.
As an extra bonus, this add-on is only £19.99 .
I'm giving this the same score as Severn Valley Railway.