The news that Microsoft had abandoned another Train Simulator sequel didn't dismay the entire rail sim community. Many would have been more disturbed had the mysterious code samaritan behind openBVE announced he was walking away. Michelle appeared from nowhere a year ago, declaring he was going to modernise frumpy-but-faithful freeware train sim BVE by rewriting it from scratch. True to his word, he's done just that. Improvements include finer physics, external views (BVE is strictly cab-based) and animated scenery. Barring leaves on the line at Surbiton or escaped pumas at Chessington North, the first non-beta version of openBVE should enter service today.
One thing Michelle hasn't managed to do is make the sim significantly friendlier to the rail sim novice or PC illiterate. The install of the base package is a bit of a palaver and getting user-made routes and locos up and running can be tricky. Persevere however, and you'll wind up with an extremely atmospheric and accurate train sim.
What OpenBVE lacks in scenic splendour it more than makes up for in cab ambience and realism. Strong routes like Birmingham X-City South and quality rolling stock like the stuff available at TrainSimCentral.co.uk reveal just how demanding train driving is these days. Half the challenge is sticking to the speed limits and stopping next to those big concrete people shelves, the other half is learning the intricacies of the different locos and multiple-units. Most trains will grind to a halt every five minutes unless you're awake enough to cancel bleating ATS alarms (Insert). Don't think of jumping in without first printing the basic key commands and scrutinising the start-up procedure hints on the right side of the cab (use Ctrl + R to deactivate camera restriction if panning is impossible).
Currently few routes take advantage of OpenBVE's more advanced features. When trains come with external models, they're often crude. Until BVE stalwarts such as Anthony Bowden complete projects like his Watford Junction to Rugby route, we're not going to see the true worth of this unique sim.