A simulation can still be fun
Simulator games are an enigma to me. And just to be clear, I’m referring to actual simulator games rather than jokes titles such as Goat Simulator et al that have somehow become the defining standard of the term “Simulator game” these days (though I can’t quite get my head around those either). I’d see game like Farming Simulator or OSMI or the even more intense varieties like Flight Simulator develop a solid fan-base, and wonder why on earth would anyone spend their free time pretending to do jobs that bore millions around the world every day?
Above all of these was Euro Truck Simulator 2. The cult following this game received after its release grew quickly, to the point where “cult following” no longer seems like an adequate description, and eventually many of the voices singing its praises were oft to state an argument along the lines of, “I don’t normally like simulator games, but…” Such was the intense acclaim for this particular game that I finally broke down, and in the furor of a Steam summer sale I committed to pretending I was a truck driver. In Europe.
I say this to highlight the hurdle Euro Truck Simulator had to overcome for me to regard it as a worthwhile game, never mind a great game. I was skeptical to the point where I almost wanted to dislike it. I think I might have been scared of the possibility that I would actually like this type of video. And, well, it is indeed a worthwhile game. It’s surely even a great game. If you, like me, are of the opinion that these titles are not for you, this is the one to make you think, “well, maybe…”
Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a game where you drive a truck across Europe. There is, as there ever is with simulator games, more to it than that, such as light RPG style character progression and strategy game features. However, the draw here is the sensation of driving articulated trucks (or lorries, depending on your perspective) across continental Europe and Britain. Developer SCS achieved an incredible level of fidelity in recreating a truck-driving experience. When hauling a 20-tonne load across the highways of Belgium, the game genuinely feels like you’re dragging an over-sized consignment to its designated destination. This has the effect of creating sense of attachment to your task that you just don’t get in other games. As fun as is to be tasked with slaughtering zombies or toppling empires, the fantasy element of standard video-game objectives quite often separates the protagonist’s role from the player’s sense of engagement. This is not the case with Euro Truck Simulator 2.
This is not to say the game is unfairly demanding. Perhaps the greatest achievement of Euro Truck Simulator 2 is its sense of balance. This is a simulator game to its core, but not so much that that should scare you off. A friend of mine put it best when he described it as a “hangover game”. The games mechanics are deep and involving, but the game allows the player to experience them at their own pace.
For instance, at the start of the game, the player has access only to low-level freelance haulage jobs, driving other companies’ trucks for them. By completing these simple tasks, the player will earn enough experience to take on more demanding tasks and enough capital to buy and upgrade their own truck and, eventually, invest in a garage and begin managing their own haulage company. They may even hire more drivers and maintain a personal fleet of trucks. It’s all deeply involving. However, the player is also free to ignore all of these light RPG elements and continue taking driving jobs at their leisure, if that’s what they enjoy most about the game. For a video-game, it makes for a notably refreshing change of pace.
And so, it has to be said, I loved Euro Truck Simulator 2. Perhaps not enough for me to become further invested in the simulator game genre, but certainly enough to understand what makes them popular. There’s an attachment, and as a result a sense of achievement, with these games that very few space-marine shooter games can match.
Overwhelmingly justified: That’s a big 10-4, buddy