The simulator genre is one that I have entirely avoided for some time. There really was no particular reason for this choice of mine outside of the word “simulator” merely being in the title conjuring images of a cheap, poorly-made game that is more-or-less thrown together with ugly pre-made stock assets and the concept of driving a simulated bulldozer never really appealed to me anyway. However, I did have one simulator in my Steam library: Euro Truck Simulator 2. I acquired it from a Humble Bundle a while back and it was just sitting there idly; un-played, uninstalled, unappreciated. It didn’t seem like a big deal but out of the blue I see it pop up on sale in the Steam store. Clicking on it out of sheer morbid curiosity, I discover an “Overwhelmingly Positive” user rating, so that piqued my interest. In smokey-eyed indifference I subtly mumble to myself, “Oh well… I own it. I might as well try it.” The download was quick and I jumped in. After the tutorial I looked to the window from whence came sunlight what seemed like moments before, was then shocked to see the sky was black as EA CEO Andrew Wilson’s soul!
So, what happened to those hours? A few trips to Munich. A run to Mannheim. The occasional fender-bender with indestructible Renault Clios… The usual. I cannot explain how addictive this game is, or why; I can only tell you that I seem to get lost in thought these past few days, imagining what is next on my long-haul agenda! You would think endless driving through highways and industrial parks would get boring, but this game does something to you! Something…
First and foremost, this is a simulator, which means you are going to have to get used to the controls. Fortunately, the game has pretty solid tutorial, multiple control types and a selection of difficulty levels with varying grades of demand and pressure for the player. As you play there is a fair difficulty curve for deliveries and you can freely choose a quick run that will take about five minutes to a continent-spanning highway odyssey that could take multiple hours! Fortunately, the game is merciful, allowing you to save mid-mission so you are not required to marathon a journey from Italy to Denmark in one sitting. The short missions are great for variety, but where the early money really comes rolling in with the longer drives.
In the longer trips you will also find much of the depth of the game. Having to stop to refuel, sleep, and even getting repairs at a nearby town or city along the route can be a necessity for lengthy runs and getting to know the roads helps. The game tiers the world for you as well, focusing a majority of the randomized deliveries available on cities you’ve already visited, with the occasional new destination. Arriving at these new locations makes these cities appear more frequently, and thus, from these new places you get more distant deliveries spanning more countries. The roads are vast and there are many routes you can take with stops along the way. When you accept your delivery contract, you start at the distributor and a friendly GPS maps out the best route to the destination, however you are free to use pins to alter your route if you so choose, but be warned, all missions are timed and you get graded on your promptness and the condition of the products you are carrying. If you meander or wander off the beaten path too much, you could miss out on rewards at the end of the delivery. So, you may ask: What’s the point of the open world, then? Well…
Since you start the game dirt-poor, all you can do is take contract jobs on pre-loaded trucks. You are stuck doing what you are supposed to, following the rules. However, once you save up enough funds from the do-boy missions, you can buy your own truck! At this point, the open road is yours to explore. The world is an open, massive landscape of thousands of kilometers of highways, back roads and cities to traverse! Of course, even these open trips cost money. You have to pay for gas, necessary maintenance, and take the time to rest. Also, while you aren’t doing deliveries, you are not making money, which means you’re technically losing money, but fear not! Euro Truck Simulator 2 has you covered there, too!
Not only can you freely drive to any city or town, park at a delivery site and pick up a new delivery mission on the spot, but once the money starts really rolling in you can buy additional garages from all over the continent and then hire more drivers as part of your company to generate yet more revenue. Expansion is the goal and once you have a steady stream of income, you can further upgrade your garage, buy more trucks, hire more drivers and expand your trucking empire! The world (continent) is your oyster!
Now, if you are fearful of the long drive getting too boring, the game thankfully scales down the open world so a trip length that reads as two-and-a-half hours will actually only take about 15 minutes. This is method to help you get the most out of the game quickly, and to incentivize more exploration. Towns are truncated as well, focusing entirely on a small industrial section of each location and marking it on the map as you discover it. This is great, too as it allows you to focus on getting in and out and back on the open road, just remember to obey the speed limit to avoid getting a costly ticket. However, in town things slow down dramatically. The rules of the road still apply so you have to wait at red lights, watch for traffic and carefully navigate narrow alleys. This does give you the opportunity to view the city scenery, though. Naturally, hitting the highways is an entirely different story with faster speed limits, many lanes to follow and a flow of traffic that does require some concentration, however cruise control helps you safely regulate your speed so you can focus on steering and occasionally enjoying the scenery.
The world is lush and beautiful, too. A stunning effort was put into making the world in this game seem natural and lived-in. Small cabins and hamlets scatter the backdrops of the freeway along the countryside, titanic mountains tower over the terrain in the Alps and the Pyrenees, rolling hills create an illusion of depth and wide open fields welcome the wandering eye. Buildings of many types are situated along the way and it never really feels like the developers lazily just reused assets over and over. It all just feels natural and realistic, and considering the sheer scale of this world, this is an astonishing achievement. Add to this natural beauty the dark of night and the pouring of rain and you have one of the most convincing, immersive open worlds I have ever roamed in any game. While it doesn’t have the polish or deliberate design of something like Farcry or Just Cause, built for pulling off the impossible, it does feel real and so far, I have not been bored of just looking at it as I drive.
There is so much depth in this game that it seems almost insurmountable. The game tracks the stretches of road you’ve traveled, marking completion of the map, encouraging you to explore every square kilometer of its expansive world! Inside towns, on your first visit, driving by dealerships and recruiting centers increases your list of possible employees and future truck purchases. You can even upgrade and customize various mechanical and cosmetic features for both the exterior and interior of your truck from a pretty impressive selection of parts. Overall, there is so much to see, do and collect in Euro Truck Simulator 2! I would say it’s almost too much, but if that’s one complaint then that isn’t too bad now is it? The only other complaint I would have is sometimes the AI of the other drivers on the road is a little… What’s the word..? Stupid. Sometimes they will come from behind and drive right into you, occasionally block traffic for no reason and, if you happen to have an unfortunate accident, other vehicles can become ‘stuck’, as if they are unable to determine what they should do. In a few occasions this has caused me to get trapped in inescapable positions. The fix for this is using the game’s roadside assistance option to send a tow truck, which will by default bring you to the nearest available service garage.
In all, I would call this one of the best driving games released in the past ten years. If deep simulation is not your thing, you may get bored, but if you like the Skinner box of rewarding game design, Euro Truck Simulator 2 has you covered. It isn’t perfect, but it is, in my experience, the closest thing you will find to exploring the open road in such a realistic and immersive fashion.