Monday, July 27, 2009

Big Rig Europe Review

Big Rig Europe, developed by SCS Software and published by Meridian4.
The Good: Authentic European trucks, career mode
The Not So Good: Sparse map with few cities and exits induces large amounts of boredom, no online play
What say you? This trucking simulation retains all of the features of previous titles but introduces nothing new and progressive: 4/8

The call of the open road has seduced many a young man, wanting to see the country from the comfort of a truck and use fun phrases like “breaker breaker” and “candy cane” on CB radios. For those of us without the advanced technical training required to drive one of these behemoths dangerously close to civilian vehicles at high speeds on the Interstate, we have computer simulations to fill the void. The developers behind the 18 Wheels of Steel series has adapted their simulation with a more international flair in Big Rig Europe. Formerly known as Euro Truck Simulator, how has the game improved and added to the formula?

The graphics are improved from previous efforts, offering up some nice, albeit repetitive, visuals during your time in the cab. The trucks themselves are nicely detailed, although most of the time you'll be sitting in the cab and won't notice (unless you switch to an alternate camera angle). The roadside attractions have pleasing varied terrain with high-resolution textures that avoid the washed-out blandness of before. Most significantly, the severe pop-in has been eliminated, producing a more fluid and consistent presentation. You also get the same weather, time of day, and animation effects from before. I suspect this is the area of the game that got the most attention, and it's nice to see that Big Rig Europe is able to compete with contemporary racing games in terms of visuals. The sound in the game is minimal: engine sounds and a handful of effects are all you will experience, as your truck lacks music for the radio (the game simply states “there are no songs to play”). The improved visuals, though, are the highlight of this new version.

In Big Rig Europe, you will start out as a rambunctious (I am assuming) new driver scouring Europe for fame, fortune, and gas stations. You'll begin a career by selecting a fancy new truck, a laborious process made so by an inefficient truck selection process. There are twelve trucks overall, spread over four makes and three classes. I did not notice any significant differences between the trucks, although subtle changes in horsepower and handling are probably there. The single player career mode is the only way to experience Big Rig Europe, as the game lacks online play (which would be really neat). You can unlock feats and ranks and upgrade your truck as you unlock additional countries during your career, but this is no replacement for cooperative (and competitively) playing against other human truckers online. The game offers some tutorial messages when you run the game for the first time, easing you into the relatively complex dynamics of driving a large truck.

Being American, I can't be as anal retentive about the game map as I was when reviewing 18 Wheels of Steel simply because I am less familiar with the geography. However, I do know that there are more than three towns in Germany, so I can say with certainty that Big Rig Europe contknues to disappoint in terms of map detail. This becomes a problem because there is a big lack in visual variety as you drive the lonely roads around Europe. Where are the small towns between major cities? All we get is the occasional gas station. This is simply not enough to keep you interested, and this comes from somebody who is interested in roads and enjoys expressway driving, so I imagine the situation is a lot worse for less interested individuals. It's time for the developers to put in some intermediate towns and increase the amount of content the game world contains. I am less able to ascertain whether the terrain is correct (before, coastal cliffs were common in Florida...oops!), but it seemed to be accurate enough for me. Europe is populated with cargo depots in each city (between which you will transport goods), in addition to parking lots for sleep and petrol stations for petrol (whatever that is). Job offers come with a destination and a good to transport, the profit of which depends on how much supply there is in the target town. This is a neat, abstracted system that prevents exploiting the same route over and over. You are also given more money for transporting hazardous or fragile goods, although thresholds for damage are much lower.

Big Rig Europe offers keyboard controls for most driving actions, like turning on the engine, setting the parking break, and using the turn signals. It takes a couple of trips to memorize the correct buttons for headlights and windshield wipers, but it becomes fairly intuitive after a while. The game leans on the simulation side of things, delivering (that may be a pun) seemingly realistic turning, braking, and acceleration. It's probably as close to driving a real truck as most of us will get. During your adventures, you will have to worry about getting tired (periodic naps in parking lots are required, although the lack of motels and truck stops are strange missing features), damage to your truck and trailer, and fuel. You must also obey the traffic rules, as running a red light or significant speeding results in an instantaneous ticket. Most of Big Rig Europe is quite boring, though, thanks to long transit times across the continent. The only thing that makes driving somewhat bearable is cruise control, but the lack of interesting sites and smaller interchanges makes Big Rig Europe appeal to only the most interested constituency.

Big Rig Europe suffers from the same problem as before: monotony. There simply is not enough between major cities: where are the exits at small towns? Having only three cities in France shows how barren the terrain really is. This causes a large amount of boredom in an already snooze-inducing game. You really have to make the trip interesting in a trucking game, because most everyone will find the premise extremely dull. This is frankly disappointing, as this is really one of the major areas in the series that needs improvement but never seems to get it: the developers are apparently comfortable with single roads and the occasional gas station between the few major cities. The cities themselves are caricatures, too, as Paris has about three roads and no distinct architectural features. For a road geek like myself, this is a disappointing limitation that's been in the series for far too long. The core of the game is fine, delivering the realistic driving you would expect. The career mode is mildly interesting as you ship goods around Europe, although online multiplayer would be the true goal for a game such as this. Sure, the graphics have been updated, but this is a small consolation prize in what is otherwise a retread of past efforts. The series Big Rig Europe is a part of has been around long enough to expect that auxiliary features, like map detail and multiplayer, should be present by now.