18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live life out on the open road, with no one to answer to except Mother Nature? Sure you have, and thanks to Yu Suzuki's famed AM2 crew now you can get your rig on without the need for tricky licenses, expensive vehicles, high insurance premiums, or a crash-course in "10-4" trucker lingo. ("Cousin, you got your ears on? I got a Kojak with a Kodak, come on back'--translation: "Greetings, friend. I see a police officer with a radar gun. Did you hear what I said?")
No, now you can have it all for less than 50 bucks, hotshot. Scheduled to come to the States early next spring, complete with head-to-head Internet play, 18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker is Sega's ode to the trucker's life. Featuring courses that take you from locations like New York to Key West (in the span of less than five minutes), your goal is to deliver cargo to your destination with as little damage as possible. Sounds straightforward, but every course has a rival you must contend with who is trying to beat you to the same destination point, and who will spare no effort in impeding your progress. Luckily there are "bonus cars" littering the highway, which you can ram to add precious seconds on the constantly ticking clock. There are also minigames in between levels that test your parking skills for premium items, such as a horn upgrade or stylin' fuzzy dice to hang from your rear-view mirror.
For added life, 18 Wheeler also features a series of driving challenges a la Crazy Taxi--perform well and you can unlock new drivers and trucks. And if you want to race a friend, there's a split-screen two-player mode. Points are the goal of these contests: While your opponent may come in ahead of you, if you've struck and comboed more bonus cars to get your final point total higher, you win. But what really has the potential to extend this arcade game's shelf life is the aforementioned Internet play. We haven't had a chance to try it yet (it's being added special for the U.S. version--how 'bout that?), but racin' all your buddies from Cleveland to Albuquerque sure sounds appealin'. Here's hoping for a lag-free experience. *
Download 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker
Thirty minutes into 18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker, you’ll be having a blast. You’ll be tearing up the highway, taking out cops, riding over dirt roads, houses, oncoming traffic... it’s a very wacky game done in the spirit of Crazy Taxi. Reality takes a back seat to fun and physics, but the gaming experience is entertaining.
If you are familiar with the arcade version, you already know how to play this game. The port is near perfect. 18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker is done by the same people who brought the world Shenmue and Virtua Fighter, Sega’s AM2. The player can select one of four rigs to carry a payload from Point A to Point B while racing against the clock. Checkpoints along the way reset the clock, as do time bonus vans. The trick is in not taking on damage -- get there with minimum damage and get maximum pay. Aside from the temptation to roll over those tiny compact cars in your way (which can reduce your final earnings), there is Lizardtail, a man with apparently no purpose in life except to ram your rig off the road while he constantly taunts you over the CB. Beat him to the destination, and you play a Parking game where you can win upgrades to your rig. Beat the game with all four rigs and unlock Nippon Maru, a man with a truck lit up brighter than a Coca-Cola truck in a Christmas commercial.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Control in this game is excellent. All trucks perform differently and require different approaches to finishing the level. Considering that the arcade original featured a giant cabinet with a rumbling seat, humongous steering wheel, and large TV screen, fans of the arcade version will be impressed how well this game translates to the console. I’ve played the arcade version and I found the steering to be the hardest aspect of the game to master. Typically, players will overcompensate and swim their rig around the highway as if they were fishtailing on black ice. Not so with the Dreamcast version. If you’re new to 18 Wheeler you’ll go farther in five minutes with the analog stick than five minutes with the arcade wheel. The steering is tight yet easy. You won’t find the experience quite the same as the arcade version, but you might be able to get close to the experience by sitting really close to your TV while sitting on a sub-woofer. Most people, though, will find the Jump Pack an adequate substitute.
The lack of the immersive experience of the arcade cabinet does show itself in the clutch system. Shifting may confuse the player at first. It seems vague and arbitrary. The Dreamcast version is missing the sensory effects of a vibrating cabin to alert the player to the engine's stress. Also, the lack of a stick shift on the Dreamcast control pad means a substitution needed to be made. Shifting up and down is done with the same button (A). This can be very confusing at first because it’s not immediately intuitive. However, the game prompts the player when the gears need shifting, so it doesn’t affect gameplay when you are first getting used to the game. In time you will learn when to anticipate the need to shift up or down. Some players may take longer to get used to the system than others -- I fumbled a bit for the first two runs, but soon got the hang of it.
Another downside to the gameplay is the horn feature. The horn, as you may expect, gets traffic out of your way. This works great in the arcade version, but AM2 has slowed traffic response to the horn in the DC version to make the game more difficult. Without the trouble of cars getting in your way, I’m afraid the game would get over way too quickly. In the end, having the horn, even when you can upgrade it to the deep Love Boat bellow, becomes a useless feature unless you like beeping at people half a mile before you think they’re going to get in your way. I must admit, though, that the traffic AI is wonderfully stupid and you can use that to your advantage. The AI is only worried about you running them over. Once you get used to the non-arcade-like horn and the delay, you can sit back and beep innocent travelers into the path of Lizardtail. I used that tactic on many occasions to prevent Lizardtail from crossing the finish line before me.
If you can judge a game by how aware you are of time, an hour after starting I was deeply immersed into the need to haul my payload to Dallas. The game was challenging but not frustrating. Good controls will make that possible. Unfortunately, Lizardtail, the rival, was a creep -- AM2 did a good job with him. You will really hate this guy after a while. Sometimes the computer cheated pretty badly to get ole Lizardtail ahead of me or on top of me. He could be pretty abusive at times, not only driving me off the road or into obstacles, but also he had the annoying habit of parking his rig across both lanes right in front of me. I must admit it seemed unfair at times, but soon I learned how to avoid his nastier driving habits.
The first thing you learn is that, as fun as it is, you don’t want to hit other cars -- that only slows you down. And when running over sedans is unavoidable, learn to place your rig behind another rig in front of you. You can ride the slipstream into greater speeds, often zooming well past Lizardtail (until the computer magically places him ahead of you). Learning to slipstream is crucial to completing the game. It also adds some serious speed to the game, which makes those boring stretches across the Arizona desert almost thrilling. Slipstreaming is most fun in the final level as you cruise at illegal speeds down San Francisco streets to the Golden Gate bridge.
The game took me two hours to complete the first time and, now that I’ve mastered it, only about 30 minutes to finish each time I sit down to play it.. For some, that will be far too short to justify $40 and even the Parking minigame doesn’t really count as added value. However, the Score Attack mode and Versus mode add major value. Both modes operate nearly identically, with the main difference being that in Score Attack you get to whack, smack, and attack Lizardtail, and in Versus mode you get to abuse your friends. If Lizardtail made you see red in the Arcade mode, you’ll love dropping your payload in his path for bonus dollars. Damage him enough and not only will his semi start looking sorry, but you can even destroy his rig and remove him from the course. But it’s Versus mode that helps the home version of 18 Wheeler be worth owning. Dropping cars on friends was never so much fun. Choose from four different payloads to place in the path of your loved ones. Don’t feel guilty, they’ll be dropping boxes all over you too. In fact, there’s even a crane for some serious hurting, but it’s difficult to control. You’ll need to practice with it a bit before you can use it to actually hit anybody.
The visuals in the Dreamcast version of this game aren’t at first noticeably different from the arcade version. Even the opening movie is identical. With close studying, you can see the DC version is a slight degree less impressive than arcade. Most notably in framerate and road details. For instance, I can remember seeing the Washington DC monument flash by in the arcade, but not in the DC version. However, the graphics are clean, bright, and convincing. Just what you’d expect from a racing game. There are nice touches like danglers in the window and sliding objects on the dashboard. Each cab has its own character. The last level features a very impressive dawn sequence as the night driving conditions slowly change to early morning conditions. Very nice touch. The Golden Gate sequence was very impressive, although my personal favorite was the tornado sequence. My dad drives a rig for a living and he encountered a tornado once; tossed his rig around silly. He came away from the experience battered and very bruised, but he lived -- which probably allowed me to laugh and enjoy having cars and trucks chucked at me in the game. It was very convincing, especially since 3D games sometimes put their emphasis on the player model and not the world around the model. Despite the lack of graphic horsepower compared to the arcade version, the environments are colorful and interesting to look at in 18 Wheeler, even the desert.
Too bad attention wasn’t given to the soundtrack. It wasn’t very inspired. When listening to Jet Grind Radio, Shenmue, or even the pruned soundtrack of Crazy Taxi compared to the one in 18 Wheeler, the soundtrack was clearly low on the priorities of AM2. The player listens to a trucker radio station as he careens down the highway. The music isn’t very memorable, something the designers may have realized because it is played so softly in the background. However, the sound effects are right on. Oncoming traffic beeps at you, the truck squeaks, groans, and hisses as you’d expect, riding through a gas station sounds like you are riding through a gas station (not that I have experience with such things, ahem). The sound effects help add a convincing realism to the game.
There were a few things about the game that came across flat. If you buy this game expecting Crazy Taxi with 18 wheel rigs, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. The fact that the trucks have drivers seemed to be unimportant to AM2. In fact, beyond the obvious differences in the cab colors and dashboard items, only gearheads would appreciate the trucks as individuals. For some reason, the character voices are silent in the Arcade mode; only Lizardtail and your trainer can be heard on the CB. Whereas, all the mini games (Score Attack, Parking, and Versus mode) feature complete voice acting by the truckers. That struck me as backwards, especially in Versus mode. I would have thought that my friend and I could heckle each other just fine without the Dreamcast’s help. As I played for my first time as Highway Cat in Arcade mode I found myself thinking, “I’m supposed to be a girl?” The lack of character voices in that mode, the one you’ll play the most at first, betrays a shallowness to the game. There’s no personality. Also, there was only one rival. Games like Jet Grind Radio and Tokyo Xtreme Racer have shown that many rivals can add variety and fun to the game experience.
If you are a fan of the arcade version, you may be puzzled that there are only four truckers. Nothing in the manual mentions that Nippon Maru is locked away until you complete the game once with each trucker available. I can only imagine Sega was trying to extend the replayability of the title. However, another aspect missing from the game is the internet mode. True, the internet mode in the Japanese release of 18 Wheeler is simply a ranking website where players can post their results and see how they compare with others (like the Shenmue website). Perhaps Sega didn’t feel they could justify the expense of a dedicated server to what was an already financially shaky year for them. However, one can’t help but wonder what ever happened to the rumored online head-to-head action that was supposed to be included with the game. When you take into consideration that there are only four levels, this game ends up feeling short on value. Unless you really enjoy the style of gameplay, then it’s a blast.
If you aren’t a fan of the arcade version and are new to 18 Wheeler, then I would definitely recommend this game as a rental. You may not want to spend $40 on 18 Wheeler, but you’ll be glad you rented it for $5. Versus mode is fun, and the game is enjoyable and challenging. A must buy for fans of the arcade version and a must rent for those who like a little vehicular mayhem.
The first time I played 18 Wheeler was at the Gameworks here in Seattle. If you’ve been to any large arcade in the last couple years you’ve probably seen it -- a mock-up of a big rig’s cab with a wide screen, huge steering wheel, and rumble effects in the seat. I had to try it just to see what it was like. It wasn’t the best game I played that night, but it was fun steering a big rig along crowded freeways. Acclaim has brought the game home for PlayStation 2, but without the big steering wheel there’s a lot lacking.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
18 wheels, 20 tons of cargo, 60 feet of truck, 10,000 miles of highway and you -- sounds like a promising start, but before you grab the wheel you’re going to want to take a second look. Acclaim’s big rig racer just doesn’t measure up to the competition. The main thing that you’ll notice when playing is that the trucks just don’t feel powerful. The controls and responsiveness of the game give them a feeling that is closer to an old VW Rabbit rather than the powerhouse engine you would expect from a big rig.
The basic premise is simple -- just select one of the over-the-top characters with a matching rig and take off down the highway to make your delivery time. You can shave time off through shortcuts, but be careful of your driving; damage to your cargo reduces your score. Not all the "shortcuts" will save you time though, but since the courses are fairly short it doesn’t take long to learn which forks you want to take. You’re supposed to be running cargo cross country from New York to San Francisco by way of Florida. With such a long haul you’d expect plenty of room and time to maneuver, but each stage is surprisingly short. Despite the fact that the map distance you cover varies, each stage feels like it’s exactly the same, short distance.
In addition to beating the required time you’re also racing against your arch rival. Beating him isn’t necessary to continue, but it does get you the chance to try a parking challenge where you can earn special extras for your truck like extra horns and mufflers that are supposed to improve your performance, but if they do it’s not noticeable. You can play in Parking mode to try the challenges without going through the race sections to practice your skills.
The most disappointing thing in 18 Wheeler is the graphics. They’re just awful -- nowhere near the quality the PS2 is capable of. Pixelated and choppy, they’re low enough quality that I stuck the disk in my old PlayStation just to make sure it wasn’t a PSX game mislabeled as PS2. Sadly it wasn’t, but even for PSX the graphics don’t measure up. On the other hand, the audio is nicely done, matching up to the quality of the arcade version of the game. What really makes the low quality graphics disappointing is that the Dreamcast version of the game released last year matched the arcade for quality.
From start to finish 18 Wheeler is disappointing. Poor quality graphics and a really short game length make this one worth a definite miss. If the graphics had been closer to matching the quality of the arcade version it would have been worth getting for fans, but even those who love the arcade version will want to skip the PlayStation 2 release. If you really want to play 18 Wheeler either hit the arcades or find the Dreamcast version of the game and find a cheap used Dreamcast -- you’ll enjoy it more.