Simulators, more often than not, appeal to players that seek a specific niche. In the case of Trainz Railwayz by developer Auran and publishers Merscom and Just Trains, that simulator pigeonhole happens to be railroads. The fifth installment in the series, Trainz Railwayz strives to continue the Trainz legacy by building off of the initial success of the series. Created by the same developers that had the hit real-time strategy game, Dark Reign: The Future of War, Trainz has turned into a mini phenomenon; Planet Auran, the developer's home site, has over one-hundred thousand registered users for its Trainz Railroad Simulator installment. Unfortunately, with the recent downsizing of Auran, one wonders if this will be the last of the series.

Like the previous games in the series, TR relies heavily on user-created material. Simply by registering the serial number of your TR game and creating a login username and password, you can access the content that other gamers have uploaded to the Download Station housed at Planet Auran. To help you do this in the game, the developers have included a little something called the Content Manager Plus (CMP, for short). The CMP allows players to view their network speed and status, upload their own assets to the Download Station, and generally customize their TR game to the max.

Along these same lines, and new to the series, are the online interaction capabilities referred to as iTrainz Chat and iPortal. Although only available after registering with Planet Auran, these iTrainz features allow you to interact with other TR players via the Internet. Functional only in the Driver session part of the game, iTrainz Chat is like a Trainz version of instant messaging software. It should be noted, however, that your contacts on iTrainz Chat cannot come into your TR world--they can only send and receive messages within their respective game windows. With the same concept in mind, an iPortal allows players to swap trains and allocated assets when the iPortal is placed into the game as a scenery object. It is linked into a player's route in the same manner as an industry, and has a "Properties" window for easy access.

While Auran has added some spiffy user-interface functions and designs, TR relies heavily on its roots. Whether your cup-o-tea is designing your own railroads and backdrops or riding in the cab of a modern train engine, this game covers it all. Where the Surveyor mode gives you a landscape and asks you to reformat it to your liking (including everything from building mountains to fine-tuning track placement), the Driver scenario allows you to choose from two control options. DCC (Digital Command Control) mode provides you with a simplistic interface complete with a speed dial and a few other commands. This is an excellent choice for beginners, as they must only rely on decelerating and accelerating without modifying the brake pressures and that whole nine yards. For advanced players, TR includes a Cabin method for controlling all the intricacies of the locomotives. If you wish to use this function and are new to the Trainz family, reading up on the material within the manual is a fine way to prevent your train from careening off its track and into a lake. It will not befit you or your industries to annihilate your passengers.

Speaking of passengers, TR is not all about driving around and looking pretty in a sleek bullet-train. Where some scenarios have specific objectives and time limits, the general gist of Driver mode is to manage the movement of passengers and freight. Underlying this process is what the game refers to as "Waybills". When an industry attains a certain amount of a commodity, a Waybill is produced automatically. When the requirements for the Waybill are met, it will disappear from the list, possibly being replaced by another one. By managing which commodities are carried by your trains, you can affect which Waybills pop into your industries. In other words, Waybills are a way to let the player know that they have begun (and should complete) a specific task.

Although attempting to play the game correctly is rewarding at first, only die-hard railroad simulator fans will spend hours in the original world of Trainz Railwayz. When the initial fun runs out, players should lend themselves towards the CMP for more content and assets, and also spend some time creating twisted dead-end tracks in Surveyor mode. It is also worthwhile to check out the Railyard section of the main menu to see the different trains and their aspects in a detailed viewport.

Part of the reason that TR lacks the potential for longtime interest is its feeling of departure from the gaming standard. While some players may find that they prefer the repetitive train sounds and nature squawks to a musical score (probably because of "realistic effect"), others will surely feel detached and uninvolved with the game. Another striking misstep happens to be the seemingly-outdated graphics. Sure, there is a lot going on in the world of TR around the trains themselves, but it feels like there should be more to the game than rampant draw-in and poorly-rendered textures, especially considering the game's installation requirements. Nonetheless, some areas of the game (like the Metropolis Edition Line) have more realistic graphics and look freshly modern. Of course, by utilizing the Download Station within the CMP, players can customize the look and feel of the game to their heart's content, and thus nullify such eyesores.

Despite the few setbacks prevalent throughout Trainz Railwayz, railroad simulator fans may find it worthwhile to shell out the twenty bucks for the game. Whether your personal style is creating maps that will eventually lead to catastrophic locomotive destruction, or cruising around as a legitimate conductor to complete Waybills, TR will lure you into its reaches even if it is only for a while. With the addition of the CMP and the returning use of the Download Station, you can refine Trainz Railwayz to better suit your tastes and keep you coming back for more. It is currently unclear as to how this fresh installment will impact the survival of the Trainz series, but rest assured that Auran's community will continue to thrive.