• Berlin Subway

    Berlin Subway

    By Jane-Rachel Whittaker (20 January 2006)

    The city of Berlin fell victim to a clash of cultures in 1945 when capitalism met communism. As the war in Europe came to a close the suspicion and mutual distrust between the ideologies of East and West saw the drawing of an iron curtain across Europe. To the residents of Berlin the iron curtain was more than a political dividing line on a map but a wall erected from concrete that split the city in two. Families were separated for nearly 40 years based on nothing more than the suburb they occupied in the city and to which side of the wall their community found itself. The luckier ones were able to remain under the democratic control of West Germany and the allies but many found themselves under Soviet oppression and endured many years of corruption and communism that led to wholesale dereliction and decay. Tales of heroism from those who found ingenious means to scale the wall to freedom and frontiers such as Checkpoint Charlie have defined Berlin in the eyes of many. The rise of democracy across Eastern Europe led to her own citizens literally tearing down the Berlin Wall, often with their bare hands, paving the way for the reunification of Germany.

           
    Against this backdrop Aerosoft and TML have released "Berlin Subway" as an expansion for Microsoft Train Simulator. The graphics engine in MSTS has dated badly since first release and the developers have taken the bold step of creating a whole new graphics system that is bolted over the top of MSTS providing custom graphics for the entire Berlin experience. As such after installation Berlin Subway has to be launched from its own desktop icon. This leads into a range of configuration screens from choosing realism options to a choice of rolling stock.

    One of the most immediately apparent innovations is to opportunity to create a variety of weather conditions including winds and a choice of seasons. If you desire your trains to run in heavy snow, rain or brilliant sunshine then the options are all here with a plethora of weather effects. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to create a Berlin winter scene with blanket snow and heavy winds. Of course fighting the elements and running your motive power relentlessly can take its toll on the wear and tear of the equipment and Berlin Subway also provides a unique maintenance module. By choosing to operate in fully realistic mode then rolling stock needs to be both cleaned regularly and maintained. Failure to maintain the equipment in good running order leads to increasingly dirty trains, this dirt being reflected both in the interior cab view and exterior train views and worse still the possibility of failures and breakdowns. All repairs are carried out in real time, so if the realism mode is chosen a unit that is in the repair shop will not be available for use for some hours!

    Luckily there is quite a variety of rolling stock including the H-97, UL2, A3L92, F68 and the G1/1 multiple units representing equipment manufactured in the West and those inherited from the Communist regime after reunification. Once all the configuration choices have been made to your satisfaction a button press launches MSTS from within the Berlin Subway editor, loading a specially customised version with Berlin Subway splash screens and only the Berlin routes being available. I was relieved to find that opening MSTS independently of Berlin Subway still provided normal operation of previous routes and rolling stock, the customisations only taking effect when running MSTS from the Berlin launcher.

           
    When initially being presented with Berlin Subway for review I was concerned as to the appeal of a subway simulator. The idea of travelling underground through dark and dank tunnels initially seemed considerably less glamorous and interesting than operating a steam train through rolling countryside. Within a couple of minutes of launching Berlin Subway these myths were dispelled and I was completely hooked. The new graphics system provides the most immersive experience I have ever encountered in MSTS. The subway network came to life in exquisite detail finding myself in everything from graffiti adorned tunnels and 1930's stations to modern complexes all lit with a stunningly realistic lighting system.

    The uniqueness of the Berlin Subway was assured when the system was also split with the rest of the city. Some lines fell into decay with rolling stock being abandoned on platforms where they stood and being coverted into ad-hoc fleamarkets and bazaars! Reunification of Germany saw a massive restoration program for the entire Berlin Subway system and has created a network of contrasts with pre-war, austere communist and liberal capitalist station architecture standing side by side. The U2 North-South line and the U8 East-West lines have been recreated in immaculate detail offering around 2 hours worth of track to explore end-to-end. The U8 line had the distinction of passing through the communist controlled sector where trains were allowed to continue albeit with the stations being closed and guarded 24 hours a day by heavily armed troops with trains being forbidden to stop!

           
    These stations have now been fully reopened and within the Berlin Subway simulation now teem with life with the inclusion of a vast array of commuters being added to all the platforms. I was particularly impressed with the ability to open the train doors at each station to be greeted with the ambient sounds of hustle and bustle as commuters and tourists jostled to board the train. A particularly impressive feature is the announcement system that, on a keypress, allows the driver to announce arrival at each station on the route with each station name being properly vocalised and announcing either a left or right door exit.

    If you are unfamiliar with the network and are wondering why a weather simulator has been included in a subway simulation the answer lies in the fact that not all of the modelled U2 and U8 lines are underground but large tracts actually travel overground on bridges and embankments that traverse the city. Again such was the quality of the graphics detail that I actually felt I was in Berlin with views of modern Berlin transposed with bleak tenement buildings that seem determined to offer a haunting reminder of Communist oppression and despair whilst they cling onto an existence in defiance of the bulldozers that have become a symbol for the vast refurbishment of the city. I did however, have to be careful not to get too carried away with sightseeing as a fully authentic signalling system is an integral part of the simulation and I had to pay careful attention to only proceed as directed to avoid mishaps with computer controlled trains that also inhabit the network. Engineering work is also in evidence and care has to be taken to obey all speed restrictions in force lest the automated safety systems onboard the trains apply the emergency brakes in response to driver negligence. I have to admit I found myself in this situation a number of times in my initial explorations of the system, being so absorbed by the sumptuous graphics to the detriment of my driving skills, which was probably much to the annoyance of my virtual passengers! When each line was explored to my hearts content I was able to delve into the included activities and was delighted to find that a whopping 46 separate activities were available with everything from all-stations passenger services to taking a unit to the train washing facility!

           
    Berlin subway is simply phenomenal and single-handedly breathes a new lease of life into the aging MSTS with a custom graphics engine that left my jaw on the floor coupled to the incredibly researched and detailed network that ensured that every square inch of track was not only true to life but unique. The choice of Berlin to showcase this new technology is an inspired one with the city's ambience and ghosts of its turbulent 20th century history pervading every nook and cranny of this simulation. Those of us who thought that MSTS was reaching the end of its useful life may well have to think again! All I can say in conclusion is please Aerosoft and TML can we have more of these simulations, the London Underground Circle Line and New York transit systems spring to mind, hint hint!


    Publisher: Aerosoft
    Developer: TML
    Requirements: fully patched Microsoft Train Simulator
    Price: $34.99
    Purchase Here

    Jane-Rachel Whittaker
    [email protected]

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