Newcomers to the burgeoning truck simulator genre might initially wonder why anybody would want to drive a heavy goods vehicle and deliver freight. After all, it’s a job, not a hobby.
But think about it: what a job it is. Not only do you get to pilot the most indestructible vehicle on the freeway, looking down on everybody from your lofty cab like mighty Zeus, but you spend all day every day on the open road, discovering new places and shooting the breeze with your good buddies over your CB radio.
And that’s exactly what you get to do in Truck Simulation 19, the latest trucking sim from astragon, whose previous credits include Construction Simulator 2, Bus Simulator 18, and Train Fever.
Trucking Simulation 19 takes place in the USA, the home of trucking culture and the source of its most iconic imagery. What’s more, it takes place in ALL of America (barring the non-contiguous states of Alaska and Hawaii.)
At least, it will do once the necessary updates have been released. For now you’re confined to the eastern seaboard, the south, and the midwest – which is plenty to be getting on with.
As you’d expect, the gameplay in Truck Simulation 19 largely involves driving a truck. You start off by picking up a trailer for an old flame and delivering it to another state. In the process you’re treated to a bit of dialogue, hinting at a troubled past and tricky times ahead. More on that later.
If you’ve never played a trucking sim before you’ll probably have to undergo a period of adjustment. GTA V this is not. While you’re free to crash into cars, drive over the speed limit, mount the kerb, run red lights, overbalance on sharp corners, and so on, you’ll quickly realise that it’s not worth it.
Every infraction costs you cash in the form of fines, and inflicts more damage on your truck. If you’re not careful, you can end up losing as much as you make on costly roadside repairs and penalties for reckless driving.
Believe it or not, Truck Simulation 19 is fun because partly because it makes you drive sensibly. There’s a quiet thrill to observing the rules of the road when it means you’re going to earn the maximum profit for delivering your cargo.
You can plough your profits back into a range of different things, including new trucks, vehicle maintenance, unlocking regions of the map, and a huge variety of mechanical upgrades to every conceivable component of your rig.
Plus, you’ll need to spend a bit of money on fuel and hotels, to keep your truck and yourself in roadworthy condition.
And once you’ve completed the first campaign mission – Mending Fences – you can spend cash on acquiring new depots, to increase your reach and unlock those all-important fast travel points.
Campaign missions feel a bit like Firewatch, with dialogue adding a sense of purpose and mystery to your journeys. They also help you to progress through the game, unlocking new depots, earning money, and so on.
The regular missions, on the other hand, cut you loose and let you explore the open country on your own terms. While the game provides a GPS route to every destination, marked out with giant blue arrows that hover over the road, you can visit the map screen to plot your own course if you like. You don’t even have to take a mission.
The actual driving does a pretty good job of simulating the experience of controlling a gigantic truck. You need to consider your turning arc, the mind-boggling geometry of reversing with a trailer, and various other factors that simply don’t come into most driving games, and there’s a satisfaction to mastering the art of HGV manoeuvres.
In some ways Truck Simulation 19 is highly accessible. You can quickly find everything you need to find in terms of missions and jobs in the menu, and the game even notifies you when you’re tired or your vehicle is damaged or running low on fuel and offers to set a course to the nearest hotel or garage.
But in other ways the game leaves you to your own devices, and it can take a little while to work out exactly how to pick up a trailer, where to find it, where to drop it off, and so on. The sat nav will get you to the general area, but after that you need to use your common sense.
There are various different camera angles to choose from, including overhead, from the hood, and from behind. While it’s a good idea to use the external angles from time to time to help you pull off tricky manoeuvres, the best way to view the action is from inside the cab.
When you’re sitting at the wheel, the freeway stretching out ahead of you, the sun going down and stretching the shadows, the lights of the cars in the other lane glaring, Truck Simulation 19 is at its immersive best.
It’s not quite the same as being on the open road, but if you’re in the market for a spot of gentle drama and some pleasingly sensible driving, Truck Simulation 19 is worth taking for a spin.