I know next to nothing about driving a rig; the behemoths that pass me by, even in the UK, seem like creatures from a strange gigantic world that I, besides having the sense to avoid them, know bupkis about. Why do I find myself playing American Truck Simulator then? It’s because my good ol’ gaming hobby has once again given me the means to catch a glimpse of yet another world that is closed off to me in the “real” one.
SCS Software’s American Truck Simulator provides the player with what feels like a nice insight to what it might be like to drive long distances and juggle delivery deadlines. It’s an approximation though, the miles flying by at the rate of about one per second as your truck cruises at 55 mph along the highway. At its heart, American Truck Simulator is, of course, about driving from A to B in a timely manner and delivering something, picking up cash and XP (the latter used to gain new traits and load types) along the way. As the player progresses and purchases their own truck or begins to expand their business, more considerations come into the equation, such as fuel use and coming up more frequently against fatigue (requiring a rest period) but fundamentally, the journey is what it’s all about. If you don’t enjoy that, you probably won’t like the game at all, as predictably, you will be driving a lot. I played with an Xbox 360 controller and found the driving experience to be good fun. With this control setup, the left stick steers, the right changes view, with throttle and brakes on the rear triggers. You do have to reach for the keyboard for certain things though, such as turning on lights or wipers, but that is certainly no chore. What I am trying to say is that once you are used to the control system of your choice, the driving seems to flow nicely, leaving you to only get annoyed with the red lights and other drivers. Having said that, I can imagine that playing the game with a steering wheel and pedals must be so nice.
American Truck Simulator is a game with mixed looks. Some areas look quite realistic and detailed, driving through the desert in Nevada and seeing bramble-weeds blow across the road is just one example. Other locales look a little disappointing, the buildings and textures colluding to remind you that you are very definitely playing a game. I found that the most immersion came from the lighting and weather systems, those little moments that made me go wow. One occurred while driving with the sunset behind me glinting in my mirror, the sky ahead darkening with every passing moment. Another was driving along when the rain began to fall; just the act of having to turn the screen wipers on pulled me in for that brief moment: the sound they make, the splatters of water on the screen, it was just… nice. Of course, you also get the bad moments too, like misjudging a turn and sideswiping a car with your trailer, or idiotic drivers who brake in front of you for no good reason. The other drivers’ AI can sometimes be a bit flaky but for the most part does a great job of populating the roads with other people. One example of it going a bit awry was when I was cruising along in my lane and a car, for no good reason, ran into the back of my trailer and cost me hundreds of dollars in a collision fine. Hopefully this kind of thing will lessen as the game gets patched. Such is the life of a big rig driver.
I guess that what I’m trying to say in a roundabout way (ooh, unintended pun! Although I have yet to see a roundabout in ATS, not sure they are common in the US?), is that you get out of American Truck Simulator what you put in. Yes the game might punish you for running stop signs but there are ways that you can cheat yourself out of immersion too, maybe by not indicating before changing lane every time, or only keeping your eye on the value of the loads you are running and rushing through everything without taking the time to soak up the atmosphere. As an example of something I like to do, I nearly always give my truck horn a quick toot when another truck passes by. I don’t need to, I just like to imagine the other driver either thinking “There goes a kindred spirit!” or “Why does that idiot keep hooting me!”
American Truck Simulator released with two trucks and two states to explore: California and Nevada. SCS Software, via a great range of news announcements released on the game’s Steam page, explain that this is due to license wrangling issues, but that more trucks are incoming. At the time of writing this review, the Kenworth W900 has just been added. As far as new regions to explore, Arizona will be free DLC when it is completed but further map expansions will be paid DLC. Some quite vocal people have been critical of the amount of content in the game at release but I think, for a £14.99 game, and keeping the developer’s news updates in mind, that seems fine to me. I have had many hours of gentle enjoyment from the game so far, so any extra content will probably be bought by me at some point, to expand my horizons and give me new sights to see and to contemplate.
I heartily recommend American Truck Simulator to anyone that might want to dip into a game that wants to share the joy of driving with you. If you play it with the right attitude, it can be immensely rewarding, and could be just the remedy to feeling burnt out with first person shooters and third person combat games.
GS Rating: 4/5
GS Blogger: Casey Douglass
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