For train buffs only
I've always been fascinated by trains and I'm not alone. Microsoft obviously knew that and therefore they attempted to make a train simulator franchise.
I'm no train driver but from what I experienced with Train Simulator, the designers did lots of homework and they built a really good simulator. Is it realistic? I couldn't know. But does it SEEM realistic to me? Yes it does.
The graphics are okay, and I can run it at full speed on an average 2003 computer with an under-average 3D card. So performance-wise it runs fine on today's machines. There are some nice details, such as snow or rain that get stuck on the cameras. The sound effects are not as good as the graphics, however: there are lots of clicks that could have been polished.
As with all simulators, the learning curve is high, especially for those who want to ride the Orient Express which is a steam locomotive. However, the all-electric Acela Express is easy to learn and you'll have a lot of fun driving it.
Now let's get to the community that this game spawned.
For those who take the game really seriously, Microsoft wisely included a load of building tools to let train buffs design their own tracks and scenery. I haven't tried them, but many designers used these tools to build what are called "Virtual Railways". These virtual railways are online clubs reserved to selected members that travel and maintain TS railways. That's way, way cool and it shows the extent of dedication by some users, but it takes too much time for me to consider joining.
Look for an add-on pack with more tracks and locomotives, while some people also sell their own tracks online.
The 100 page or so .pdf file that is included as a documentation is limited in depth. Although it gives a lot of technical details on the locomotives, it doesn't really help you driving them. The tutorials are therefore a must and while they're better than nothing, I find them limited as well.
Interior views of the trains are boring and the cabins are always empty. It would have been nice to include some people in there, even unanimated, for more realism.
The exterior camera view of the train is also severely limited, since you can't use any angle that's too much close to the horizontal angle. This is obviously a clever trick by the designers that prevents having to draw to the horizon, since you always look down. Some games used fog in the old days to hide the horizon, but instead in TS you end up with limited exterior camera angles.
The Bottom Line
A definitive must for any train buff. But people not into trains will definitely find this simulator not really exciting.