The TransRoad guys released a few meaty patches and I thought I’d take another look. I didn’t expect the game to be fixed, I just wanted to see how they were doing but then I forgot I was there for a purpose and just enjoyed playing. I’m glad to say I was wrong when I predicted it would take a long time to sort out the performance issues – they’re gone. I also didn’t run into any bugs which is nice to see.
Aside from goosing the engine and squashing bugs the balance has been tinkered with in order to make the game easier and quicker to develop. The thing is I liked the old balance. When I first played I thought it was off as well, and posted a message asking why my truck required such ridiculously frequent (and costly) maintenance. Another user told me to actually check the various trucks’ ratings before purchase. When I did I saw he was right, for just another $10K I could have bought a far more reliable truck.
I enjoyed that lesson. The reason I never looked at the stats closely is because I assumed they were balanced, as games chronically are nowadays. But just like in the real world, I didn’t pay attention, bought a lemon and paid for it in reduced margins and maintenance downtime.
Now the game is more casual, or maybe more balanced and fair depending on your perspective. I think it lost some charm and gained accessibility. I guess it makes sense, it’s a light business game in terms of complexity so maybe a more moderate difficulty fits the overall tone better.
New Score – 73
I’m having a hard time coming up with the final score. I want to penalize the game slightly for getting easier but I’m not sure that makes sense. I think it does though. It became a bit more generic and a lot less realistic. The complaint is based on personal taste and what’s without question is how much more stable the game got. New score of 73. It’s a perfectly competent sim with a relaxed pace that models a simple business. You don’t have a ton to do but it has it’s charm and a number of modes for quite a bit of gameplay.
Original TransRoad USA PC Review
November 11, 2017
A slow paced business game that nails the core challenge of running a trucking company. Severely hampered by bugs and poor optimization to the point where I didn’t want to finish. It’s not a builder or a tycoon game, it’s a simulation of a relatively simple business which makes it refreshingly difficult but uneventful. I would have been into it if it worked properly.
Should you buy it?
Sadly, not at this time. I’d have a bunch of qualifiers if it worked well, it’s not a game for everyone. But I would have given a strong recommendation for the target audience. In its current state I can’t recommend it. It starts janky and grows nearly unplayable long before completion. From what I gather online most people have it much worse, being unable to even start the game or play without crashes and severe slowdowns.
The campaign starts with two fired trucker brothers starting their own shipping company. Your brother drives while you schedule. The core game loop is simple – sign contracts that require a set number of truck-loads to be delivered from city to city within a set number of days. Assign a driver and truck and that’s mostly it. The challenge comes from finding contracts that make profitable routes so that your trucks are always full of cargo and driving towards a paid delivery.
This is easy when contracts match perfectly with the same number of trailers returning to the starting city. Most of the time the number of shipments will be different or there won’t be any contracts destined for the originating city. You then try to cobble together contracts for profitable return trips without slowing down the process so much that you blow a deadline.
It’s in this juggling that the game shines and actually simulates some of the challenges facing trucking companies. Unlike trains, trucking contracts are temporary, one-time affairs that change constantly. You might sign a lucrative contract to deliver 20 truck loads half way across the country without having contracts in place for the way back. Margins are real-world slim and poor optimization will lead to routes that return negative income once fuel, driver wages, maintenance and depot fees are all calculated.
Adding to the challenge is the detailed reputation system. It only takes one blown delivery to severely ruin your credibility and destroy weeks of good service. Poor reputation makes it difficult to fully utilize your routes. You must then weigh the value of doing one way deliveries to restore faith at a loss or abandon the city and weaken your overall network.
I had many weeks at the edge of bankruptcy and it took careful management to reach a stable place with 6 trucks and drivers ensuring steady income and growing balance.
Slow & Relaxing
It’s a slow game even by “business simulation” standards. In a railroad or transport tycoon type game you typically identify a supply and demand, assign a vehicle and then forget about that route. Your train goes back and forth indefinitely, earning income and freeing you to move to another section of the map. Here contracts are both short lived and short term. You can’t just set trucks to autopilot, you must constantly find contracts to fill their trips.
So while you’re not doing much – just clicking on cities and scrolling through lists of contracts looking for efficient, profitable ones – you can’t just put the game on high speed and let it run until you have funds for an expansion. You’re always doing not very much, which makes the game feel very slow paced but engaging.
Margins are low and costs are high. It’s easy to over-expand and fall into a cycle of losses until you go bankrupt. Even when money starts rolling in there are high barriers to expansion. Depots require upgrading every two trucks. The cost of going from 2 to 3 trucks requires a $50K depot upgrade, a new truck at $100K and a trailer for another $50K. It takes a driver a long time to work off that investment.
I enjoyed the pace. It felt realistic and I didn’t mind meditatively watching my trucks putt around and hunting for the best contracts. It was satisfying as opposed to inevitable when my little company finally became mid-sized looking for a second depot to really expand.
I do wonder if the game’s limited UI can handle a large company with nation wide depots and trucks. That meditative pace would turn obnoxious and progress would stall if I had to hunt for dozens of contracts every game day. But I did see that higher reputation allows for ongoing contracts which probably mitigates this somewhat. I never found out because the game broke right when it was getting interesting.
My technical problems are minor compared to most. Some people experience stuttering so severe that the game is unplayable. I’m guessing my habit of playing at the highest zoom helps, problems seemed worse when players moved down to the attractive street level view. All I experienced were extremely long load times and a few crashes hours apart. It was frustrating but tolerable.
Then came some story ending bugs, the only solution being a return to an old save. I was willing to but for whatever reason the game failed to load and I gave up. My planned Saturday of playing has turned into writing this review.
I get the impression that the developers are overwhelmed. There is some communication but no clear promises or road-map to recovery. My guess is the bug list is longer than anticipated. When a relatively simple game has performance issues it’s often a root engine problem that could be difficult to fix. Actual bugs might have to wait.
There are also some balance issues. At one point gas prices went up $1/MPG and then dropped $2 a few months later. In the real world those fluctuations would first cause riots at the increase and wild celebration (followed by riots) at the drop.
Like Ogre, it’s hard to give a score when the game deserves one thing and the implementation deserves another. The game that’s released at the time of this review gets a 55. Whatever mild, slow pleasure it has is destroyed by frustration. If everything worked it would be a solid business simulation earning closer to 75. A few quality of life improvements could give it extra points without much effort but I’m guessing major bugs will take priority for a good long while.
Not Game Related
The game’s music is pleasant enough but an opportunity was missed to showcase some real trucker music. It’s a curious sub-genre of country, sounding traditional and twangy. The lyrics however, instead of focusing on lost girlfriends and pickups are a collection of strange tales and trucker ghost stories. As a kid I obsessively made copies from tapes amused truckers who worked with my dad gave me.
I think this is the first time I felt “localized” in a game. While I’m Canadian proximity and constant contact makes us treat American media like our own. Playing American games feels natural. European games tend to stay in their back yards so the only localization oddness I’ve experienced with foreign games was odd translations.
I finally feel a tiny bit of what the rest of the world must feel when North Americans set things in their countries. No amount of research will come across as native knowledge. TransRoad immediately flubs showing an alien trucker breakfast you would never find in an American truck stop. Beans instead of potatoes, a single sad un-american un-filling egg and a giant sausage that would dwarf the 4 traditional breakfast links you’d actually get. It was so curious that I looked up the company and sure enough it’s german.
It’s amusing not offensive. North Americans routinely demolish any notion of cultural sensitivity when we even bother to simulate the rest of the world. I get why they would base the game here (well, not here – they completely ignore Canada). I probably wouldn’t have bought a european trucking simulator. Visiting places you’re familiar with in real life is part of the pleasure. So not a complaint, just an observation. I welcome beans to our breakfast as long as you don’t touch my home fries and slathered toast.