It was near dusk as I entered onto the Golden Gate Bridge. The sun glinted warily over the foothills near South San Francisco and I dared a long look over the rails of the bridge and across the wide expanse of the azure seas of San Francisco Bay. My large eighteen-wheeler navigated carefully through the thick rush hour traffic, I dared not bump into anything or anyone lest my high-end cargo end up getting damaged. That would not be good for my pocketbook.
Hours later, I was on the famous Interstate 5 Highway heading through Central California across wide swaths of wide-open lands. Most of the time, my only company were derelict or decrepit farm houses, barns, or sprawling orchids, with an occasional animal sighting. I pulled over on the highway’s shoulder and turned off the engine, just to see how accurate the experience was. Sure enough, there was just me and the night, with the only sound being crickets chirping in the background.
Suddenly, on the lonely horizon up ahead, a pair of faint headlights appeared. They gradually grew brighter in intensity until they were nearly upon me. As the lone car passed by, the female driver glanced at my big rig briefly and then I watched as her taillights drifted off into the night air. Satisfied, I switched my engine back on and prepared myself for more moments that would make me feel gleeful in their ordinariness.
I must admit that at one time in my life, I seriously considered being a trucker. There was something alluring to me about driving throughout distant states and experiencing all of the disparate cultural nuances of North America that most people take for granted. The trucking lifestyle also has many romantic connotations associated with it—it’s just you and the road and your big eighteen-wheeler, forging your own path over the roads of our great country. Heck, even James Cameron, one of my favorite directors, was once a truck driver. When he’d stop at one of the many truck stops that dot our highways and freeways, he’d occupy his time writing screenplays. One in particular was a little movie called…The Terminator.
Granted, SCS Software’s American Truck Simulator is a little more limited in scope than I’d initially anticipated (it only features the states of California and Nevada for now), since I’ve never played a truck driving simulator I’m glad this was my first one. As someone who has traversed many Californian and Nevadan highways and freeways I have to say that the developers really nailed the feeling of the rather mundane yet charming areas that they stretch across. From quaint farming towns to the hustle and bustle of large cities, you really get the sense that you’re a real live trucker, without the worry of actually towing around precious cargo.
American Truck Simulator lets you start off as a novice trucker working for large transportation companies. You take on your choice of jobs that your employers make available for you. Then you load up your cargo and haul it off to some distant disembarkation point. As you gain experience, rarer, more sought-after (and higher paying) gigs become available. With these more lucrative jobs comes more valuable cargo. Fortunately, as an independent contractor, if you do get into any sort of fender-bender (or God forbid—worse), your benevolent employer will deduct most or all of the losses from their insurance, which made me realize that these institutions must have some huge amounts of insurance in real life. Eventually, when you save up enough dough, you can work toward building up your own trucking company.
Which brings us to the other portion of the game—running your own business. When you have enough funds to kick things off, American Truck Simulator lets you can pick whatever city you want to be based out of and then purchase a customized truck that you can trick-out and modify as you please. Over time, you can even hire other truckers to work for you and build up your very own over-the-road transportation empire. But it’ll cost you—every time that one of your truckers (or you) get into an accident you are responsible for the damage, just as your employers were for you in the first part of the game. Not to mention that you have to pay for exorbitant fuel costs that these big, road bound behemoths suck up.
And driving isn’t all just gazing out of your windows and lazily taking in the vast, largely wide-open scenery. You’ll have to minimize unfortunate matters such as fines, damage to your truck (and the aforementioned cargo), the sleepiness of your driver, and other hazards, all the while trying to avoid occasional dangerous drivers, both across the open road and in some of the larger cities.
American Truck Simulator’s graphics are some of the best I’ve ever seen in any type of simulator on my gaming laptop or PC. Granted, I’ve never played a trucking sim before, but I’ve played others that had some pretty paltry production values. That’s not the case here. Everything, from the hearty sound of your diesel’s engine, to the distant roar of the odd jet streaking through the skies above, sounds realistic. The eye-catching graphics only add the immersion and I especially enjoyed the sprawling desert areas where you rarely encounter anything, and mainly drive in straight lines.
American Truck Simulator may initially seem to be a rather mundane, humdrum gaming experience, but I found that driving along some of our beautiful lands is actually quite a meditative one, just as it is in real life. It’s just you and the open road, just as I’d imagine it if I’d become an American trucker.
American Truck Simulator’s visuals are drenched with beauty. But in order enjoy them without any framerate drops you’ll need a decent gaming PC:
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