|Version Reviewed: PC
Although train simulators form a niche genre that remains somewhat of a rarity in North America, Japan has been producing them en masse for years. The Densha de GO! series is arguably the most well known franchise, with almost 2 dozen titles across several different platforms. Densha de GO! Final was the last one released for the PS2, and incidentally the latest one to be ported to PC.
Operating a train doesn’t sound like something that makes for a very exciting game. After all, Densha de GO! Final is literally a game on rails. Trains can speed up, slow down, or stop, and they don’t do any of those things particularly quickly. Sounds pretty simplistic so far, right? The challenge in getting from Station A to Station B is to follow all the rules of the track while maintaining a tight schedule and ensuring the comfort of the passengers. Densha de GO! Final has an arcade-styled combo system, where points can be chained by accomplishing certain tasks like passing a checkpoint at the right time, or maintaining a certain velocity through a speed-restricted zone. Through this, the game can become quite challenging. The Japanese take great pride in their rail system, and the obligation for perfection is reflected in the precision demanded of the player; make mistakes, and a “passenger satisfaction bar” will drain. Although there is some tolerance for error, the most points are achieved for being on time to the second, and stopping the train on a mark exact to the centimeter.
Points are transformed into credits at the end of a run, and are used to unlock new routes and associated trains; there is a reasonable assortment of such, giving the game a good amount of replay value. Like a racing game, each locomotive handles differently and familiarity with the track is definitely an asset, so although some routes are repeated, it doesn’t detract too significantly from the experience.
The trains are nicely rendered, and there are over 60 models to operate. Backgrounds are adequately detailed; all the scenery along the routes was modeled based on real world data. This effort shows, and though it may be a PS2 port, at PC resolutions it looks quite good. The choice of real-time 3D graphics over recorded video sequences as in some other rail games works adequately, with the occasional slowdown at high settings. This is something that is largely hardware dependant, however. One complaint is that all the cars on the road and people on the platforms are static objects. The occasional train passing by on another rail adds a bit to the ambience, but more could have been done. Sound quality was also a bit lacking; there was no surround sound option, and the audio seemed scratchy.
In what may be surprising to some, Densha de GO! Final has a multiplayer mode! One player operates the train, while the other acts as the conductor, calling out stations and performing other such duties. Playing as the conductor can also be done solo, but without a functional knowledge of station names, it can be very difficult. An additional option is “Enjoy Mode” which reduces the difficulty by providing satisfaction recovery items.
Though Densha de GO! Final may not be for everyone, it knows its market and caters to it nicely. Existing fans of the series and aspiring railroad engineers will love it. Skeptical gamers should give it a chance; it can definitely be an enjoyable experience.