American Truck Simulator – Review
Glimpses of beauty are a trucker’s curse. The vista of a beach, waves rolling, gulls hovering, glanced before once more your attention must lock to the curve of the road and the load sway in your rear vision. Road lines blur together, endless bitumen track. Pedestrians go about their lives, automatons in a world where time and money is far less pressing than yours, or so you assume. Perhaps it’s the stress of the trip, fatigue from an all-night drive, and worry at the delicate cargo you’re bringing through dense traffic.
If Grand Theft Auto taught us anything about using American roads, it did not include the proper usage of turn signals or anything resembling lawful adherence to traffic lights and stop signs. It’s for this reason that driving in American Truck Simulator feels so foreign. Not only must the length of your vehicle be taken into account (it took me a good three or four trips before turning wide and long felt natural), but a general approach to driving that feels restrictive in the virtual space. So often in games we’re allowed to be blasé about sticking to lanes or taking the correct exit. Game maps are ours to scribble across with our wheels, correct road rules be damned! But this is different. In this simulation, it’s the whole point.
Little moments of satisfaction come not from pulling sick combos or gaining achievement points, but from the simple, smooth act of switching lanes or beating the red lights at an intersection. This can only be achieved if the traffic inside the simulation feels real, and for the most part it does. I feel guilty pulling out in front of other vehicles, and so I wait at stop signs for them to pass, checking both ways to accommodate my wide turn arc. Also, who knows then a cop is going to be part of the dense flow of cars and trucks? Odds are, in Los Angeles at least, pretty high!
At first, I was the crappiest truck driver in California. Each job I ran netted me zero or made me overdrawn because I’d cause a prang or be fined for some odd road rule (I’ll admit I didn’t have my lights on at night, but I soon learned to keep them on). But after this probation period, I found myself gaining confidence, pulling out of the yard smoothly and settling back in my seat ready for another long haul. Still the road held frightening moments, such as sharp curves while going 55mph, but for the most part I was becoming something of a trucker. I could even afford the odd moment of appreciation for the landscape.
Running odd jobs is all well and good for a learner, but the real American dream is to be your own boss, and American Truck Simulator is all about the slow burn of gaining income, buying garages, hiring drivers and slowly, slowly building your own haulage empire. The base game gives you just two U.S. states – California and Nevada – stretching from LA and San Fran to Las Vegas, with heaps of smaller towns in between. For $30 or so AUD it’s still great value and there’s more than enough landscape to explore over many hours of criss-crossing between cities and townships. SCS Software has promised Arizona as free DLC soon, with the entire united states to follow as paid content down the track. Post-release care has been good, with new trucks and tweaks patched in regularly since launch. Combine this with the extra personalisation of mods and an active/helpful community and you’ve got a series that is extremely friendly to new entrants.
While there’s not that much objective depth to American Truck Simulator, it’s kind of the whole point. It’s not about too many gamey rewards. It’s about a sense of freedom that just being on the road allows. Sure, you’re limited by the fact that you must get your cargo from point A to B intact, but you were going to hit those highways anyway, so following a set route doesn’t feel restrictive. The only addition I would care for is an online mode where you can pass other drivers, perhaps honk your horn at them or even accept convoy type missions together. Some of this is reportedly possible in the previous releases via mods, so we’ll see what modes end up working out in this one.
For me, this game suits a growing desire to play something different, something without terrorists to shoot or hundreds of map icons to chase. I can understand the pleasure many find in this simple yet compelling series made by a small and dedicated studio. I can totally dig it – the road, the arterial flow of traffic and hundreds of miles of white lines flowing past. It’s trucking great!