Ever dreamt of being a trucker? Just you, your truck and the open highway? If you have, you're in luck. SCS Software has once again teamed up with Excalibur Publishing to bring us another truck simulator, Euro Truck Simulator 2 (ETS2). The game promises to be the most in depth and the most realistic truck simulator to date. I have to be honest with you, I'm a virgin when it comes to truck simulators so I was excited when I was offered the chance to review ETS2. I've always been a fan of realistic driving games. Let's take a look if the game is as good as they say.
ETS2 doesn't have any story, which is only a good thing (stories don't really fit driving games, just look at the TOCA Race Driver series). Instead you create an alter ego and a company you'll be controlling and set off in the highways of Europe, delivering goods with a truck. The game area spans 12 European countries (Great Britain, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Italy). The developers have modelled the biggest highways between the 69 cities that they've included in the game. There are thousands of kilometers of road but don't be alarmed; you don't have to drive days to get from Aberdeen to Bratislava. One minute in-game is about 3 seconds real time.
Once you're satisfied with your trucker, set up your company and selected your starting city, it's time to hit the road. At first you don't own a truck so you'll have to settle for a job as a hired driver. There are hundreds of jobs available and they vary in cargo and distance; the longer the distance and the more high valued cargo, the bigger the reward you'll gain. Along with hard cash, you'll also gain experience points. Experience is used to level up your driver; the higher the level, the bigger the rewards are and the more demanding jobs you'll be able to undertake. Once you have enough experience, you'll go up a level and gain a skill point. You can spend the skill points in various abilities; Long Distance (unlocks the longer distance jobs), High Value Cargo (unlocks the high value cargo jobs), Fragile Cargo (unlocks the fragile cargo jobs), Just In-Time Delivery (unlocks jobs that have shorter deadlines) and Ecodriving (lower fuel consumption for your truck). Once you've done a few jobs as a hired driver, it's time to get a loan from the bank and purchase your first truck. The game has 8 different authentic truck models that range from Man to Scania and another one was added in the latest patch (188.8.131.52). Better versions of the base truck are unlocked as you complete jobs and gain levels.
When you're behind the wheel of a truck, you immediately notice the game is a simulator. There are different viewpoints available but to really experience the game you really have to use the behind-the-wheel view. You can look around the cockpit with your mouse and if you look towards the drivers door, the camera moves to outside the truck like you're really putting your head outside the window when reversing. Absolutely fantastic. There are tons of buttons that control almost every aspect of the truck; you can select between low and high beams, use the windscreen wipers, switch turn signals on and off and so on. Once you've meddled with the buttons enough, it's time to hit the throttle. The gearboxes in ETS2 are as complicated as truck gears really are; there are multiple different gears. To help the players with this, there are different control schemes available. You can select between simple automatic, real automatic, manual and H-shifter gears. Simple automatic is best suited for players who use a keyboard or a controller (yes, the game has full controller support), real automatic for players who have a steering wheel but no clutch pedal (like myself), manual for players who have a steering wheel with a clutch pedal and the most realistic of the bunch, the H-shifter, is meant for players who are lucky enough to own a steering wheel with an H-shifter and want to experience the game as it's meant to be played.
Keyboards and controllers aside; the game is really meant to be played with a steering wheel. I tried the game with a keyboard and my budget controller and to be honest with you, it wasn't enjoyable. The steering was over-sensitive and practically unplayable. The steering problems were fixed in an update (1.1.3) but it still feels awkward. Once I started using my steering wheel, the game was brought to life. At first my wheel was locked to only 200 degrees of steering which made the game playable but not very enjoyable (trucks aren't rally cars). Once I enabled the full 900 degrees of steering ETS2 showed it's true colors; the game is one of the most realistic driving games I've ever played. It feels almost as if you're really driving a truck (not that I've ever driven a multi-ton truck); you can really feel the mass of the truck and the cargo you're hauling behaves just as it should. You can't rely on the methods learned from simulators that feature cars and you'll soon realize the rear-view mirrors are there for a reason.
You can freely roam around the game area and there's a map that shows which roads you've already driven and which cities you've discovered. There are also recruitment agencies and truck dealers to be found in the biggest cities as well as companies that offer you jobs. When you select a job you first have to pick up the trailer from the company. This is the first true sign of ETS2 being a fully-fledged simulator; you have to reverse in front of the trailer to be able to attach it. Once you've managed to hook up the trailer to your truck, it's time to hit the road. Your GPS shows you the shortest route to your destination (although 'shortest' is an unnecessary word since ETS2 doesn't have that many alternative routes) along with some information about the job (estimated time of arrival and the deadline for the delivery for example). The game features real traffic rules so you'll have to watch your speed along with other factors you'd take heed when driving a car in real life; correct lanes, turn signals, etc. There are traffic cameras littered throughout the roads and if you're speeding when you pass them you'll get a fine. It seems the roads of UK are full of traffic cameras. To add into the confusion the game has real units; most of Europe uses kilometers but the stubborn folk of UK use miles. The game features other traffic violations as well (these include stuff like driving the wrong way or crashing into another vehicle) but sometimes you'll get a fine for doing absolutely nothing wrong (I've managed to hit two invisible vehicles so far).
Hitting stuff (other vehicles, buildings, etc.) damages your truck and/or cargo. Enough damage to the truck and it's engine starts malfunctioning and you'll have to get it repaired which costs you precious euros (the main currency in the game). The damage to the cargo is deducted from the overall reward once you've delivered it. Too bad the damage isn't visual. If you suffer enough damage (or manage to roll your truck on it's side) you'll have to call in a tow truck to tow you to the nearest city. Calling a tow truck costs money and more importantly it takes precious time. Especially later on when you're on an urgent delivery, having to tow your truck is a sure way to miss your delivery deadline. If you deliver the goods late, you'll suffer a reward penalty. Along with repairing your truck, the shops around the cities offer upgrades to your truck. These upgrades include better engines, chassis improvements, new tires and even door handles (not to mention the favourites of everyone who's ever driven a car in the middle of a night just to get greeted by a huge wall of light; extra lights). Another thing you have to keep in mind while driving is your fuel amount. The price of diesel varies from gas station to gas station and if you run out, you'll have to call help. While driving as a hired driver, your employer covers all the fuel expenses. There are even rest stops along the roads which allow your tired driver to rest but you can turn fatigue off if you don't care to nap between trips. I'm a wuss so I turned it off.
The other vehicles on the road vary from country to country; some have Ford Focuses while others have Renault Meganes for example. There isn't much variety in the car models, just a few different ones per country. This doesn't really bother though since (unlike you would imagine) you really don't have the time to stare at the other vehicles when you're controlling a huge behemoth of the highways. There are also other truckers on the roads, with or without cargo. These guys are a pain in the ass since they always seem to drive 20 km/h less than the speed limit is. The latest patch (184.108.40.206) also added busses in the game. The AI tries to behave realistically and does a pretty good job at it; they overtake other cars just to brake right in front of them, never look if there are other cars coming on a roundabout and even crash to each other. When you've managed to weave through traffic and safely reached your destination, it's time for the second sign of ETS2 being a fully-fledged simulator; the parking of the trailer. Since you're basically driving and overpowered, multi-ton car that has an overgrown (also multi-ton) trailer behind it, reversing it into the correct spot isn't exactly easy. It takes time and practice to master the art of parking a trailer and unfortunately there isn't any tutorial on how to do it. You can skip the parking but then you'll lose precious experience points and money that precise parking grants you. Little trial and error and you'll soon get the hang of it (and with the help of the handy top-down viewpoint).
Even though the roads are long there are different sorts of things to spice things up a bit; road tolls, construction sites, birds flying in the sky, hot air balloons and such. When crossing the English Channel you can take a ferry or travel in a train through the famous Channel Tunnel. Traveling with either a ferry or a train costs you money and takes a lot of time. The cities themselves are pretty empty; I don't think I even saw the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Well at least there are some random pedestrians walking around (that can be turned off). Apart from the occasional farm houses and such the scenery looks exactly the same, no matter what part of Europe you're in. The fact that the game doesn't feature changing seasons adds to the feeling of driving in a huge country trapped in summer.
When you have enough cash you can really start building your haulage empire. You can expand your starting garage or buy new ones from the cities you've discovered. The more advanced your garage is (or the more garages you own), the more trucks you can have. Once you've purchased 5 trucks you can use an online truck dealer and get the trucks delivered straight to your garage. You can hire drivers from the various recruitment agencies you've discovered. Each driver has a certain ranking, denoting the skills of that particular person. The rankings start from 0 and end at 5; the bigger the number, the better the driver is. You can assign jobs for your idle drivers and check the amount of profit each of your garages make. If you notice a garage is not doing so great, you might fire a lousy driver for example. The handling of the finances and such is very basic but this game really isn't meant to be a business simulator. A good added bonus nonetheless.
The game has no multiplayer (which is understandable). I have to admit that I'd love to play the game with friends (20 truck convoy anyone?) but the lack of multiplayer doesn't really matter that much. The official site has modding tools available for download and there's already dozens of mods available, adding more content to the already impressing game.
The physics in the game are very well made; as I mentioned earlier, you can really feel the mass of the truck and it's cargo. The truck and the trailer are modelled as two separate things (as it should be) so taking a corner too sharply might end with the trailer cutting the corner and rolling the whole truck over. Sometimes your truck magically rolls back onto it's wheels but this doesn't really bother since it doesn't take much time for you to get the hang of driving a truck. Another thing in which the physics engine really stands out is taking a corner too fast; your truck follows the corner nicely but your trailer hangs back and starts sliding, taking the whole truck into an uncontrollable spin. Excellent. The great Force Feedback effects add to the realism and emulate the spring effects marvelously. As I said, this game begs to played with a decent steering wheel, preferably one that has 900 degrees rotation.
The sounds are excellent; everything you'll hear inside the cockpit is just like in real life: the clicking of the turn signals, the low humming of the engine, even shifting gears. This is one of the rare games in which I enjoy listening to the sounds of the vehicles you're driving. The music on the other hand is quite frankly... shit. Luckily there's a music player built into the game which allows you to listen to your own music while driving. Too bad the music stops every now and then. The music player even allows you to listen to a streamed internet radio. Adding the local internet radios of the countries featured in the game and turning them on when entering that particular country adds a lot to the realism (and spawns a few giggles from anyone around you). A fantastic idea that should be featured in other games also.
The graphics are a two-bladed sword; most of the available polygons are used in the trucks themselves (and they look gorgeous) but this of course means that the other textures look pretty bland. The cities are filled with boring looking boxes (I think the game calls them 'buildings'), the AI cars (apart from the trucks) look dull and the scenery is filled with low-resolution textures. When driving a truck 90 km/h (all the trucks in the game have speed limiters) you can barely notice the textures but when stuck in traffic lights, the ugly textures are noticeable. The game has rain (the probability can be changed from the options after the latest patch) which looks excellent, just like real rain. You'll also see some occasional thunderstorms and fog but sadly, no snow. The nights look beautiful (especially the moon) and extremely dark, just as they should be. The graphical options are extensive and the game should be playable with an old dual core CPU with 2 GB RAM and a GeForce 7600 class graphics card. Needless to say the game ran extremely smooth with my rig, even with full MLAA.
I have a confession to make; Euro Truck Simulator 2 is the best game I've played in a while. The game says I've played the game for 25 hours and driven around 25,000 km and I'm still not bored with it. Sure the scenery gets a bit boring after a while and the jobs start repeating themselves but still, there's something magical about ETS2 that keeps pulling me back in. Maybe it's the realistic physics. Or the awesome feeling of driving a multi-ton truck successfully through a hairpin turn. I don't know. The only thing I know is that this game will last you for months (if not years); there's always something new to see or some new customization part to unlock. Just make sure you own a decent steering wheel before rushing to your local game retailer.