stoplight

My truck is idling at a stoplight. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto V or Watch Dogs, so I can’t just nose my way between lanes and drive through the red light. In Euro Truck Simulator 2, obeying the rules is part of the gameplay. The fine I’d incur for running a red light isn’t worth the time I’d save. This game is an exercise in structure and restraint. I realize that’s not why a lot of people play games — they have enough structure and restraint in their actual lives — but not all games are power fantasies for your id. So here I am, waiting for the light to change and not minding one whit.

After the jump, Woody Allen would be jealous.

I drive Euro Truck Simulator 2 with the keyboard most of the time. For pick-ups and drop-offs, by far the most difficult parts of the game, I use a gamepad so I can do fine steering adjustments while angling the camera just so. It’s a real challenge to get the trailer exactly where the client wants it delivered, a bit like having to land a plane in a flight simulator. Lesser simmers will just skip landings. The rest of us want that degree of challenge, and we’d like to be recognized for rising to meet it. So Euro Truck Simulator 2 gives me a cash and experience point bonus for delivering the trailer into exactly the right position. Everyone else can just press a button to magically unload their cargo. But for the most part, the driving is sedate enough that a keyboard works just fine. Veer a little to the left, adjust a little to the right, downshift and tap the brakes, steadily accelerate, just a nudge left. My mouse is used entirely for mouselooking, checking the mirrors, admiring the scenery, just grooving on whatever’s out in the world. This is a modest graphics engine, but it gets the job done. Don’t expect too many pedestrians or anything approximating actual traffic density. Euro Truck Simulator 2 does what it can, which is just enough.

So here I am, waiting for the light to change, looking down at the cars as truck drivers will do, when a bus pulls up beside me. A bus full of people. These people:

Stardust_Euro_Memories

It’s like the scene in Stardust Memories with Woody Allen on the train of stultifying ennui. He looks over and the train alongside him is full of rich people laughing and having fun. Sharon Stone blows him a kiss. That’s the scene here and now in Euro Truck Simulator 2, except it’s the inverse of that scene. Those stoic character models in that bus are staring blankly ahead, dazed by the existential futility of it all. I’m in cab of my truck with the music playing, sipping a root beer, petting the purring cat in my lap, having a grand ol’ time, imagining what I’m going to do with the few thousand Euros I’ll earn for this delivery (pay off part of the bank loan I took out to expand my garage and hire a second driver). If Sharon Stone were here with me, she would blow a kiss to those people on that bus. The light turns green. I hang a right and the bus drives straight ahead into oblivion.

This is why I don’t use the word “fun” in a review. Euro Truck Simulator 2, a game about restraint and structure, a game about patience, a game about compressing what would otherwise be tedium and turning it into gameplay, a game about parlaying stretches of nothingness into profit and ultimately meaning, is fun. For me. I wouldn’t assume to tell anyone else whether he would find it fun. I imagine he wouldn’t. I imagine he might be partial to power fantasies for his id. He can ride whatever bus he wants into the oblivion of his choice. I’ve turned right and I’m looking for the Euro Goodies plant to deliver a trailer carrying 40,000 pounds of bottled soda.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a grand example of a business management sim, because it involves participating from a first-person perspective in the flow of goods in order to make a profit, much like a space trading sim such as X3, Privateer, or Elite. But an important difference is that the stretches of nothingness in a space trading sim have so much more nothingness than these stretches of European highway with their desultory cities and small clots of traffic, all bound by rules and order. I use the turn signal in Euro Truck Simulator 2. I turn off my brights when there’s oncoming traffic. I instinctively turn down the radio when I’m looking for the place in the city to deliver my cargo. I think Euro Goodies is right up here on the left. I am careful, deliberate, and conscientious. Dial 1-800-HOWSMYDRIVING.

ETS12_night

The moment-to-moment gameplay is about getting rest and staying fueled up, about when this cargo has to be to that place, about following the GPS, or even just following the signs (this is probably one of the easiest worlds to navigate via ingame signs since Far Cry 2). The experience of exploring different countries keeps everything moving forward, along with the RPG element of unlocking progressively better licenses for different cargo. Euro Truck Simulator 2 eventually opens up into a larger transportation empire management game, with additional garages, drivers, and trucks. Feel free to throw your lot in with the bank if you want to get to that stuff quicker. After all, debt is the lifeblood of entrepreneurs! The physics are top-notch as you wheel that giant trailer around a corner or feel your truck slowing as you climb a grade or tap the brakes as you trundle into the city limits, your rig snorting like a restless bull. I look forward to saving up enough money to buy more horsepower, because it will get my deliveries where they need to go faster, which will allow me to move on to the next delivery sooner. In Euro Truck Simulator 2, a celebration of the utterly mundane, the ultimate resource is time. For now, I’m trying to get another route going with my AI driver, which is effectively a force multiplier for time spent. Time, money, distance, industry, infrastructure. It’s the stuff of enlightened civilizations. The question isn’t “why would you play a game about that?” The question is “why wouldn’t you play a game about that?” If only those people on that bus knew what they were missing.