Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk
As the old phrase goes, a change is as good as a rest. When a thousand cookie cutter first-person shooters – only discernable by the size of their guns and the angularity of their space marine’s jaw – have worn you down, rather than swear off them altogether just try something a little different. Several years ago that is how my initial foray into World of Warcraft began. And likewise my dabbling with real-time naval battles, overly dramatic Japanese beat-‘em-ups and art house Flash games. Each time I have meandered off the beaten path I have returned with a warm fuzzy feeling that I had stretched my boundaries.
And so with the same open mind I installed UK Truck Simulator, an intriguing title emanating from the Czech Republic. I’m no trucker; and I most certainly have never 10-4’d a rubber ducky, but instantly three companies were willing to ignore my obvious inexperience and hand me a chance behind the wheel. Wafting a valid driver’s license in front of a friendly Sheffield firm, I hopped up into the cab and prepared for life on the open road.
My first job was to take a shipment from the Steel City to Grimsby, a 70 mile hop to the east. On went the engine, off went the handbrake, and I pulled away grinning at my new choice of career. If there had been a horn, I’d have honked it.
Within moments I was scrabbling around looking for a joypad as the keyboard controls are supremely unforgiving. Their twitchy nature turned each winding country lane into an elongated series fishtails as I fought for control.
Those hoping for hitchhikers or CB radios will be disappointed. UK Truck Simulator takes the mundane nature of motorway driving and recreates it for the comfort of your living room; there is nothing but the truck and the tarmac before it. The trip to Grimsby took roughly 15 minutes real-time but this was followed immediately by a 45 minute trek to the South coast. Though the roads are populated there is very little challenge to keeping your truck going. There are never traffic jams or delays, and even veering from lane to lane will see other road users avoid your bulk deftly. Deliveries are made against the clock to keep you focused but only the most severe of wrong turns on the well sign posted roads could prevent a driver making it on time. The biggest barrier to success is concentration.
Throughout, care must be taken of you and your rig. Regular rest stops are required to prevent you from dozing at the wheel, petrol is always a concern, and too many bumps will see your truck in for servicing. Each element playing their part in keeping Truck Sim grounded firmly in reality.
The highlight of your routine is dropping off deliveries as it provides a true sense of trucking achievement. Once at your destination the trailer needs to be reversed into a designated bay, usually flanked by other trailers. Heavy use of either the steering wheel or the accelerator will result in jack-knifes, so patience and canny use of the various camera angles are key to edging your load in safely. After usually spending the best part of an hour towing the load, the chance to engage in some thoughtful manoeuvres is welcome relief.
Disappointingly, SCS Software has reduced all major conurbations down to little more than industrial parks. Sheffield itself sees no raised motorway slicing through the city, or any hint of the towering smoke stacks that once welcomed you. Instead it has been distilled down to a handful of roads containing lorry dealerships, supply depots and a multitude of traffic lights.
If the cityscapes prove underwhelming, the care spent populating the roadside redresses the balance with our green and pleasant land been brought to life to line your route. Dense forests sweep up hillsides, lush fields taper into the middle distance, and golden crops add a dash of colour to your view. Every road seems to be taken from an idyllic image of English country life and the odd church, water tower and passing train add to a pleasant landscape. For a low budget game, the artwork is very polished.
Though no matter how pretty the view, life in the cab was not fun. The target of completing generic deliveries and obeying the laws of the road all left me feeling flat. No matter the cash rewards or the offers of new employment, the actual job variety was minimal and always tasked me with simply driving from one end of the country to the other. No sooner had I arrived in Cambridge from Plymouth – a 40 real-world minute trip – than I was asked to head to Dover – a further half-hour plus. Having recently done a circuit of the M25 I can tell you that I would probably take the real journey over the virtual one because at least I had my wife to talk to and the radio humming in the background.
Despite any negativity you have picked up on so far, I actually really like UK Truck Sim in certain ways. The team who assembled it obviously have a great eye for detail and creating a complete experience; it’s just that the subject matter in this particular game is lacking any real interest for me. The disappointment is that I couldn’t get over the epic driving sections to truly explore the promise of running your own trucking company and the management aspect surrounding that and I feel that will be a barrier for the vast majority of people.
To say that it fills a niche is an understatement; only those truly interested in trucks, rigs and lorries should seriously consider UK Truck Sim as it contains nothing but the huge vehicles they probably hold dear. For everyone else, if you’re interested in taking a look at a polished product, showcasing a very focused and unerring vision, unaffected by demographics or market trends, then you do a lot worse than what SCS have produced here.