It’s difficult to explain why I enjoy hitting the freeways of American Truck Simulator and cruising well into the night to make sure my cargo reaches its destination on time. Along with the numerous hours I’ve put into Euro Truck Simulator 2 (ETS2), I just keep coming back for more. To some, the prospect of driving from one place to another in a virtual world sounds about as much fun as their morning commute, while to others it’s the perfect way to escape and relax.
Those who have previously played ETS2 will find that not much has changed other than the setting. The UI is almost identical and the premise of the ‘game’ has been left untouched. American Truck Simulator (ATS) is more of a sister game to ETS2, rather than a sequel, and so experienced players will be instantly familiar with the game right from the moment they start the engine for the first time.
You begin as a lowly driver for hire, and with no truck of your own you must accept job offers delivering cargo as required. Each job earns you money and XP, which goes towards leveling up your driver and unlocking new skills. Increasing these skills allow you to take on longer hauls, more fragile or valuable cargo, or they give you the certification to transport dangerous goods such as explosives and hazards. Eventually you build up your fleet, hiring drivers and buying garages as you expand your transport company.
An entry-level truck of your own will set you back around $115k, which for me took around 15 hours to get to – I decided to do it the hard way, and not take out a loan from the bank. This also meant that by the time I could afford a truck of my own I had levelled up enough to unlock better parts, such as a more powerful engine, a better transmission and some modifications such as lights or extra mirrors. As with ETS2, each truck is meticulously detailed, from the hub caps to the dials on the dashboard, and are great fun to drive with a either steering wheel or controller. Keyboard and mouse is possible, but I don’t think you don’t get the full ‘experience’ of driving a truck.
Owning my own truck put the world at my fingertips, as I could drive where I wanted and pick up cargo as I wish. The downside to this is that I end up having to cover my fuel expenses, as well as repairing my truck after picking up damage. Sadly, this damage is invisible to the player, but can lead to breakdowns if left unfixed.
For me, the best feature that SCS Software have added is the choice of parking options once you reach your destination. The first option you have is to skip parking all together, while ‘normal’ parking generally requires just a basic maneuver to earn a parking bonus similar to ETS2. The ‘hard’ option is by far the most fun one, with tricky reversing maneuvers and tight spots making even the most experienced trucker sweat. The hardest option also pays out the most, and gives a generous XP bonus that can be useful to counter any penalties you’ve picked up along the journey.
Penalties come in the form of speeding fines, collision tickets and other offences like running red lights. When the game was first released, if you were caught speeding by one of the numerous patrolling police cars rather than your standard speed camera, the fine was doubled to $1000. Combine this with the fact that California only has a top speed limit of 55mph for HGV’s and internet forums were full of users complaining that their wallets were being hit too hard. The developers were quick to acknowledge this, adding a patch that reduces the fines for newer players before gradually scaling up in line with the player’s skill level, or alternatively letting you disable them altogether.
Right now the most disappointing thing is that there are only two states to explore: California and Nevada. Although these states are far more detailed than the majority of countries we saw in Euro Truck, you can visit all of the cities quickly enough that you might feel a little short changed. That said, the cities are bigger and far more detailed than the cities in ETS2, with famous landmarks being faithfully recreated. Nothing quite beats the first time you roll across the Golden Gate Bridge and head into San Francisco, or approach the bright lights of Las Vegas as dusk begins to set in.
The smaller towns that sit between the major cities also have their own unique atmosphere, with everything being at the same high standard of the Scandinavian DLC for ETS2. Away from the ities, you have the beautiful coastline running between Los Angeles and San Francisco, or you can head east to the impressive geology of Nevada that reminds me of Monument Valley. Speaking of which, I hope the upcoming Arizona DLC features that area, with it’s long stretches of tarmac that have been so iconic in films.
I was also surprised by how the game launched with just two trucks. That’s now been increased to three with more on the way, as the developers have openly said that they are finding it harder than expected to negotiate licenses from American manufacturers. With the game having had a successful launch, I’m hoping this will give SCS the necessary bargaining chip to seal some deals, but if you can’t wait then you can always turn to the online modding communities for more big rigs. Speaking of mods, the talented creators of ETS2 MP have already released a multiplayer version for American Truck Simulator, allowing you to form up convoys and explore with friends.
SCS Software have stated that ATS, along with ETS2, will continue to evolve and expand as time progresses, with both games being developed in parallel. Arizona will be offered as a free download, but after that it looks as if all future regions will be paid DLC. That’s not necessarily a bad thing considering the endless number of hours the game has to offer right now, combined with its price of £14.99 on Steam (but can be found cheaper elsewhere). Nonetheless, prospective buyers should know that ATS will be a long-running investment should you wish to get the most out of it, while those on the fence should definitely try the free demo to see if they get hooked.
American Truck Simulator may seem a little bare right now, with just two states and three trucks, so it’s hard to recommend to newcomers over the sublime Euro Truck Simulator 2. That said, those that enjoyed hauling in Europe will no doubt find enjoyment on the other side of the pond, with new cargo awaiting them and new cities to explore.