FBT is not King of the Road
I’ve never understood why you’d want to simulate real life. Why try to hold down a real job when I can be fighting dragons, committing crimes and saving the universe? And yet, a game where you just drive a lorry has sold millions and is rated Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam. Are there that many frustrated lorry drivers out there?
Once I’ve picked an appropriately trucker-looking avatar, PW Haulage is ready for business. Except, I’m not. The biggest issue I have with ETS2 is you can’t freeroam until you’ve made enough money to buy your own rig – boring! But, I have to admit, if it just gave me a truck I’d not do anything but drive it like I stole it. The period of time where you’re freelancing odd jobs until you can start your own business is like a long-distance tutorial.
And it turns out I need it. Driving a truck is hard. You really get the scale, the size, and being higher up gives you both more visibility and a sense of superiority. I always wondered how truck and bus drivers kept their nerve in those behemoths, and now I know – from up here I really do own the road.
Well, I would own the road if I could get out of the parking lot. Trying to reverse an articulated truck is insane. Everything goes the opposite way, I thought I had the axis controls flipped. The game does give a top-down view to help, but it doesn’t. It's witchcraft managing to back up a truck. It just won’t behave. I can’t even work out how I get so stuck.
Once I am free of the parking lot though, a massive smile breaks out. Its satisfying plodding along. It’s also terrifying. I keep forgetting about my massive backside and damaging everything, clipping kerbs and clouting parked cars – who parks on a corner anyway!? But soon I lean into it, get to know the lorry’s temperament and limitations, and soon enough I’m piling down the motorway, arm on the windowsill.
While it is both relaxing and intense, eventually the novelty wears off. Motorways get boring and when I reach the depot, I again spend forever somehow getting the load into every physically impossible position except where it’s needed, and I get a bit fed up with it. It’s also just annoying having to do tons of small – in terms of return, not distance – jobs to get your truck and business. As I’m checking the jobs page I notice a Loans option…
Now with a loan I have no chance of paying off, I get the cheapest truck I can and we’re off! The roads are more realistic than accurate, it’s not google maps we’re driving but it looks and feels great and I recognise a lot out of the windows. Freeroam fun. But while I do waste valuable time and money not to mention ruin my only truck trying to find my childhood home, old school, favourite pubs and the like, there’s not the detail I hoped for, including the cities you visit – I even drove for actual real-world hours from London to Prague to visit SCS’ offices, but home-town Prague was pretty much just the ring road. I get bored again, but I also feel like I gave up too easily and realise the appeal of sims is doing something right.
It is hard to get out of the GTA mindset; or at least Smokey and the Bandit – I often I look at the GPS and think ‘I could just cut across that field…’ but not doing so is the reward. When you finally pull into the drop off point, there’s a real sense of achievement at piloting one of those big rigs. Behaving as you should - within an acceptable margin for typical trucker behaviour - is a really satisfying challenge and getting better jobs because of your professionalism is a real motivator. I’m enjoying the simple pleasure of driving my rig, making great time and just doing a job. Whenever you free roam in an open world like GTA, mayhem is only moments away, but here you’re enjoying the monotony.
The trucks are legit and so well detailed, and I discover I have favourites – there’s so many subtleties to a cab. Although the distances and time is reduced, it’s no mean feat to set off from London for Italy, and it’s exciting switching between the road layouts and styles of the countries I pound my gas-guzzling, ozone-depleting big-rig through. Coming through! I gotta get this Basil to France.
I realise – as I deliver Grapes to Cambridge - this is more than just a truck driving sim, it’s an incredibly detailed management sim. Weighing up the suicide runs (high-risk, high-reward), the long-hauls (distance vs returns) and the quick runs (fast and cheap) against the money I need to build a business, buy hubs, hire drivers, unlock better routes, there’s much more to this than working on my right arm’s tan.
I’d like to say that in the end I had a fleet to rival Eddie Stobart and retired with my trophy wife to Marbella while Channel Five does a fly-on-the-wall docu series about the business. But no. PW Haulage is barely keeping the banks at bay. I am a crap hauler, but this is a good game. It’s amazed me how ETS2 makes something so seemingly mundane a really compelling experience. While it takes some perseverance, and its mostly motorways, you have to keep your wits and there’s a joy in just getting things done. The trailer parking is tougher than any boss in Dark Souls, and at times you do sit there in the cab thinking “what the hell am I doing?” but great to have some game time that doesn’t require button-mashing.
The most amazing thing about ETS2 though, is this was released in 2012 - and in 2021 they’re still adding cities, new trucks, designs, improvements, fan-requests, events and contests, updating routes with detail and realism … they even added seat adjustments. A lot of it for free. Its cool they continue to support the Trucker-Sim community.
Simulator games are huge and now I really see why. There’s something compelling about stepping into real shoes, not fantasy ones – and it seems everyone’s 9-to-5 is a sim game now – and more. There’s a Robot Vacuum Cleaner sim, for those who always wanted to be a Roomba. Right now, on Steam at least, there’s 28,575 truck drivers in ETS2 at this very moment. And I’m happy to be one of them. Next time I see an Argos lorry backing down a cul-de-sac to deliver a dishwasher, I’ll nod knowingly at the driver. It’s a living.