American Truck Simulator – The Review
One thing that has always been a constant in my life is simulation games. I take them very seriously. Simulation games have actually been responsible for real life career moves I have managed to get into. Years ago, flight simulation resulted in my curiosity leading me to take a flight lesson in real life. About 6 years later I was a commercial pilot and working hard in the aviation industry. Now, due to medical issues, I have had to leave the commercial aviation business, although I still fly as a private pilot locally. I have gotten into other simulation games such as Farming Simulator 15, Euro Truck Simulator 2, and Scania Truck Driving Simulator. Most recently, American Truck Driving Simulator has grabbed my attention. Notice a pattern there? It seems I have taken up a love for driving commercial trucks.
American Truck Driving Simulator has grabbed a LOT of controversial reviews from the internet. Whenever SCS posts a blog about something, there are the usual trolls and all-out attention seeking crybabies that thrash around looking for attention on every single post – from Akula being his usual “I supposedly hate this game so much but I am posting here more than even the fan boys do,” to someone else posting for Hungarian paint jobs on literally everything, even if it is not even related to Europe. It’s amusing, to be honest. However, there is a disturbing trend as of late of even loyal SCS fans starting to cry out against American Truck Simulator. What is happening here? Well, let’s take a look.
One of the primary out-cries focuses on the same, outdated game engine being used. For the most part, ATS is being looked upon as just a re-hashed ETS2 map with American textures applied. When I play ATS, I love the American feel. California feels like California, and the scenery feels like America. But, when it comes to prefabs and the game engine, those crying out are actually correct. There are SOME original prefabs used in ATS that were not used in ETS2, but for the most part, over 75% of all the prefabs are just reskinned ETS2 Scandinavia DLC assets. Admittedly, with all of the new engine technologies out there for simulation games, I was surprised SCS stuck to their old engine to create a new software title.
When confronted about this, the stand by SCS is that using the same engine and file structure enables the modding community to easily make mods for both ATS and ETS2. At first I supported this, and was actually very excited about the idea, but once the release came and the game went live, I was quickly plagued by the worst part of this idea ever. The modding site I like to download from – http://atsmods.lt/ – was plagued almost instantly with people slamming piles of European crap all over it. Scanias and other cab overs, European trailers … pretty much everyone went rampant with trying to port over every ETS2 asset they could into this beloved American environment. I had to sift through pages of useless, unrelated Euro models just to find a mod that was actually American. I’m not racist, and I love Europeans. But this was supposed to be an American game, and it took literally over a month before the mods on that site started to match the theme. It was frustrating. Even today people keep trying to upload mods that convert the game to Russian languages, etc. trying to convert it into another ETS2. So I have officially gone from excited over cross-compatibility to being seriously disappointed and regretting my support of the idea.
Another outcry of the community, and this one I am a part of, is the scale of the map. One of the things I hated the most about ETS2 was their map scale and how time flows on that game. I literally refused to move the truck until I opened the console and typed in “warp 0.8” so that I could at least somewhat move the truck without feeling like Mario Andretti. ETS2 was on a 1:19 scale, so it felt like there wasn’t much detail at all there and that getting between cities just took too long. I always felt more like a short-haul package delivery guy than an OTR driver in the game. A lot of people argue that making a simulation like this 1:1 would be far too boring and that “No one does that and succeeds” … for those who say that, I’d have to draw your attention to great flight simulation games that game me HOURS upon HOURS of enjoyment, such as FSX and Prepar3D, among others. Those were 1:1, real-time simulators with great realism involved.
So what was so great about 1:1 simulation games such as the flight simulators I mentioned? More choices. People on the “keep the scale small” side of the debate argue that if the scale is 1:1, they won’t be able to drive any routes and the game will quickly become very boring. However, in 1:1 scale simulation games, we get the chance to make that choice for ourselves. If ATS were 1:1, we could make our own choice: drive a short route, or make progress on an long haul route. One of the most satisfying things I did in flight simulation was to make a flight around the world. I’d spend a few hours per day on a leg of the flight, not only performing all of the procedures of a real world pilot, but taking in scenery that I will probably never have the chance to enjoy in real life. Once I started growing tired of being in the game, I’d land, and the next day or so I’d plan my next leg and continue from there. The very same could be done with ATS.
So do you remember how I stated above that ETS2 was on a 1:19 scale and bugged the heck out of me? Well, get this. If you are not already aware, ATS is on a 1:35 scale. What does that mean? That’s right – time flies … fast. I have to literally struggle to drive the truck any distance at all before nighttime sets in. I never get the satisfaction of doing a long drive because even driving all the way across two entire states takes a total of maybe half an hour. No matter how much I try to immerse myself into the simulation aspect of driving in a game like this, I literally cannot spend more than a couple of hours in ATS due to boredom and frustration over the scale. At this point, even if they reverted to the 1:19 scale they used in ETS2 I’d jump for joy. 1:35 … that’s simply too small. I can understand such a scale in ETS2. But in ATS, we really need the feel of long-haul OTR driving. Even when other states release, trying to get the feel of a long drive isn’t going to happen, because every few minutes the sun is going to set, and even with HDR on I absolutely hate night driving in the SCS game engine. I play ETS2 and ATS to take in scenery while operating big trucks. It is hard to do that when daytime is so short.
This next issue has gotten mixed responses on the forums, but to those of us who actually drive in real life, it is a HUGE issue. The infrastructure in the game is far from realistic for an American environment. Freeways NEVER come to an intersection – ever. You will never come to a stoplight or intersection on an interstate freeway. In order to access a freeway, even out in rural areas, you need to use an exit/overpass. In rural areas, we have small roads called “frontage roads” that go along the side of the highway for local traffic to access farms, businesses, homes, etc. that lie alongside the interstate. For someone there to access the interstate, they need to get on the frontage road and drive until they come to an entrance ramp for the interstate.
Speed limits are also a huge issue, and are actually related to what I mentioned above. On an interstate, in every state in America, the MINIMUM speed limit is 55. On average in populated areas it is more like 65. Then when you get out into rural areas, it becomes more like 70 to 80 miles per hour. This is also tied in with the map scale. Even with a high horsepower engine, on my longest haul I can NEVER get to an actual truck freeway speed limit before having to slam on my brakes due to some ridiculous low speed coming out of nowhere for any number of reasons. There are sections where road construction brings freeway speed limits down to 30 MPH. That never happens in real life. Here in Colorado, unless the road construction is REALLY major, speed limits in a construction zone drop to maybe 55. The lowest I have ever seen it is in the middle of Denver, where the major T-Rex project occasionally had sections that dropped traffic to 45. And that was in the middle of a metro area.
Speaking of intersections and speed – that brings me to two other things which I have found I am not alone on in ATS – signs and wrong signs. I’ll start with the wrong signs. NEVER in my many many years of driving all across America have I seen a stop sign at an intersection that has a traffic light. In game, however, you’d think we had this at literally every intersection in America. All intersections in the game, regardless of if they have a traffic light or not, have a stop sign. Now, I suppose this could be considered a small cosmetic issue and could be ignored, except you have an aspect in the game that does NOT ignore this – the AI traffic. I have had to sit through MANY green lights, not able to move, because the AI traffic in front of me ignores the traffic light and stops at the stop sign, treating the intersection as if it is a 4-way stop. I posted about this on the forums, and out of many people involved in the conversation, I had only one individual reply that stated he has ever seen a sign at a traffic light like that. I did Google searches, and researched as much as I could, and although some light intersections have stop signs NEAR them which sometimes confuse drivers because of frontage roads, etc., there has never been a stop sign actually posted AT an intersection that has a light. It makes no sense, it is confusing, and confusion on a roadway makes driving dangerous. SCS absolutely needs to get rid of these signs or at LEAST program AI to ignore them when a traffic light is there.
The other sign issue is size. In order to not add too much excessive length to this article, I’ll simply refer you to this forum thread I started on the issue: http://forum.scssoft.com/viewtopic.php?f=185&t=202823. Speed limit and other critical signs on freeways are far too small. Based on the models used in the game compared with the scale of trucks, it appears that the developers chose to only use residential signs for everything, and DOT standards in the US clearly make this not a safe issue. Freeway signs are huge compared to residential signs, and when you are going at freeway speeds, regardless of if you are in a truck or a car, you need to be able to see a sign coming up with PLENTY of time to react to that speed change. In ATS, I find myself looking at my Route Advisor almost entirely to get sped information, as I often do not even see the signs on the freeways. I have no problem on the 2-lane roads, but on freeways, SCS really needs to start using a scaled freeway size sign for speeds.
So with all of these apparent drawbacks to the game, you might be asking, “What makes you stay? Would you recommend this game to someone else?” I am going to have to be completely honest with myself here – the only thing keeping me interested in ATS at the moment is the fact that it is a sandbox for my own creativity. I make models in Blender – PRIVATE mods used only for myself in the game. I do not upload any of my mods. I tried that once and almost immediately my work got drug into a major AI traffic mod by an author I actually respect, but received no credit and not so much as an email asking “hey, can I use your stuff?” But, I digress. As far as ATS goes, creating stuff, and then seeing it come to life in a game environment, seems to be the only thing holding me to spending any time in ATS at the moment. Arizona is supposed to release soon, and I suppose I’ll take a break from Blender and drive the roads of it for a few days. But, as with California and Nevada, due to the scale I’ll quickly run out of roads, and get bored again.
Would I recommend ATS for a new customer? Possibly. Even with these drawbacks, there are people out there who might enjoy ATS as a game. We have to remember a VERY important note that just because the word “Simulation” is in a game title does NOT make it a simulation. “Simulator” is now a game genre that simply says, “Okay, this is not an MMO, FPS, racing, TPS or 2D arcade game. The only thing left is “Simulator” for the genre, so let’s put it there.” I have had some people argue with me on that regard, to which they quickly shut up when I link them to the web site for “Goat Simulator.” Anyway, with that in mind, if someone is looking for a casual gameplay experience and simply loves trucks, I might recommend this game for them. If someone wants a more in-depth actual simulator experience, with detail, long hauls and total immersion, then ATS is definitely not the game for you.
Unlike Flight Simulator, this is a game, not a simulator, and should be treated as such. Only when we gain features such as 1:1 scale, system failures resulting from lack of maintenance, varying economy and much better time scale will this game come even close to being considered a simulator. The only realism feature that some folks have asked for that I support SCS on NOT including is visual damage, mainly due to licensing. No truck manufacturer is going to license their truck to see it utterly destroyed all over YouTube, so for the purposes of getting more brands into our game, I completely understand not having visual damage.
In conclusion, I have to say that I am a hardcore SCS fan who desperately wants to support and see the Truck Simulator franchise succeed. However I am disappointed thus far in how ATS has turned out, and hope with all hoping that in the future, SCS listens to serious fans such as myself and brings this franchise up to par.
American Truck Simulator PROS:
- American environment
- American trucks
- New environment with new textures.
- Good game for the casual gamer who seeks more quick fun than immersion.
- Recognizable landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Las Vegas Strip, etc.
American Truck Simulator CONS:
- Map scale way too small. 1:35 is ridiculous.
- Re-hashed engine from an already outdated game.
- Simulation speed still unrealistic. Have to use “warp 0.8” to get an accurate feel for driving.
- Same game structure is allowing the mod sites to be flooded with unrealistic European stuff from ETS2. Scanias do not belong on American roads, even though in ETS2 I am a Scania fan.
- Graphics becoming dated for today’s gaming technologies – again due to the decision o keep the same outdated game engine.
- Stop signs at traffic lights making AI mess up any experience of immersion.
- Speed limit signs on freeways too small.
- Road infrastructure highly unrealistic, with crazy speed limit changes, intersections on freeways and scale making it almost impossible to keep a steady speed before one of these obstacles forces you to slam to a halt.