TRANSPORT SIMULATION UK

World of Subways Volume One - The PATH - Review


Introduction

World of Subways (WOS) is a brand new commercial train simulation product and not an add-on for any of the existing programmes. It has been developed by TML (the same designers who created the Berlin Subway add-on for MSTS) and is published by Aerosoft. The initial release features the PATH urban transit route linking 33rd Street and the (site of) World Trade Centre in New York to Hoboken and Newark in New Jersey and is a standalone product, however further releases in the series are planned.

Initial release of the game was via download from Aerosoft and this purchase option is still available however it can also be bought on CD-ROM, either direct from the publisher or (for the UK at least) on-line retailers such as Play and Amazon. I'm not sure if it's getting a wider release into High Street shops. I bought the CD version which includes a manual (German/English) and a foldout card with listing signal aspects and other lineside signage. Installation is easy though the game does require the very latest version of Direct X (included with the installer) and you must choose whether you wish to install the standard version or a low detail version for less powerful PC's. The disc needs to be in the drive while playing the game but (so far as I can tell) WOS does not install any DRM or SecureROM type checking mechanism which has brought some more mainstream products into disrepute recently.

It's worth noting that the key commands listed in the manual do not correspond with those preset in the Options menu which is also missing a couple of assignments. This is easily remedied and you can change the keys according to your personal preference.


Graphics

WOS utilises the C4 graphics engine (further information here) and in my view represents a mammoth leap forward in the visual quality of a train simulation. It certainly looks better than the EA/Kuju Rail Simulator and even looks to have an edge over the pre-release imagery of MSTS2. It looks almost as good as contemporary non railway games such as GTA IV (PS3) and Call of Duty. Of course, KRS and MSTS2 are setting out to represent much larger areas than on offer here and support the world building sandbox but it has to be said WOS projects a much more integrated feel from having presumably been coded within the graphics engine rather than by plonking objects down in a world editor...which tends to give a route the impression it has been created by plonking objects down in a world editor.

I defy anyone not to feel their jaw dropping as you move through the tunnel sections with their hanging pipes and cables, grungy tiled or lined walls with dark and shadowy alcoves. This is suspension of disbelief at its highest level. The PATH route also features an overground section and the same attention to lineside detail is apparent here and beautifully enhanced by the superb lighting, diurnal and weather effects. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is almost movie quality - particularly when viewed at high resolution.

While moving AI trains are supported for the PATH network itself, where the line runs adjacent to Amtrak and freight railroads the mainline is represented by static models only. Likewise, trafiic on nearby roads and freeways is stationary - maybe suffering from gridlock!

Stations are populated with people though while they are presented in 3D only some are animated and the number present on the platform does not dynamically change to represent the actual loading figures for your train. It's also rumoured you can encounter trespassers on the line though I haven't come across/killed anyone just yet!

I am more than happy to award the graphics in World of Subways 10/10.


Sound

The "electrothrash" of a subway train is never going to match the stack talk of a heavy rail diesel loco but is still essential to the overall ambience and atmosphere of the simulation. TML have captured this very well along with the other cab and equipment sounds. I would advise though not switching on the train air-conditioning (sorry, passengers) as this is a bit rattley and can overwhelm the other effects. Track sound is reasonable though largely confined to crossing points and crossings together with a bit of flange squeal going round sharp corners. There's an annunciator system which you key to broadcast information to passengers as you progress on the run. There's also background noise at stations and sounds as you pass PATH trains on other lines.

All in all a very well put together sound package.

For sound I will go with a score of 8/10.



Physics

First the good news. TML have succeeded where other commercial simulations have failed miserably and implemented an excellent cab sway/bounce for the train in motion. Where things appear to have become a little unstuck is with the traction/movement physics themselves. Now I've not driven or even travelled on a PATH train but the general conscensus around the forums seems to bear out what I've found during testing - that a rework of this aspect is needed. The acceleration is very quick, particularly in Notch 4 making it very difficult to regulate speed. This is aggravated by the fact the trains have little or no inertia. Shutting off power results in a fairly rapid deceleration which is not in keeping with the performance expected of steel wheels turning on roller bearings.

In truth this is the only serious criticism I could find with the programme. I believe the developer is working on a fix but until/if this is forthcoming it does make precise control and adherence to speed limits more than a bit tricky.

So for physics I'm afraid the score does drop to 7.5/10.


Operation and Gameplay

Well, what can I say. If the graphics of WOS have your jaw dropping, the experience of actual driving experience will blow you away.

Starting in the menu you can choose which of the PATH routes you wish to operate and the type of subway car. TML have reproduced the entire timetable so you can choose at what time you wish to start. You also choose whether you want to make a single run or engage "Shift" mode where you follow the subsequent workings of that particular unit ("Diagram" in railway terms). A number of other options can also be selected at this point for example whether changeable weather conditions will be experienced on the open air sections or the possibility of random events affecting your run.

Once all this is set up, the sim launches and after a short loading pause you are in the cab. You may find this a bit spartan, lacking in gauges etc. (even a speedometer!) but apparently the PATH cabs are like that in reality. Help is at hand however in the form of several pop up windows which can be called up to display the Track Monitor, Station Details and other important information. You also need to set the cab up, by engaging the Deadmans device. There is an option to run with the requirement to keep this pressed at all times but continually holding down the spacebar is not my idea of fun, not to mention playing havoc with the keyboard buffer. PATH trains normally run with a Guard to make announcements and operate the doors but in WOS that's your job too.

The signal will clear just before departure time and once station duties are complete, off we go. I've already mentioned the cab sway but as you bump and squeal round the sharp curves you'll also notice the blue arcing as the train comes across gaps in the conductor rail. Driving the PATH is quite a challenge as the speed limits can change quite quickly and sometimes with very little warning. This is particularly apparent on the long surface run out towards Newark. Maximum line speed is 55 MPH but can suddenly change to 20 MPH where crossing over points. Some of the speedboards act as countdown markers (or advance warning) while others are actual commencement boards. As they all look identical it is difficult to tell which is which though once you have driven the route a few times this should become easier. The game expects you to approach station stops at no more than 15 MPH, however from what I've read on the forums this is not the case on the prototype where trains make the normal scorching type rapid transit stops.

Moving along a bit, If you have the train state monitor enabled you will see a numerical indication of the passengers boarding and leaving the train. On arrival at your destination, press "c" to get your score and performance rating. If you have elected to do shift operation this is where one of the really cool features of WOS kicks in. After shutting down the cab, you actually alight from the train and walk along the platform to change ends from a first person viewpoint. Apparently at one or two stations you can even abandon your train completely, find the exit and and physically walk, GTA/FPS style, up to street level and view the city surroundings. This is a wonderful feature and one which I expect all other train sims from now on to adopt. Not sure if your train is still waiting for you on return or the AI takes over. In real life this would no doubt result in a visit to the local manager's "attitude adjustment clinic".

The timetable, shift and indeed career mode are a great idea and one which other train sim developers ought to consider. Hopefully TML will enhance the idea further for subsequent products. For example, it appears the current system simply "steps up" you to the next available departure time rather than necessarily keeping the train-set/crew in balance. Not all the trains in the timetable are physically represented (the AI is actually a bit sparse) so compared to say Zusi you don't see the culmative effects of late running. You can save your shift progress at the destination station but not actually during a run (something that might need to be tweaked for future releases with longer routes).

I haven't found any runs that either start or finish with the train going off or on the depot.

I haven't been able to tell if there is dynamic routing or signalling or whether trains follow a pre-determined PATH (sorry, no pun intended).

At the moment it appears you can only work a shift on the inititially selected route/line. That is to say, after doing a couple of round trips from Newark to WTC you can't switch to the Hoboken run.

Apart from those few niggles, then, the operational side of WOS is very good. Unlike other sims where you mindlessly engage Notch 8 and trundle uphill, the game does challenge your driving skills and you have to plan ahead and think about your actions.

Final rating for this aspect - nigh on perfect...9.5/10.


Utilities

World of Subways does not ship with any sort of third party route editor or sandbox. I assume this is because the graphics are all hard coded rather than put together in a world editor. I have no issue with this - there are plenty of other sims which include the sandbox for content builders. In any event, the most recently released sims (and presumably the forthcoming MSTS2 also) impose a much higher technical burden on those wishing to produce quality content to the point at which maybe it is time accept this is best left to professionals with proper studio, resources and know how.

With the full 24/7 timetable to choose from there's also little need for any sort of activity or scenario editor. Everything you need is already in the box.


Conclusions

I must admit to being thoroughly impressed with WOS Vol.1. This is a train simulation that has been crafted by designers that know the user base and while it is aimed at the more hardcore end of the genre, features such as the ability to explore outside the train will appeal to the more casual user.

There are a few bugs and issues that TML need to resolve within World of Subways but I am confident these will be addressed. There are more WOS in the pipeline and a host of real world prototypes waiting to be modelled. The PATH route demonstrates that the game engine performs equally as well above ground as below and in time I hope the developers will consider expanding the scope to include heavy rail operations as well.

So nothing but high praise for World of Subways. I am very pleased to offer World of Subways Volume 1 a well deserved overall score of:

87.5%


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This page created on 24 October 2008 and last updated 24 October 2008