Have You Played… Microsoft Train Simulator?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

If you’re a fan of blistering bullet trains and beautiful Bo-Bo-Bos, the Train Simulator 2016 DLC list must make depressing reading. Today’s top rail sim seems to have no interest in the iron horses of Japan. How different things were back in 2001.

Microsoft Train Simulator shipped with two Japanese and two US routes plus Austrian and British real estate. Fond of bucolic branchlines and dawdling railcars I quickly developed an affection for the mountainous Hisatsu Line and the boxy KiHa 31 diesel units that worked it. Guided by a glossy gate-fold guide to signals and speed limit signage I spent many happy hours trundling back and forth between Yatsushiro and Yoshimatsu, picking up and depositing invisible passengers, admiring scenery, and sounding my maudlin horn at the deer that often trespassed on the track.

The name and title font suggested a link with Microsoft Games’ aerial opus, but MSTS was actually coded in the UK. Just about the only characteristics it shared with its winged stablemate were a respect for realism and a refreshingly liberal approach to augmentation. With help from add-on artisans – some of whom realised there was money to be made crafting additional routes and rolling stock – MSTS grew steadily until the sim that started life as the cancelled Microsoft Train Simulator 2 (Rail Simulator aka RailWorks aka Train Simulator) eventually shunted it out of the limelight.

I still return from time to time in order to travel favourite lines like Hisatsu, the Great Eastern, and the North Wales Coast Route, but these days most of my MSTSing is done via the enhanced community-made remake Open Rails.


  1. phelix says:

    I haven’t really, but my father was (being an avid rail enthusiast but otherwise not particularly into computers) completely addicted to MTS for many, many years, ending only when Windows 8 rolled around and broke the game.
    Whenever he got a new laptop, he would ask me to “find some way” to install MTS on it, and my parents still have the original CD buried somewhere in their home.
    I was rather young when it came out and I mostly remember hammering the spacebar to sound the horn, and completely failing at driving the Orient Express (invariable puffing to a halt after a few KM).

    • Massenstein says:

      D: that story broke my heart so much I had to create an account to comment. Please tell me you have found a way to allow your father to play it again!

      • phelix says:

        Sadly, I never did :(
        I tried to sway him with alternative sims like Train Simulator 2016 or Rail Simulator, but to no avail. (He either disliked those or they would not run on his laptop)

        (This story has not ended, however. As this article started a train-based Wikipedia journey for me (the result of certain paternally inherited genes) I eventually stumbled across link to openrails.org , supposedly an open source reimplementation of MSTS. Will definitely try this.)

        • phelix says:

          And I did not even find the link to OpenRails in the article. Goodness me I should’ve drank more coffee yesterday before posting that and today before posting this.

          • BooleanBob says:

            Another avenue you might consider investigating is installing some sort of Virtual PC environment such as VMWare Player. If you still have installation CD for an older version of Windows it could make running MSTS a doddle.

    • IshtarGate says:

      My dad played this for quite a while, too! I think he tried Trainz, but never got into it as much as MTS. There was just something to it.

  2. Faldrath says:

    Speaking of trains, how good is Train Simulator 2016 these days? (I think I remember a lot of complaints when it first came out). Bear in mind I have never played a train game before and, well, I know very little about trains… but it’s rather cheapish on the Steam sale and I’m curious about it.

    • LewdPenguin says:

      Whilst it’s been some time since I last installed it some things I’m sure haven’t changed, namely that the game engine now feels older than many of the locomotives on view within, and whilst great things have been done to it since launch it really is well past it’s use by date. Supposedly there’s a new engine being worked on for a true sequel rather than just changing the name every year whilst wringing a few drops more out of a ~7 year old game.

      If you can get past it looking somewhat pants by todays standards and quite likely chugging along at not-great frame rates then it’s pretty fun, by default you get a handful of routes and locos to play with but there’s a ton of things available as either pDLC or mods so you’re unlikely to run out of things to play with. Not having any significant prior knowledge/experience of railways is probably an advantage in some ways as you won’t notice the few odd quirks in simulation that pop up occasionally (and are likely largely the result of people scripting in features well beyond what the game was ever meant to handle), I recall the game having a pretty decent tutorial setup to get you started (that I hated for going over so much basic stuff I know from irl already), and you can choose between simplified or full controls depending on how into it you want to get at any point.

      For £6/[insert funny foreign money here] it’s worth it I’d say, there’s so much content out there even without buying DLCs it’s a pretty great potential hours/£ on offer, happy driving!

    • charlesg says:

      I’d say it’s the best on the market, certainly in terms of graphics. That’s mostly because there’s not a lot of competition.

  3. Faldrath says:

    Thanks for the detailed reply! I guess buying the basic pack can’t hurt :)

  4. charlesg says:

    I always preferred BVE over MSTS.

    MSTS was prettier and probably more realistic when it came to long heavy freight trains, but BVE felt more immersive when the train would wobble and tilt on the track, just like in reality. And I really liked the G-force gauge, I missed that in MSTS, which did keep track of G-forces but never gave you any feedback other than a little mark on your report card at the end of a scenario, which just said you exceeded ride comfort one or more times.

    Railworks/Train Sim didn’t have this wobble and tilt at first when it came out, but it eventually got it. Features like “curve easements”, “superelevation” and “track unevenness”. But it only appears in routes that have been developed since they added this feature, if you’re playing an older route you may still not get to experience them. It moves the player cam around a bit to suggest these G-forces which is pretty cool.

    Now if only Train Sim 2016 would make it so the train wobbles slightly when passengers are boarding it. BVE’s been doing that since forever.

  5. April March says:

    I had no idea that Open Rails existed. Though it apparently comes without any trains or routes. Is it a good download for someone like me who literally discovered it exists this exact moment?