Yes, I know they just released American Truck Simulator. That’s very exciting news for Europeans, for Jean Baudrillard, and for Nevadans who would like to see their state represented in a pre-apocalyptic condition. I’ve driven through California and don’t care to simulate it. But driving through Europe sounds interesting.
So, what’s Euro Truck Simulator 2? It’s a sim about driving. Driving a truck. In Europe.
Do you remember those missions in Saints Row 3 where you’re under cover, so you have to get somewhere while obeying all the stoplights and not killing anyone? It’s not absolutely totally unlike that. You take a shipment of stuff from one city to another and get paid in euros. You do not get to shoot anyone, though you can beep the horn at them.
Thankfully, you do not have to drive with WASD as in almost every other stupid PC game with driving. You can use the mouse to steer, which works great. The roads are pretty curvy, so you will be making adjustments all the time. If you have a wheel controller, which I don’t, it will work with that too.
Besides the traffic laws, you have to watch out for your trailer (make wide turns!), avoid other cars and trucks (they are almost but not entirely much better drivers than you), and watch your speed. It’s embarrassing to barrel too fast down a mountain road and end up upending your truck.
When you’re actually underway, what reminds you you’re in a truck is mostly the sound effects. You get all these deep bass sounds from the engine, and the distinctive sounds of the air brakes.
The most challenging bit is a little unexpected: the last 120 seconds of every job. You have to back your truck up to the dock, you see. For the most part driving the simulated truck feels like driving a car… except when you’re backing up. Then the trailer seems to develop a mind of its own and never go where you expect it to. I had to look up guides and videos on this… the secret is to go really slowly, watch your trailer in the rear view mirrors, and turn opposite the way you want the trailer to go. That is, to move it right, you turn the wheel left. Also, you can’t just shove the wheel left and keep it there, like you’re driving a Borderlands buggy; you have to turn left, straighten out, go back for a bit, turn right.
Look, if you need to know, watch this video. The overhead view (press 3) is also really useful for truck n00bs like me.
Now, overall the game is definitely oriented toward people who start to slowly rub their crotches when they see things like this:
There is a wide range of trucks you can buy and upgrades you can apply. You can cam around your truck and the interior of the cab. You can buy DLC that adds new paint jobs or dashboard ornaments. You can spend some time moving your seat up and down or left and right. (This changes your view of the road.) You can switch to manual transmission so you have to properly handle your 12 gears, and then test your skills by driving through the Alps. I don’t grok most of this, but I respect the game for taking its truck nerdery seriously.
Almost as lovingly detailed are the roads themselves. The road numbers are all correct. They’ve carefully created roads of various speeds and sizes, highway interchanges, bridges and tunnels, ferry crossings. The pavement doesn’t always look the same– there are different colors and degrees of wear. Here and there you will have to slow down for road construction or a train crossing. The signs all look authentic and are in the right languages.
What’s less well rendered are the cities. They’re basically a few blocks of industrial park. Admittedly this is exactly where you would expect to go to pick up cargo, get gas, buy trucks, and so on. Still, this is my one area of disappointment. The game does feel like you’re in Europe; but there’s very little sense of place within Europe. The buildings, roads, trees, and houses all look the same whether you’re in Scotland or France or Germany or Italy. (There’s a little local color, but not much. About the only geographical thing that gives a sense of place is the mountains: you know when you’re crossing Austria or Switzerland.)
Edit: The day after I wrote this, the developers announced that they’re doing an expansion of the French part of the map, and showed off some screenshots that actually look French. So I suspect they’re aware of this problem.
There’s a day-night cycle to add some variety to your experience. It can rain. There are little things to see– a hot air balloon here, flocks of birds there, a working airport over there. And if you mess up, interesting things can happen. For instance, reaching a toll plaza, something happened, I couldn’t at first tell what. I couldn’t move forward or backward, yet everything looked OK. Finally I used the roaming camera (2, then right mouse), and found the culprit:
Yeah, there’s not supposed to be a car underneath your trailer. (I didn’t get a crash violation notice, so this might be a glitch. I had to exit the game and restart to get rid of the car.)
You start the game driving other people’s trucks; eventually you can buy your own truck. And later on, you can buy more trucks and hire drivers. Still, the focus remains on the driving. You also have to watch your gas level, your own fatigue, and the condition of your truck.
I kind of wish there were more goofy things to do. You can stop the truck but you can’t get out for a walk. You actually have an avatar (you can see mine, in her stylish pink shirt, in the second picture above). I think it’d be fun to be able to walk around your garage, pose by your truck, or stop somewhere to eat.
Is it fun? As a game, it’s sufficiently challenging for a surprisingly long time. I’ve been going through a phase where I try out games and don’t go back to them, so it’s significant that I’ve put 21 hours into it so far. Many reviews describe it as “relaxing”. That’s on the right track. Though you have to pay attention, it’s certainly not a high tension game. Mostly you steer, check for hazards, and watch the pretty scenery going by. It’s strangely motivating to try to get to all the cities, or see your balance in euros grow.
And then there’s the radio! You can stream a wide variety of European radio stations as you drive. That goes a long way to making the driving fun once you’ve mastered the basics. Plus, you can improve your French, German, Dutch, Czech, and so on! Or add new radio streams of your own.