By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
As a part of this weeks theme I figured I would go for something a little more discreetly masculine, however it is not necessarily so and can be as gender neutral as your willingness to accept or reject social norms entails. (With the amount of debate over the state of gender depiction in the computer game industry at the moment I’ll leave that there.) Today’s particular game will be SCS Software’s Euro Truck Simulator 2, the direct sequel of ETS1 however also an indirect inheritor of the studios various other titles. Now, stop! I ask that you take that initial impression that you got when you saw that it was a simulator and put that on hold for the time being, because it’ll be important that the sometimes shaky implementations of other simulators aren’t unfairly brought against ETS2. With that said you may also be considering why you would be interested in such a seemingly niche game, to which i say once again, put that thought on hold.
Released by SCS Software in October 2012, Euro Truck Sim 2 is the sequel to SCS Software’s 2009 Euro Truck Sim. These are not the only titles SCS Software has created within this genre as others such as German Truck Simulator, Trucks and Trailers and the officially licensed Scania Truck Simulator show that this studio has a significant level of experience in this field. If there is any studio that could pull of a great truck sim based upon past releases alone, SCS Software would be it. The game includes fully licensed brands for the vast majority of the manufacturers available and you can be sure a company would unlikely give the go-ahead on that if they felt that the software didn’t accurately display their product.
Now the important part: the gameplay. The majority of the game is spent, well you guessed it, driving a truck. I personally played mostly with a gamepad (standard 360 pad) but I also dabbled in the mouse and keyboard controls, both of which performed well although the gamepad clinched the deal due to the analogue controls for brakes, acceleration and steering. The game supports wheels and other driving accessories and whilst I don’t have said equipment to test on, if the high configurability of the gamepad controls was anything to go by then it should fulfil all control requirements. The handling of the trucks feels right, although I have little real world experience to draw upon, the overall feel of the trucks under different loads and configurations seems about right. The process of driving is not a simple cruise control auto-pilot, with the road, conditions and other road users normally ensuring that concentration is maintained. The world around you is a scaled down map of a lot of central-east Europe with great polish and an attention to detail that kept surprising me. Drive past an airport and you will see planes coming in to land, drive by road works and there are the appropriate vehicles (in that I don’t know what they’re called), drive by fields and you’ll probably see a farm vehicle. Despite this depth my one criticism is the relatively anemic cities.
The driving can either be done in quick contracts, where you are given a cargo, a truck and a destination by another company or you can purchase your own truck and take on contracts directly. This is where the second element of ETS2 comes into play, the game becomes a transport tycoon game essentially as you buy up garages, trucks and drivers to expand the company by moving stuff from point A to point B. The drivers are hired from a pool and will automatically seek out jobs just as you do once hired. The management of this is done through garages which must be upgraded to hold more trucks, in turn allowing more drivers. This is a very interesting element and extends the game beyond merely driving, giving the whole game a level of macro-progression. That is not to say that the only progression is macro through, you as a driver will gain experience which is used to level up and gain unlocks. These unlocks allow a variety of things, from opening more cargo opportunities to more fuel efficient driving and prove helpful in giving something to aim for. The types of trucks and truck upgrades are also tied into this experience system, meaning that as you level in addition to unlocking abilities the player also unlocks the chance to buy different trucks and upgrades for their current truck. These upgrades vary from very functional upgrades such as engine power to more aesthetic changes like paint colour and wheel styles.
The aesthetic of the game is impressive indeed, it runs on an in-house custom engine and looks very good for it too. The texture quality is fantastic and the options menu gives a huge amount of choice in terms of resolutions, shaders and effects. Personally I found that experimenting with injected 3rd party shaders succeeded in making the game look even prettier. The models around the world are well detailed, which is effective in contributing to the overall feel of authenticity. The day-night cycle is nicely done and there are weather effects including various cloud cover and rain. An addition that I would have liked would have been the introduction of seasons and a winter with ice and snow, this would have ramped up the driving challenge and helped in the overall immersion of an already detailed game world. Overall this is a good looking game.
The game is available on Windows, Mac and Linux although the Linux version is currently in open beta with the developers working hard on ironing out existing issues. The game also got Greenlit onto Steam which has given this seemingly niche title something of a sales boost (top of Steam sales chart for the first couple of days) and the devs are using this to develop more content for the game as well as patching away any existing issues. This means that we can expect to see DLC on the horizon as well as some content through free patches. Performance wise it’s quite demanding by the standards of the games that I’ve covered recently, it can look very pretty but I’m almost certain that it can look great on a mid-range rig, maybe an NVIDIA GTX4xx or 5xx and an i5. This isn’t a game you’ll get the most enjoyment out of on that toaster running Win ME though, so keep that in mind and try the trial out first if in doubt.
The game is available from their website (which will also provide a Steam key) for £26.65 (approx $40), also from Steam, Gamersgate, Origin and Greenmangaming for £25 (approx $39). You can even get an optical media copy from Amazon (UK) for £15. As you can see it’s available just about everywhere and that optical media price is just astounding. It’s also worth noting that SCS Software provide a demo in the form of a trial with limited game area on the ETS2 website. This means that there is practically nothing stopping you (beyond bandwidth or download restrictions in which case I feel your pain) from trying out this game. Approach it with an open mind and you might find that it provides that down-time game for when you just want to chillax a bit instead of worrying about your K/D or when the next Zerg rush will hit.