Review: JustTrains Manor|
Reviewed By JaneRachel Whittaker
Date: 12 May 2013
The Manor From Heaven
After much anticipation, Just Trains have released their GWR "Manor" class locomotive for Train Simulator 2013 (TS2013).
At the time of their inception the GWR had a very specific need. The huge GWR network had, after grouping, inherited thousands of miles of secondary routes and branch lines, crisscrossing the west of the UK. Unfortunately, many of these lines were deemed unsuitable for the heavier GWR locomotives such as the "Kings" and "Castles". Lighter locomotives at the time, whilst able to traverse these weight limited tracks were offering less than sterling performance, with many routes offering steep inclines that taxed the GWR motive power of the day. The GWR really needed a class of locomotive that had both the power to improve performance, whilst working within the penalties imposed by the lines which precluded larger motive power. The Manor class was born as a compromise between loco weight and performance. Twenty were built between 1938 and 1939, proving so successful that after nationalisation British Railways ordered a further ten built at Swindon in 1950. The class quickly found a home on mixed traffic duties, hauling freight and passengers across the GWR network, from light freight in Somerset, to the Cambrian coast expresses, hauling passenger services across the notorious and weight restricted Cambrian coast line to Aberystwyth in North Wales. The Manors, despite being designed for secondary duties often found their way on to the main line too, deputising for other locomotives on a range of services. The popularity of the class has seen 9 of the 30 locomotives built survive into preservation.
The anticipation by fans of the class has stoked up the pressure on Just Trains and the development team to release something special for their TS2013 incarnation. They have risen to the challenge, releasing the loco in two separate packs, the base pack priced at £14.99 UK Pounds and the expansion currently on offer for £4.99. The base pack offers fantastic value and can be used without purchase of the optional expansion, but aficionados are going to want to purchase both packs simultaneously for the wealth of extra content on offer.
The base pack includes the following:-
- 7812 Erlestoke Manor
- 7821 Ditcheat Manor
- 7823 Hook Norton Manor
- 7827 Lydham Manor
- 7828 Odney Manor
Also included are ten scenarios, and a pack of Just Trains Mk 1 coaches. The locomotives themselves offer three distinct liveries, BR lined green, BR lined black and with Lydham Manor appearing in GWR lined green, complete with tenders with both early and late style emblems.
This ensemble is enhanced by the expansion pack which additionally offers:-
- 7800 Torquay Manor
- 7802 Bradley Manor
- 7805 Broome Manor
- 7810 Draycott Manor
- 7818 Granville Manor
- 7822 Foxcote Manor
The expansion models are in GWR lined green, representing the original liveries from 1938 until nationalisation and also feature the early lipped chimney. A welcome addition is the inclusion of the 4000 gallon tender used in preservation by 7802 Bradley Manor, which can also be operated with the 3500 gallon tender from GWR service. A further nine scenarios bring the grand total to a whopping selection of nineteen scenarios when both packs are purchased.
The package is fully TS2013 compatible and includes quick drive compatibility for all 11 locomotives with various load configurations, ensuring that regardless of your route of choice, the Manor Class can find a home on your preferred tracks!
Firing Up The Manor
Turning to the locomotive footplate, I was immediately impressed by the quality of both the texturing and lighting. All of the cab controls and gauges are crisp and clear and this is enhanced by a cab that works well in ambient light. I have been disappointed by many footplates in the past which have been incredibly dark in the simulator, making operation difficult. No such difficulties exist here, everything is both beautifully rendered and visible, without being over bright, giving an extremely realistic experience. It is also worth pointing out that the default driver's position has the camera perfectly placed for a view of the road ahead. How many steam locos in TS2013 have the driving view central in the cab, making it impossible to see ahead without resorting to a head-out view? Top marks to the developer for giving us an accurate viewpoint for the driver, which helps make the Manor a real joy to operate. Those new to the GWR may be surprised to find that this is a right-hand drive locomotive, as was common for the railway.
For those more used to driving in TS2013 with the mouse and HUD, the Manor really rewards taking the time to drive from the footplate, with all the controls being fully animated and operational with the mouse. The quality of animation is impressive, setting a standard within the simulation that others will have to follow. If that were not enough the animations are supplemented by sounds recorded from a real Manor locomotive in preservation. I tried to count the individual sounds, but quickly realised there were a plethora, every handle has a characteristic sound, water can be heard rushing through the injector system, hisses of steam and mechanical clangs, the tell-tale Great Western loco "tick tock" sound, grunts, groans and squeals bring the cab to life in astonishing detail. If the Manor were any more realistic, I really believe the heat from the firebox would melt my monitor!
The ambient cab sounds are matched by equally impressive external sounds. Put the Manor to work on a hard climb and just listen to that boiler working! I look forward to seeing "whistle" boards on the track just to have an excuse to hear the whistle sound. Pull in to a station and listen to the gentler idling until releasing the cylinder cocks with a very satisfying hiss! The only thing missing is the second whistle, which is being promised for a future patch. Purists please note, the cylinder cocks will not release steam unless the regulator is open, offering welcome realism.
If you can tear yourself away from the footplate, you will be treated to the view of an exceptionally well built model of the Manor, which is stunningly realistic, both in modelling and texturing, although it has to be said the headlamps are overly powerful. Again, this is a fix promised for the forthcoming service pack. Externally too, a wealth of animations make the Manor a real standout from the crowd.
Pitch Perfect Performance
It is notoriously difficult to match the physics and performance of a real steam locomotive in a desktop simulation, yet it is immediately apparent that this locomotive has been a labour of love for the developer. Armed with technical books and other references I put the loco through its paces on a selection of routes within TS2013. The loco operation was very close to published figures in performance, with appropriate values for regulator and cut-off, whilst operating exactly as I would expect her to do on gradients. The Manor is no Gresley racehorse, neither is she a slouch, drawing a middle line in performance that makes the driving experience extremely rewarding. This is a locomotive that benefits from driver experience as you learn her ways and coax her up the inclines. Careful driving and firing, aided and abetted by good route knowledge will see the Manor working at her best. This is a loco that enters in to a partnership with the driver and fireman, each relying on the other to play their part in the trinity. Once mastered, the Just Trains Manor offers an exquisite driving experience that leaves the competition standing in the station. It may sound a cliché, but it is entirely true, spend time with her and you will grow to love her!
Many developers seem to forget that many of us neither have the time or skills to create our own scenarios. There is nothing more disappointing than buying a new locomotive for the simulation only to find there are hardly any opportunities to drive it! Just Trains have recognised that content is king, with the base pack and expansion cumulatively offering 19 engaging scenarios. Appropriately enough, the majority of these scenarios are on the Somerset and Dorset route, which was of course, GWR home turf for the Manor Class, with the additional benefit of being a route included in the simulation. Just Train's own Bristol and Avonmouth also makes an appearance in the scenario list, along with the Great Western mainline from Paddington, the London to Brighton line and surprisingly an intriguing guest appearance at the Isle of Wight! Just Trains Bristol to Exeter plays host to a single scenario, which can be found in the expansion pack.
The scenarios are extremely well constructed and thought out, proving to be much more than a simple drive from A to B. In fact, things don't always go to plan, including mechanical failures that have to be rectified on the move! There is something for everyone, from working the hard gradients of the Somerset and Dorset with both freight and passenger operations, to the opportunity to really open the regulator and thrash the Manor on the mainline from Paddington. The variety of routes used, the range of consists and tasks involved ensure that there are no cookie cutter scenarios. Each scenario taxes the locomotive and driver in different ways, everyone offering a unique experience that showcases this proud locomotive. With the aid of my trusty calculator, I totalled up the scenarios to 14hrs 15 minutes of driving the Manor, each with replayability where you can just cannot help but want to improve your driving skills. Add to that the aforementioned quick drive compatibility and the hopes for further scenario expansions and you end up with limitless possibilities to climb aboard and open the regulator!
This may seem a very positive gushing review. The reason for that, is because it is! I class myself as a diehard Gresley fan, more used to steaming along East Coast metals with an A4 Pacific than riding a GWR footplate. Yet, this near perfect locomotive and massive raft of content won me over completely. Despite being a professional reviewer of simulations I find myself running out of superlatives to describe the Just Trains Manor.
I asked Matt Ivey, the lead developer, what is it that makes this locomotive so special -
"My aim is always to produce a model that is visually accurate and as detailed as possible... and hopefully the loving attention it has received speaks for itself. It's been in the works so speak over two years and I've lost count of the times I've made revisions to improve things. My painstaking attention to detail has been matched by Tom's (Tom Williams, he is employed by Just Trains) hard work on the physics and Sound. All in all it's had the Royal treatment."
I cannot argue with Matt's comments about the royal treatment as the Manor is destined to become a monarch, presiding over the other steam locos in TS2013!
[AUTHOR] Jane Whittaker