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.