Like most kids, Tonka trucks were the best thing in the world to me when my age was in the single digits. I loved watching Bob the Builder and Mighty Machines with my fictional fleet of heavy machinery toys at my side . Best days of my life, I reckon. The point is, there’s something mesmerizing about piloting these big hunks of metals. Astragon Entertainment’s new soft reboot of Construction Simulator seeks to provide that experience, without the threat of severe head injury.
Just like a foundation filling with concrete, I’ve poured several hours into this title thus far. It’s a solid build, but it could use some touch-ups to make it just right. Construction Simulator offers a wide variety of heavy machinery to take control of. From humble gravel compactors to towering cranes, there’s a lot of different tools for the job included here. That said, it’s relatively easy to handle them all, and the sim’s mechanics can be best described as semi-realistic.
Hard hats required
Despite clearly playing this on PC, I feel that the sim plays best with a controller. The various button mappings when using a controller are predetermined and cannot be altered, making the experience as straightforward as possible. I didn’t have trouble with the button mappings at all. I’d say they fit rather well once you get the hang of it all.
Machines with multiple control points, such as cranes, are operated using both sticks. Using a crane as an example, the left stick swings the boom arm and guides the rail that the hook is attached to. Then, the right stick raises and lowers the hook itself. Once you can proficiently make use of the sticks in tandem, it becomes almost second nature to guide your machines. That said, I sometimes found the movements to be a tad too swift, like when I was pouring concrete with a sprayer, but especially when it came to the driving mechanics.
My aforementioned description of Construction Simulator having semi-realistic mechanics carries over throughout various parts of the sim, and driving is no exception.
While Construction Simulator definitely doesn’t compete with the likes of American Truck Simulator/Euro Truck Simulator 2 or SnowRunner, there’s some obvious overlap in experiences across all of these different titles. Each offers their own spin on driving big machines, though, so there isn’t a clear “winner” among them. They perform somewhat similarly, but the all focus on very different usage scenarios.
Big rigs on the road
The core driving mechanics of each of those other sims are pretty tight, with my personal favorite being the richly-detailed physics system of SnowRunner. SCS’ sister truck sims also do a great job at emulating the feel of on-road semitruck driving. Construction Simulator doesn’t feel like any of these, however.
When trying to power through the dirt of a construction site, or even just bustling materials through the city streets, the physics feel lukewarm. They aren’t bad, but they’re not as tight and refined as I would’ve hoped. I have similar issues with the Farming Simulator series, which also has you constantly going on-and-off road without offering a particularly rich experience in either case.
In Construction Simulator, transporting materials and machines are big part of the experience. And yet, I find the trucks feel odd when turning and braking, particularly when driving normally on completely paved roads,. There’s no way I should be able to easily drift a truck that weights a few tons as if it’s a modified tuner car. Control inputs feel a little too sensitive when turning, and there’s no way to alter their values. Not to mention that driving is hampered by the AI traffic that moves incredibly slow.
Off-road, particularly in machines like dozers, the physics still feel a bit too flat. SnowRunner‘s whole design is based on off-road handling, and shows just how detailed such a system can be implemented. Here, I don’t feel like the massive wheels and tracks of some of these machines properly handle the uneven surfaces of the construction sites.
I’m not sure if this is just a limitation of the sim’s physics engine or if it’s a design choice. Either way, this isn’t a massive detriment to the overall experience, but it does water-down the “sim” aspect of this simulator.
An orderly site
The “simplified” mechanics I keep mentioning remain present when it comes to how Construction Simulator handles jobs. The sim has a lot of hand holding. Instead of having the freedom to do things like move dirt and lift objects and place them anywhere, Construction Simulator has pre-determined locations for these things.
You can’t pour concrete wherever you want. Neither can you lift an object with a crane and rest it where you please. You’ll always see an outline indicating where something must be placed. You just have to vaguely line it up with the outline, then press the button for it to just snap into the perfect position.
In the case of bulk materials like dirt, gravel, or concrete, if you accidentally spill them outside of a boundary zone, there’s no penalty. You also won’t have to backtrack and clean it up. There isn’t really much of a penalty for anything. In fact, once an aspect of the job is complete, the scene will quickly correct any oddities to make it look like it’s supposed to.
Plastic hammers and rubber nails
Now, is this a bad thing? Well, it depends on who’s playing. For younger or more casual sim players, this assistance may very well be a big benefit. It’s certainly less cut-throat than that of SnowRunner, which prides itself on making you deal with the consequences of your actions at every turn.
However, for more experienced players, the fact that this assistance is mostly unavoidable might dilute the gameplay experience. You don’t get any special rewards for being ultra precise, and your timing isn’t tracked, so you can complete a job at your leisure. You can even accept multiple jobs at once. Overall, the whole experience feels like the game is saying “do as you please.”
Again, not everyone will dislike this, but it does change the feeling of reward. Getting to the end of a job feels more like crossing things off of a checklist rather than actually feeling like you had to really work your way through to the end. Even with jobs that have you constructing entire houses, it feels lees like you built the house and more like you assembled some LEGO pieces together that were already picked for you.
The most hands-on jobs are any that deal with moving earth. When it comes to pushing a specific amount of earth out of the way, or digging it up, the sim can be very finicky with tracking progress.
A job well done?
Construction Simulator is very much focused on the machinery aspect of the industry, rather than emulating the processes that go into building. This isn’t like House Flipper where you can put your own personal touch on your creations to really make it your own, nor is it like Farming Simulator where you can even terraform the map to your liking.
This is a very streamlined, sanitized, and automated experience that kind of feels like you’re guiding things along rather than building it all from scratch. Depending on what you’re really looking for, this might either make or break the experience for you.
With all things considered, I still can’t say I haven’t had any fun with Construction Simulator. While it may not offer a fully hands-on experience, that doesn’t mean you’ll just glide through it. Particularly with large jobs like constructing new buildings, you’ll find yourself churning away on the same site for a good while. In fact, on my first major build, it took me an entire two hours to complete the scenario.
Between buying materials, transporting them from the dealers to the construction site, getting machines in the right positions, lifting objects from trailers to spots on the site, and everything in between, there’s a lot of operations to handle in each job.
All in a days work
As you build your fleet of machines and take on new missions, the map will change to reflect what you’ve built. From constructing parks to garages to repairing roads and erecting new buildings, Construction Simulator still manages to cover a lot of different aspects of construction despite it not being a fully nitty-and-gritty package.
While it could use some polish to really shine, Construction Simulator offers a relatively solid toolbox of gameplay experiences that fit right in with the other big-name sims when it comes to offering a relaxing atmosphere.
Completing these relatively monotonous tasks were therapeutic to me, especially with some nice country music playing to really set the right atmosphere. Not to mention its graphics are pretty good, offering some great lighting effects, solid textures, and a lot of environmental detail.
Playing Construction Simulator certainly won’t allow you to hop on a real site tomorrow, but it does do a decent job at capturing the essence of a builder’s life. While it’s not a substantial upgrade over the series’ past entries, it’s at least a solid experience.