American Truck Simulator Review
On the road again, this time in the US of A
Three years ago, the niche yet surprisingly engaging Euro Truck Simulator 2 made waves as one of the most popular modern games focusing on emulating the trucking industry. Players were able to live out their dream of spending hours behind the wheel, delivering goods across a minimalistic version of multiple European countries. Whatever its flaws, and the inherent limited appeal, the game was a success that was further bolstered by a lot of post-launch support and DLC. The developers at SCS Software have decided to move on however, as their new American Truck Simulator hit digital stores recently. And while the game features many of the aspects that made its predecessor so solid, there’s not much else here to elevate the sequel.
Much as the same might suggest, ATS is a simulation of what it’s like to be a truck driver in the US. But while that might sound very exciting, the actual scope of the game is limited. There are only two US States in the game at launch, California and Nevada, and the amount of drivable roads is quite small. As in ETS2, this is a rather simplistic and miniature model of the real world, featuring a few notable landmarks in the distance and some busy main streets. Don’t expect to find fully recreated urban locations – but that’s not to say the attention to detail is lacking. Like its predecessor, ATS is startlingly atmospheric; driving through a dark, starry night with nothing but your headlights illuminating the winding road as a classic song blasts from the radio is a uniquely memorable feeling. It’s not for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any less immersive.
Besides the new setting, however, ATS is lamentably familiar. If you’ve spent any amount of time with the previous game, everything here will feel strikingly identical. From exactly the same menus to the gameplay, there is very little here to differentiate this follow-up effort. One has to wonder if calling this a major expansion rather than a standalone game would have been more beneficial. In fact, building on ETS2 would have brought much more content to ATS, a game that feels lacking in that department.
But let’s step back to basics for a moment. If you’ve had a chance to check out our ETS2 Review, you should already know what to expect. Players begin by picking up one-time deliveries from a variety of companies, and ensuring that the goods arrive on time and unharmed. After making enough cash, you can buy your own truck and begin to work for yourself, taking more financially lucrative contracts. You can then buy garages and hire AI drivers and more trucks to help expand your company. Pretty much everything remains at the status quo.
On the road, aside from the new scenery, the gameplay is also very much the same. You’re driving a big rig with a load, and your weight and maneuverability often depends on what you’re hauling. You must account for the swing into the corners, the extra time it takes to accelerate and brake, and so on. ATS offers a multitude of control tweaking options, from using the keyboard and automatic shifting, to wheel support and full manual gearboxes. The driving experience is certainly realistic enough to pass as a simulation. AI traffic has been notably improved, and you won’t run into endless roadblocks that ETS2 had at launch.
You and your company’s drivers have an experience level, and each time you earn a new rank, a perk can be unlocked. These perks allow you to deliver dangerous goods, be more fuel efficient, perform time-sensitive deliveries and drive for longer periods of time. Yep, everything is still the same as ETS2. One new addition comes in the form of a potential XP bonus at the end of your delivery run. Players are given a choice to unhook the trailer at the entrance, or deliver the goods into the actual storage area. There are two options with corresponding XP bonuses – one is straightforward, while the other probably requires tricky maneuvers and backing into a spot. It’s a decent way to earn extra experience, though many of the depots are identical in structure, so once you’ve mastered one, you’ll be able to pull off the reversing on many other occasions. Another new addition is weight stations – these don’t have much impact, other than forcing you to pull over and weigh your truck and then carry on.
Other changes are not as successful, as the game’s economy has been thrown off-balance. The police presence, who will ticket you if they observe infractions such as speeding, has been severely increased. The fines for speeding, running red lights, and accidents have also grown tremendously. While the harsh but fair punishment may have been acceptable, ATS is far too inconsistent. You’ll be booked going too fast on a highway, even though the police and other traffic are passing you by. At other times, speeding will be completely ignored. You will get automatic tickets for collisions or running red lights, but ignoring other rules – such as crossing the median or blowing through stop signs – is ignored. The very expensive tickets will quickly dig into your savings and thus delay your progress.
These issues tie into the world design a bit – for example, there are intersections with both a traffic light and a stop sign, a design that we’ve never seen in US. Speed limits change suddenly and without warning (in-game or road signs), and thus you’re being instantly ticketed as you cross an invisible threshold, or realize that the highway suddenly becomes a busy urban street and there is a red light around the next bend. As mentioned, the actual amount of roads in the game are few in number; it’s impossible to miss your exit or turn because there’s just so few accessible intersections to begin with. Last, but not least, there are only two trucks in the game. There’s some visual and body customization, but they perform and sound quite similar, thus there’s not much variety. No cabin customization, either.
The game’s new American setting is decently varied and potentially immersive, but it doesn’t look particularly breathtaking. There aren’t many visual improvements here over ETS2, with the same basic textures and car models. The surrounding scenery is much more open than the dense European forests, with dry deserts stretching as far as the eye can see. Regrettably, the engine can’t see that far, and the draw distance is notably poor. Objects will constantly pop in within your field of view, as the whole world disappears in the rearview mirrors. The game runs fairly smoothly, but the presentation is far from impressive.
American Truck Simulator is a decent enough standalone game, but it is difficult to recommend in a world where Euro Truck Sim 2 exists. Fans of ETS2 will enjoy the change of scenery, but there’s not much else here to entice them to switch. Those looking to check out this genre for the first time are also much better suited picking up the cheaper and much more content-rich ETS2, as the gameplay differences are miniscule. If you’re set on getting the latest from SCS Software, American Truck Simulator is a good enough outing and comes with a lower launch price, but compared to its predecessor, there’s just not much here beyond a new setting.