Flawed but Popular Simulators: American/Euro Truck Simulator 2

The Microsoft Flight Simulator was my first sim-passion, but SCS Software managed to convince me to trade my pilot wings for some gas station coffee and doughnuts soaked in the scent of diesel when they released 18 Wheels of Convoy.  I’ve been into truck-sims ever since, and I’ve put nearly 100 hours between the studio’s two latest releases: American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2. Even though I enjoy my regular sessions with these titles, I’d be lying if I said they didn’t have a few notable annoyances.

A TALE OF TWO WORLDS: BEAUTY AND BORING

Lush vistas versus dry deserts. Clearly, one is more visually pleasing than the other.

One of the things that attracted me to 18 WoS: Convoy was that it featured a map of the entire United States and even parts of southern Canada. That totally blew my 9-year old mind! I found it so amazing to be able to drive coast-to-coast. Sure, I could already do that (and more) in my flight simulator, but the detail of 18 WoS: Convoy’s rendition of the USA made it more immersive. Euro Truck Simulator 2 offers a similar experience, albeit on a much grander scale due to the world size being a whole lot bigger (which is what you’d expect with there being a seven-year difference between the two). ETS 2 has a variety of different countries spanning across Europe. The scenery is gorgeous and highly detailed, especially in the DLC maps like the recently-released Italia Expansion. Famous landmarks, variable landscapes, visually-pleasing terrain—these are about the best terms I could use to describe what you’ll see as you drive around the world of ETS2. As for American Truck Simulator…well, somehow the gears got slammed into reverse.

American Truck Simulator launched with a grand total of three states. That’s right: three. It only just recently got its fourth towards the end of last year. California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico make up this quartet. While it’s true that this map is rather expansive in size and very detailed, I almost feel like SCS took the easy way out, kind of. All of these states are located in the southwestern US, which has very dry, rocky, terrain. As a result, everything kind of blends together. There simply isn’t much variation when it comes to desert landscape. SCS has done a good job at capturing the iconic landmarks of each of these states, but it all looks pretty drab when compared to the vibrant map of ETS2. I wonder how much longer ATS will be supported: will we ever get the remaining 45 reachable states? It seems like that just might only happen with modders taking up the task.

DRIVE, DRIVE and DRIVE SOME MORE

Listening to tunes is the only thing to keep you distracted.

Now, I’m going to admit this next ‘flaw’ is rather debatable, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I should add it in. But, I decided to do so anyway because I want to see thoughts from other truck-sim fans about it. SCS has done a great job at modeling the worlds of both ATS & ETS2, but it feels like a lot of it is just for ‘show.’ What I mean by that is that the scenery really is just scenery. NPCs are also all over the place, but again, they’re really only there to populate the world and make everything seem a little less desolate. Even so, each of these game’s worlds are pretty soulless. You can’t interact with anything that isn’t related to your truck and the various cargo trailers. You can’t even get out of your truck and take a walk around. Everything not related to driving is done through menu after menu. We’ve had open-world games for several years now, so it’s not like just something like getting in and out of a vehicle is some big dream. But really, the ‘soulless world’ is a flaw of most simulators.

Simulators are built to virtualize a specific activity, and so, they focus all of their resources on that specific activity. In the case of ATS and ETS2, they do a great job at replicating the truck driving experience. Even so, as the capabilities technology gets more advanced, the bar of expectations and desires also continue to rise. Our systems can handle games with a lot going on, so naturally, we want developers to make things more dynamic and exciting. I’d like to at least be able to communicate with other drivers on the road through the radio, just like in the real world. Even if it’s pre-recorded messages, it would at least add another layer of realism to the experience. Actually, this feature was already implemented in later entries of the 18 WoS series, so I’m rather confused as to why it isn’t present in the current truck-sims. SCS has tried a few things to spice up the experience, like the random events in ATS and the Special Transport DLC in ETS2 that has cargo so valuable, a police escort is necessary with each mission. These are steps in the right direction, but I’d like to see a little more—more interaction, really. After all, games are interactive experiences, so shouldn’t most things in a game offer a level of interaction?

‘ARE WE THERE YET?’

Can we spice up the driving experience?

Most simulators tend to have one consistent similarity—they’re pretty boring. What I mean by that is they’re usually very slow-paced and monotonous compared to most other games. They are simulators after all, so this is pretty much to be expected. This is also the reason why some sim fans don’t even like to refer to simulators as ‘games,’ simply because they’re kind of different. With that said, I have to admit that the laid-back gameplay of American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator 2 has caused me to fall asleep at the virtual wheel on a quite a few occasions. I do genuinely enjoy playing since I find it relaxing, but it’s almost too relaxing sometimes. Listening to that slow drone of my truck engine is just soothing to me, which sometimes leads to my controller vibrating its shell off after I crashed into a wall or another vehicle due to dozing off.

One of the reasons why kids get so impatient during long drives is because they’re not engaged. They’re just sitting, aimlessly staring. That’s kind of how I feel when playing these truck-sims, too. Eventually, the motion of the somewhat often lane-changing becomes second-nature, and that just leads to me turning on cruise control, and my mind going into autopilot mode. What I think would alleviate this is a world with more challenge. The aforementioned Special Transport DLC in ETS2 is a good starting point, as it requires you to pay attention to just about everything for every second of the mission. I never dozed off once while playing simply because it was so engaging. I want to see more of this concept, not just in ETS2, but also ATS. For instance, random major weather events like a massive dust storm in ATS, or a powerful thunderstorm/snowstorm in ETS2? Routes with roads that aren’t particularly easy to navigate due to being poorly maintained, or on treacherous terrain? Driving is no walk in the park, and stuff like this does happen in the real locales that ATS and ETS2’s maps are based on. I think this would make things a lot more interesting, and would definitely give me less of a chance to even think about falling asleep, let alone do it.

Despite the points I mentioned, I’m still enjoying both of these titles. No game is perfect of course, but these are just annoyances that I have that I believe could be remedied. Even so, I’m no game developer, so perhaps implementing these changes and improvements isn’t all that easy, hence the reason why SCS hasn’t done it yet. Still, I wanted to put this article out there as a suggestion. The Truck Simulator series has quite a large and active fanbase, so it’s not as if SCS doesn’t have an audience to please. I’m sure adding features and fixes like the ones I mentioned would win over quite a number of those fans. Since the development of Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator is still ongoing, I think there is a chance for these changes to take place. But, even if we don’t get them in these iterations, perhaps in the sequels? SCS, you’ve had me as a fan for about a decade, and I’m prepared to continue to be entertained by your work for several years to come. Surprise me!

 

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