In recent years, the niche simulator genre has amassed a cult following. Often ridiculed by the majority of mainstream gamers, there’s no denying the success and sales figures of various obscure titles. One notable statistic which illustrates this point is the second position Farming Simulator 2013 held in the UK PC retail chart week ending, 3rd November 2012. Impressively, at the time it managed to outperform AAA giants such as XCOM Enemy Unknown and Guild Wars 2. The question is, can Euro Truck Simulator 2 be accessible to newcomers whilst maintaining its authenticity in the accurate portrayal of a trucker’s experience?
Initially, you commence your career engaging in cargo transportation for various haulage firms. These are fairly low-paid affairs but provide a welcome introduction into the gameplay mechanics. As each individual job is completed you are rated on your performance, and granted a limited amount of experience points. In turn, this enables you to level up your character and gain access to perks such as more volatile cargo and improved fuel efficiency. This is a well-designed system which encourages sensible driving, and through consistent gameplay, leads to higher grossing transportation.
However, personally I believe the progression is far too slow. I had to complete various journeys from Manchester to Rotterdam on three occasions before attaining the next driver level. Furthermore, any contravening of the highway code is resulted with hefty fines. For instance, speeding will inherit a £440 penalty and crashing into any traffic will cost you £320. One could argue that as a simulator this denotes the focus on professional driving, although as a novice, I found this a barrier on the enjoyment in the learning phases of the game.
Perhaps Euro Truck Simulator 2’s most impressive feat is the adaptability of the difficulty level in it’s control schemes, featuring a wide array of options from simple approachable layouts to more complex arrangements. For example, after the character creation screen you are presented with the option to play the title via the beginners configuration such as the simple automatic layout or a more advanced system such as the H-Shifter. The easiest method is very well designed for a keyboard or controller and consists of basic automatic acceleration and simple movement controls.
On the other hand, the most complicated option requires a steering wheel and features manual gears with enhanced clutch control. Not only that, each option recommends what peripheral should be utilized and there is even support for using a mouse or joystick. The only negative to the wide scope of control schemes is when using a joypad, the more advanced functions such as cruise control and windscreen wipers are mapped to the keyboard. However, with some tweaking these can be assigned to various buttons without the need for third party software. On the whole, the accessibility of the game in it’s varied controls is something rarely akin to simulators.
Once you have assembled the ability to withdraw an £80,000 loan, a truck can be purchased and the creation of your own haulage tycoon has been initialized. This grants you access to locations in which you must deliver various trailers with your own company’s vehicles. As the income slowly increases at regular intervals, you can repay bank loan installments whilst looking to purchase upgrades, new trucks and even employees. The customizability throughout the game is simply remarkable with options to create custom colour designs, choose from a wide range of front bumpers and select from various side mirrors. With such an insane level of detail on offer, there is something to please even the most fanatic of truck enthusiasts. Despite the opportunity of micromanagement on offer, rarely does the game revolve around it. While you can in theory, rely on employed staff to complete deliveries, I found that the incoming funds were not comparable to my own. Usually, this was due to my much higher driver experience level. Most importantly, I appreciate the core gameplay maintaining its focus on the driving aspect and not deviating into the management sim are it.
The realistic physics engine adopted often provides a surreal level of authenticity. This is most apparent on familiar routes as the recognisable junction signs add to the immersion level. At times, my imagination sparked into overdrive and I found it difficult to distinguish the gameplay from actual driving. Motorway sections such as the M6 and M1 consist of authentic directional signs signalling which lane leads to certain destinations. Also there are notices outlining the remaining miles at suitable intervals in tune with genuine roads. On the exterior it appears the game is a perfect reflection of various european roadmaps. In reality this not the case, as some motorway segments are shortened and junctions which should lead to cities such as Derby do not exist.
These small issues do not deter from the overall feel of the driving experience. The trucks have a substantial weight in their handling and struggle to climb up steep gradients. Their acceleration is gradual, and features long braking distances. The minor touches on display in Euro Truck Simulator 2 also blew me away. For instance, whilst stopping for various traffic lights, I noticed that trucks jolt forward and then backwards to their initial position. On another note, the time acceleration of each journey is judged to perfection. I was concerned that each mile would be conducted in real time, and missions could take 2-10 hours each. However, the length was reduced to an appropriate level and didn’t feel too long or too short. A journey from Sheffield to London totalling 170 miles would usually take 3 hours to complete. In the game this was compressed to 15 minutes. This is highly impressive as finding the balance between accuracy and playability was a very difficult task. The only reservation is the lack of random events, such as accidents or reckless driving frequently seen on major road networks.
Technically, the game is extremely competent. The graphics are highly detailed and load times are some of the quickest I’ve witnessed in a modern title. Furthermore, there is a wealth of graphical options and for the most part runs relatively smooth. On ultra settings, I achieved a stable 60fps with the odd frame dip when rendering fresh landscapes. The rain effects are nothing short of spectacular, especially when you can visibly see the individual droplets skidding off the tarmac. Also, the interiors are modelled precisely and can be viewed via various heights. I found this invaluable, as i could judge the optimal field of view to see as far in front of me as possible. The only criticism, is a lack of physical hands operating the steering wheel. However, I do acknowledge that this may have constricted the overall viewing angle.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
There are titles in the simulation market which can be sold on the novelty factor alone, but tend to be disappointing games. Euro Truck Simulator 2 is not one of them, it is strangely cathartic, engaging and relaxing. Unlike other niche games, there is a smaller barrier to entry and features a simple control scheme for newcomers. There are some reservations such as an infuriating penalty system and a lack of vehicles on major highways but these are outweighed by the positives. Overall, for the fee of $39.99, I would highly recommend this driving experience even if it’s not something that would usually be on your radar.