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Review: Scenic Railway
Developer: Abacus, Publisher: Abacus Publishing
Reviewed By Matthew Peddlesden
Date: 2 July 2002
Scenic Railway is the latest offering from Abacus, it is a purely fictional route situated in the United States specifically targetted
towards those drivers who love freight.
There's very little in the box other than the CD and a small manual - unfortunately the manual has a couple of errors in it, most notably
lack of an entire section (the contents page refers to a section detailing Trains and Rolling stock on page 6 - this was not
present on my copy, though it's no major problem as there is only one loco anyway :) ).
On the CD you'll find a route that consumes 408mb when installed, 8 SD40 locomotives that are all identical except for the numbers on them,
a large variety of Freight stock and 12 activities.
Locomotives and Rolling Stock
Let's start with the loco's and rolling stock. The locomotives, SD-40's, are completed to a very high standard although I wasn't very happy with
the textures - white writing on black with a bit of red just seemed quite bland and actually made it so that they didn't look as good
as they actually were. I would have preferred a lighter colour main colour (eg. grey) that would have allowed them to really weather the
loco's, with them being clean black and white you also get more of an impression of "game" than you do "sim". Weathering would have also
allowed an opportunity to make the locomotives different in some other way than their number.
The locomotives have very good sound effects, heading up to the wye near the lumber yard with a bunch of wagons behind you can really hear
the thundering of the twin SD40's pulling the wagons up the hill.
The cab on the SD40's was very familiar to me - it's the one that we've all seen on the LTV Erie Mining Company pack attached to the
RS-11 and GP-20 locomotives. It has had some modifications done to it to alter its colouring but it is the same cab. I'll say up
front that the cab for LTV was my work that I did for Abacus some time ago and it was very nice to see it being used again on another
product. However, being brutally honest, it doesn't stack up against the work some of the professionals have been doing such as the F9
cab that came with LTV EMC and many of the European add-ons from other publishers. It is however fully functional so it does the
job nicely, and was designed for a locomotive that fits this profile so it certainly isn't out of place.
The freight is very good, as this is a freight add-on the developers have spent a lot of time working on a wide variety of freight
wagons for you to use. There are places at various points on the route where the wagons can be taken to or from, but we'll get on to
the route shortly. My only niggle with the freight is that some of it seems to have a 'flat tyre' - the wheels are buried a little
in to the rails. It really is a minor niggle but when it's so easy to fix you have to wonder how it got missed.
I have taken screenshots of various freight wagons so that you can see them for yourself instead of relying on my dodgy descriptions.
The most significant part of this pack has to be the route. It's quite a long route that takes you from Evergreen Steel at one end through
a winding journey to the MidValley Township. Along the way you have the Steel refinery, an Intermodal facility, a large yard, Iron and Fuel
yards, a Lumber facility and finally Flour and Paper at MidValley. As you can see, there's a lot of thought gone in to making this yard
fun for Freight fans.
Looking at the technical details of the route first, you can expect a route that has varied elevations and curves and winds all over the place
so you won't be sitting staring at straight track for ages. It is single track for the majority of the route, there are a few places where
it goes two or even three road but not very many. Unfortunately there are no signals anywhere on the route which means that these passing
places are of little or not use to third party activity creators. As I've said, it is freight only, there are no passenger stops anywher
along the route.
I have driven the route from end to end now and did not find any glitches or bumps in the track so it has been very well put down and risk
of uncoupling problems (such as those in LTV) should be nil.
Technical detail out of the way, what can you expect to actually see out of the window? Well, it's not called "Scenic Railway" without
good reason, I'll say that much. The developers have done a fantastic job in creating this fictional place and while you might no see
quite so much variation in a real world scenario it is definitely quite welcome in this pack.
There are large chunks on the route where you'll be going through forested areas, but there are numerous points of interest
along the route - some are not so much points as very large areas :)
Starting at Evergreen Steel we get to a tunnel that will take us in to a yard on the outskirts of Capital City. You can see things are
just starting to get busy along the route as the high-rise blocks start to come in to view and almost immediately you go under a road bridge
and you're in the thick of it.
The journey through Capital City is a very nice one with plenty to look at. There are a lot of road bridges that you will go under but the
best bit of Capital City in my opinion is as you come out towards Valley Fuel and Capital Iron, you go over a brick bridge that crosses
a river and the view is very good indeed - I have included a screenshot of it in amongst the many you can see in this review.
As you continue along the line you'll see a raging river, the white water rapids look very good indeed as you can see in the screenshots,
if anybody is wondering if they're moving the answer is no, they're not. However, with the visual effect (defect?) of the graphics
being drawn you do get a kind of wobbling effect that actually serves very nicely indeed.
Your next land mark is the Dam, which has been completed to a very high standard indeed, the river you crossed a little while earlier starts
here and you can see the water pouring in (again, it's not animated). Crystal Lake is what you see as you travel the other side of the Dam,
going across a couple of bridges until you get on to your journey towards Hillside Lumber and the MidValley Township.
Hillside Lumber is on a wye, if you carry on your journey without making any changes you will go straight past it.
MidValley looks really nice, very much like a small township.
As I have mentioned, there are a lot of forrested areas, so a lot of time has obviously been spent on the tree's to good effect.
Somewhat strangely the route uses a mixture of the automatic moving traffic system provided by MSTS (though with their own roads and
vehicles) and also of a completely stationary road system. It looks very strange indeed, i'm not sure if that's a bug somewhere or if it
is intended to be that way so as to put traffic on the roads and help framerates somehow.
There is some nasty stuttering as you go from each forrested area in to a more themed area such as the city, township or dam. This is to
be expected given the vast amount of detailed scenery that is present and needs to be loaded - but even on my 1.3ghz PC with a
GeForce 4 Ti4600 I saw the stutters fairly significantly so you should expect a few moments of stuttering as you drive. Reducing
the detail sliders will no doubt significantly help this situation.
Overall I was very impressed with the route, there are an awful lot of complex and superb custom models (indeed, there are no original
'default' models on the route at all) and every effect that they tried to pull off they did with flying colours.
The activities supplied will have you performing plenty of freight operations along the route. They range from fairly simple a-b and back
activities to quite complicated strings of go here, pick up this, drop off that, then go here, pick up these, go there and do this etc,
so if you are interested in Freight (which you probably are if you are still reading!) then you can certainly be sure of a challenge from
the supplied activities.
Unfortunately, due to the single track and unsignalled nature of the route you are not going to see any other trains at any point along
the route aside from two activities where there is one other train present for a few moments, so those hoping to get involved with passing
places and waiting for trains will be disappointed.
One thing to watch out for is that the authors have chosen to adopt messages telling you what to do, rather than reversing points. This
means that while there are some reversing points where the switches will be changed for you, you're going to be expected to operate them
manually quite a bit of the time. This adds a bit to the fun as you can solve the problems your way and makes you feel a little more
involved - but if you aren't expecting it, it can be quite wierd. When I first did one of the Lumber activities I was very confused when
it had said I was going to the Lumber yard and yet there was no reverse point visible near the wye - a quick visit to the Activity Editor
confirmed that I had been about 3 meters away from the message popup telling me to stop and reverse having manually changed the switch :)
Scenic Railway has an RRP of £19.99 which actually places it £5 below the normal price of most MSTS addons, whether this is because Abacus
are seeing if this is a better price to sell addons for or if they just feel that a fictional route can't command the 'full' price tag
I don't know, but it is worth bearing in mind when you are considering it.
It contains all the components of a 'complete' add-on, but the locomotives don't stand out as being anything special, then I would be very much
inclined to blame that on the poor texture choice. The freight is very good, the route is very picturesque but without signalling the
passing points are purely there for show or would require the user to follow a timetable quite strictly in order to ensure that their
train was completely out of the way by the time the AI train came hurtling towards you. The Activities are a lot of fun and will keep
you engaged for several hours.
If have a good interest in freight then I think you will get a good few hours enjoyment out of this pack but other than that I don't think
it would hold interest for particularly long.