You want us to make a joke? You think rail simulators are funny? You think the idea of recreating a largely event-free one-dimensional journey is absurd? Why not think of it as Half-Life, without the excellent narrative or the satisfying combat? There you go. That's made you all excited.
Your first hour in Rail Simulator might run like this: you jump in, expecting an in-game tutorial, and utterly fail to move anything. So you slide the quick reference card into the gap above your number keys. But this will fail too, because knowing how to change the reverser isn't the same as knowing what you're supposed to do with it. So, after 20 minutes of turning your wipers on and off, you're forced into reading the manual. Which is something no human has done since Civ 2. And that's the biggest disappointment. The manual is lacking.
It tells you how to get moving, but when it comes to the expert controls on a steam engine, the game and the manual assume you're one of the living dead that litter the platforms of backwater rail stations noting wheel numbers of passing locomotives. When the hell should we "inject water," eh? We don't drive steam trains for a living.
The game can be played freeform, or with a limited number of scenarios - moving football fans and pigeons around - and there's a track editor to let you drive trains around your name, or other shapes your dirty imagination can devise. With the lack of directional freedom, the focus really turns inward - rail fans will use this focus to get the job done as efficiently as possible, and conscientiously tending to the information they're being given. Or you could uncouple your carriages full of football fans, then reverse into them as fast as you can, causing a "Game Over Error." This is one of the only times we've gathered everyone around our computer to look at what we were doing, and it was probably because we'd spent so long driving, in a straight line, through an interminable string of green lights, that we'd uncoupled our eyes from our brain.
It's good that Rail Simulator has been made, and it's a strangely satisfying and therapeutic experience. However, it's sad that it wasn't given better packaging, that the cockpit views are often claustrophobic and obscured, the interactive controls are an unusable and token effort, and seeing as it's from the people who did Dark Messiah's multiplayer, perhaps some graphics would have been nice.