Call yourself Fred Durst on Cialis because you’re rollin’ with a semi in SCS Software’s cult classic, Euro Truck Simulator 2.
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” Such is how the loneliness of extra-terrestrial travel is described by the tagline of the 1979 cinematic space odyssey Alien. While space is desolate and lacking promised advertised features that trailers misled us heavily with, it’s not the loneliest place imaginable. No, that would probably go to the humble truck driver. They drive and drive, taking their cargo from A to B, with no company but the yammering voices of late-night radio, and the greatest hits of Elton John. As such, the line should go “On the hard shoulder of the M42, no one can hear you ejaculate onto a copy of Ripple magazine before crying into a packet of McCoy’s crisps.” Thank god SCS Software are letting us experience the life in Euro Truck Simulator 2.
Euro Truck Simulator 2 deserves some commendation for the neatness of its title. You have a truck, you simulate driving in Europe, it’s the second game of the series. Done. Dead simple and we know where we’re at. What I found so charmingly apparent about this game (and will become clear through this review) is that there are no pretentions. It bares all like a slightly bigger man going nude at the beach, and says, “So what? This is me,” and as such, you can’t help but fall for the whole recipe, especially as, on paper, the concept is justifiably boring. You just…drive. As eye-roll-worthy about this as it initially seems, it quickly becomes a freeing experience.
You’re given free reign over a condensed version of Europe to start a trucking company, but sheds any sense of linearity in that you can achieve that end as slowly or as riskily as you’d like. The core of the game is cargo jobs – pick up the stuff, take it to a depot somewhere else, then profit. How you build your company is chaining these together; accrue money, buy trucks, garages, and employees. However, what really feels enjoyable about this game is how you truly have to grind to get there. You do not get handed a functional company. You start from absolutely nothing – no garage, no truck, no job. You must act as a freelancer, thereby pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, getting as much out of it as you put in. This is where the “freeing” aspect starts to bleed in – every game today tells you what to do, where to go, with only one or two programmed ways of doing it (games will get lauded for allowing the player to “choose” if they offer three or four). There’s none of that here. Euro Truck Simulator 2 couldn’t give a shit if you play the game or not, and that quickly makes it so enticing.
By the way, the freedom doesn’t just extend to the approach the game takes in regards to the player – Europe is at your feet, and while the version contained in the game is condensed, that in no way means “small”. While I haven’t done the precise calculations on how long it takes to drive across the map, it takes a solid half-hour to drive from London to Aberdeen, and that’s just the UK, which is a peon compared to the mighty shores of Europe (God, I sound like Nigel Farage’s pro-EU brother), in which an international journey can easily take an hour or two in condensed time. Virtual Europe is sprawling, and open for business, and while this aids in the endurance driving, the first problem arises. You’re probably aware of this yourself reading this review: a big virtual Europe can’t really afford to be rich in details, which is the minor tragedy of Euro Truck Simulator 2: SCS Software’s rendition Europe is fucking boring. Prepare to drive through endless stretches of anonymous motorways, countryside, and dirt roads, which all blend into one as you try to keep your wheels in between the white lines as Dolly Parton laments about Jolene for the third fucking time that night. What I’m getting at here is this: don’t expect a tour of Europe. Don’t even expect the theme park version because the digital stand-ins for cities are just a collection of buildings and traffic, so you don’t even get the obligatory landmarks gratuitously slapped in. There are no thrills or “wow, it’s the [insert monument here]!” moments. Bizarrely, I reckon this austerity swings around and works in the game’s favour.
When you’re a truck driver, you’re certainly not on a sightseeing tour, and the familiar roads do start to blend together, becoming as indistinguishable as the last, as the thoughts on the forefront of your mind aren’t how pretty the scenery is, it’s how long it’ll take to deliver the shipment, then to turn ‘round and get home. And yes, even though the screenshots look like a Rembrandt painting, the reality is that you’ll be looking at the world through the dirty windscreen of your truck. Ultimately, they don’t matter; it’s all about the drive, and in the way that bread and water becomes a delicious meal looked at in the right light, there is something unquestionably seductive about the certain blandness that Euro Truck Simulator 2 excels in. Get the cargo safely from A to B. Do it perfectly. Do it fast. Don’t hit cars. Park perfectly. It’s not boring, and it’s not conventionally exciting. But, man, it’s thrilling in a low-key way. A passage from Liverpool to Rotterdam scratches the brain in a way that’s just right that a million explosions could never satiate. Euro Truck Simulator 2 runs on the “Football Manager” factor – only those that have sat down and devoted hours to the game will truly understand, and by that point, there’s no turning back, anyway.
If I could be indulged (and it’s my site, so I will be) to gripe a little more, the AI are, infuriatingly, dumb as a bag of rocks, and will crash into you at will, causing you unneeded damage, cutting your pay for the shipment in ribbons, and causing you traffic collision fines (“Accident implies there was no one to blame”) that are in no way your fault. Also, the truck has this inexplicable tendency to get caught on objects that stick out, such as random signposts or gates, and it feels like you spend 20% of your time trying to extricate yourself, which has caused me more than one legitimate headache as it severely impedes the flow of your journeys and the game at large. Also, in the pursuit of trying to be as realistic a simulator as was possible, SCS Software accidentally come off as pedantic and annoying at times, fining the player character for not sleeping, not having their lights on when it’s justifiably quite bright, and going 51 in a 50 zone, among other “infractions”. Realism is a fine benchmark to shoot for in simulator games, but all these provide is a realistic pain in the ass, and what developers need to remember is that it’s perfectly okay to take certain breaks from reality. That, and doing 51 in a 50 zone is not a crime, dammit.
None of that really matters, though. Euro Truck Simulator 2 satisfies, and that level of satisfaction will linger in the brain far longer than its foibles. It’s by no means the perfect game, but you can have perfect times playing it, and that’s exactly why it works.
Technically marvellous by no means, but this simulator is a beautiful sight simply for how good it feels to play, not necessarily how good it looks.