With a weary sigh I heave myself up into the cab and settle myself in for the long journey ahead. I’ve just filled up on that there motion lotion; I’m sitting on a full tank and I’m good to go. A bag of stubbies to my right, the sun beating down on my left, and the empty stretching out in front of me as far as the eye can see. I mess with the radio before settling on some throwaway country station. Lucinda Williams is warbling on about some ex she can’t forget about. Yeah boy, I’m truckin’.
And so begins an ode to the most American of careers - that of long-haul delivery drivers. Having found significant success with Euro Truck Sim and its sequel, SCS Software has taken the plunge on the US of A, and its idealised view of hauling cargo. American Truck Simulator is nothing if not ambitious, but it’s an ambition tempered by the sheer scale of the mammoth country (and eventually countries) it intends to represent.
The USA is a vast, vast place, from the freezing North to the humid bayous of the South-East, it’s got just about type of landscape covered. The only problem is, a small team cramming that huge lot into a single game is a monumental task. Which is why, at launch, we have access to just two states in American Truck Simulator - California and Nevada. It’s a bit of a shame because SCS managed a miniaturised version of Europe for the last outing. These two states aren’t to scale, or indeed entirely accurate, so it feels as if we’ve been sold a little short.
You don’t need to be a globetrotter to understand California and Nevada means a heck of a lot of arid desert. At the moment the lack of variety is American Truck Sim’s greatest downfall. The rest of the states should eventually arrive as DLC though, hopefully, which is reflected in the low launch price of the base game. The plan is to expand into other countries also, but we’re not holding our breath for that just yet.
Truck enthusiasts also might be in for a shock when they found out just two trucks are included on day one. A new one has just been released and there’s the promise of more to come, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Your £15 does still get you a lot of game for your money, and even if its scope isn’t as grand as the name suggests, there’s plenty to love here.
From the outside looking in it’s a difficult thing to comprehend just what makes American Truck Simulator tick. After all, there are sim games for car mechanics, farming, logging, showering with your dad, fireworks, Gabe Newell, New York Buses and every in-between. The similarities between the majority of these? They’re underdeveloped, amateurish turds. American Truck Simulator is different. Stripping it down to its bare essentials, it is, believe it or not, a fun game. It might not necessarily be exciting, but it does possess that meditative quality of long-distance driving. It’s an open-road adventure in the purest form.
In essence, for long time series fans, American Truck Simulator isn’t that different to what came before, aside from the change in scenery. It looks quite a bit better, sure, but the real thrill is driving around (an admittedly small slice of) America, seeing the sights and living the life of a grizzled trucker.
To that end, it follows much the same pattern as before. You begin your journey as a solo truck driver, taking on a choice of contracts and trying to build up a supply of cash. Eventually you’ll be able to own your own trucks and sort out your supply deals. Before you know it things are ballooning and you’ll be hiring your own staff and owning your own fleet of lorries. It becomes more than just a trucking sim, drifting into management territory. You’ll be weighing up whether to take on hazardous cargo, or putting too many eggs in the basket, or taking a reefer (Refrigerated lorry, of course) turnaround in record time, evading the traffic cops as you do so.
The vast majority of your time will be spent out on California and Nevada’s highways, obeying traffic laws and generally doing exactly as a truck driver should. Manual gears is definitely the way to go, and there’s a sort of intimate joy to be found in clicking the indicators and checking all your mirrors before heading out an intersection. The dream scenario is strapping on a VR headset and getting yourself a decent steering wheel, but even just with a mouse and keyboard it can be an engrossing experience.
What’s here I wholeheartedly admit is fantastic, but we find ourselves in a Street Fighter V-esque situation where we’re waiting for the full package. The budget pricing for American Truck Simulator goes a long way to assuaging these fears, and there’s still potential for dozens of hours of gameplaying for aspiring truckers. On a personal level I’d be tempted to wait and see how this shakes out - will you have to buy every state? What if I buy New Jersey, will I have to buy every state in between there and Nevada to do a long haul? What about Canada and Mexico? There’s a lot of unanswered questions, but provided SCS Software remains true to its word, you’re guaranteed to having a trucking good time.