In a market teeming with indie games with titles that are too-clever by half, the directness of one like American Truck Simulator is liable to confound. Despite such a trend, however, this is one game where you do exactly what it says on the tin: drive a truck through the backwaters and wastes of America, hauling a load of something or other through landscapes historically glorified by wailing rockers and ho-hum banjo-pickers alike. And though the roads only unfurl from the Pacific to Nevada at this early stage of the game’s continuing development, American Truck Simulator still manages to channel the limitless freedom of the open highway.
At first, your endeavor starts small—just a freelance driver for hire navigating a borrowed truck through empty expanses of California highway, hoping to one day open up your own trucking agency. Drive well enough, though, and your success will skyrocket, the battered warehouse you call home expanding outward like the bulbous balloons wheeled out for parades. Soon your lone clunker will multiply into a fleet of polished chrome, each with a pilot at the ready. The dream is achieved; you don’t even have to drive anymore.
But you will want to drive. After all, who wants to play the idle paper-pusher behind the firm in a game titled American Truck Simulator? You’re a trucker, not a manager; driving is what you do. So you hit the road, your load of chairs or corn or whatever else groaning at your back as you drive down the same length of the gleaming San Francisco coast again and again and again. And, as the roads begin to stitch deep into the same muscle memory denizens of a certain mushroom kingdom may occupy, perhaps you begin to fathom the dull pleasant rhythms of the job.
Much has been made of the supposed majesty of the game and its European cousins. The argument makes itself: Few games attempt to channel the myths of the open road, the feeling of going nowhere in particular much too fast, and here is one seemingly built upon it. While this position is understandable, it misses the mark slightly. SCS Software’s games inspire wonder, but their beauty belies a ruthlessly clinical core: a vision of the trucker lifestyle that excises the characters, the drugs, the messy encounters that come between the rest stops. Say what you will about the cult of the American road trip, but one cannot deny that each is an event. American Truck Simulator is a game about processes, about the slow rise of a business; the ideal here is to make your runs as uneventful as possible, which is hardly the ethos that the hijinx-filled road songs of the ’70s and ’80s conjure.
Those who come here expecting anything but a cold simulation may walk away disappointed, but American Truck Simulator still has much to offer. Few games ever take the chance to celebrate the mundane, the empty space between attractions that so much media cuts out entirely. The game makes you dwell on it, to sit in traffic surrounded by the rows and rows of liquor stores, gas stations, and fleabag hotels that make up America. It may not be as majestic as a Golden Gate sunset, but American Truck Simulator hopes, maybe even trusts, that you will eventually see the appeal.