Perhaps 18-wheeler trucks aren't destined to be the next big thing in racing games. Over the past two decades a number of major companies have attempted to sell a skeptical public on the idea of freight-hauling racing games starring huge slow-moving trucks. Even Sega couldn't quite make this genre work, and they're widely considered the masters of arcade racing games. Maybe this is one weird sub-genre that isn't meant to be.
Apparently 1C and developers SoftLab-Nsk didn't get the memo, because they're taking another stab at the 18-wheeler racer. Let me introduce you to Rig 'n' Roll, the game that attempts to combine the fun of simulation truck driving with the enjoyment of California traffic. While this niche racer/simulator is certainly better than the competition (Big Rigs, The King of Route 66), it suffers from a number of unforgivable problems.
The basic concept is simple; you're a truck driver who takes on a bunch of race missions for money. You do this in a fully realized (albeit miniaturized) version of California. This includes real cities (San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and many, many more) and familiar highways. With each job you complete you will earn money, which you can put towards building up your cargo transport company and taking over the world ... or at least central California.
I was surprised at how much of a narrative Rig 'n' Roll offered. I expected to just jump into a world and be free to do whatever I wanted. But that's not the case, at least not at the beginning. The game offers a full story, including cinema scenes and spoken dialog. I know the narrative is supposed to get me in the mood to drive all over California, but instead it made me feel like I was watching a bad 80s trucker movie. Either way, by the end of the game you will feel like you've built up a trucking empire and really completed a full journey from rags to riches.
The events come in a few different flavors, but most of them have you doing the same thing. No matter if you're hauling freight or just competing against yourself, you always need to get to the finish line (usually another warehouse) before your time runs out. Sometimes you'll have to race against a bunch of other truckers, but many of the events are just you and your haul racing against the clock.
But do not go into this game thinking that it's a racing game in the strictest sense of the words. While the box may advertise its racing elements, don't let that fool you. This is a truck driving simulator through and through. This is the kind of game for those who are looking to recreate the experience of driving an 18-wheeler and getting paid for it. There is also a fair amount of business management simulation involved, blurring the genres even further. Still, even with its sim roots, 1C's truck driving game offers more than enough racing elements to keep the action lively.
Obviously this is not Gran Turismo, so don't expect to get these trucks up to 200 miles per hour. The truth is, most of the time you'll be lucky to hit 60 MPH. Depending on where you're going and what you're hauling, you could average less than 40 MPH in a single trip, which can really slow down your travels. The good news is that everybody else is in the same boat, so racing against the computer feels fair.
Of course, you don't have to abide by the laws of the road. You can perform illegal U-turns, speed past your competition and run regular motorists off the road. But then you'll have to deal with the cops. This is not Grand Theft Auto, so don't even think about going on a high-speed chase. It's better to just keep your speed down and stay in the far right lane. And don't forget to turn your lights on, it's just good manners.
While I applaud the concept, things definitely start to fall apart the moment you realize just how time consuming this game is. A job that takes you from San Francisco to Los Angeles will require hours to complete, which means that you'll be barreling forward in a steady momentum for more the better part of your day. And that's just for one event. There are shorter jobs, but you're still going to need to cross off at least fifteen minutes to a half-hour out of your day. Thankfully this world isn't as large as the real California, but when you're driving 50 MPH for a solid hour, it starts to feel like you're really there driving.
To break up some of the monotony, Rig 'n' Roll will occasionally throw optional tasks at you. For example, you can help a broken down motorists or even take a fellow trucker to the hospital. There are all kinds of these missions you can choose, but beware, because they will take you away from your prime objective and even make you lose some money.
Speaking of losing money, every time you smash into walls or hurt your cargo, you will lose a little bit of money. If you run into too much trouble you will need to hire a rescue crew who will fix up your cab. And don't forget to hit the truck stops for gas, there's nothing worse than being one of those losers who has to sit on the side of the road waiting for somebody to help them out. Plus, your clients won't be happy if you don't get there on time.
Another big problem I had with Rig 'n' Roll is how unfriendly the interface is. The game seems to assume that I know my way around California's highways, because there's no map to check while you're racing up and down the 101. Oh sure, there are road signs along the way, but they won't help you when you're asked to drive hundreds of miles to Bakersfield. What I ended up doing was pulling up Google Maps on my laptop, which certainly helped me figure out where I was going. To the game's credit they got the roads and directions right, I just wish I didn't need to go to an outside source in order to figure out how to get to some obscure little warehouse.
The back of the box boasts a "thrilling storyline," but don't believe it. There is a story here, but there's absolutely nothing thrilling about it. What you get is a series of poorly acted, dull cinemas that barely push the story forward. I ended up hating every single character in this game, especially the main character (who looks like he just stepped out of a 1980s movie). You know you're in for a rough time when a main character (with a slight weight problem) is lovingly nicknamed "slob." And did I mention that you can't skip the cinemas? It's a real mess and I would have preferred no story at all.
What ended up frustrating me the most was the bevy of game crashing glitches. More than a few times I had to restart the game because of some weird design decision. For example, one time when the cops pulled me over it prevented the competition from getting around me. Apparently this was enough to keep me from loading a save state or even going to the main menu. The problem is, this has happened several times to me. And each time I had to go back and watch the annoying cinemas again. Seriously, who makes cinemas you can't skip in the 21st century?
The graphics and presentation aren't bad, especially compared to the past 18-wheeler racers. The character models are inconsistent and the world is as bland as can be, but that doesn't take much away from the game. I recently drove 12 hours to San Francisco (to pick up this game, actually), and I can tell you that the terrain in this game is spot-on. Whether that's a good thing or not will be entirely up to you.
The game supports a bunch of different game pads and steering wheels, so fans of simulation racing/driving will have no problem getting this game to work with their favorite controls. I used a PlayStation 3 control and had zero problems, outside of the sluggish controls and poor handling of the trucks. You probably shouldn't even bother if you plan on using the standard keyboard set-up.
Like Microsoft's Flight Simulator, Rig 'n' Roll will appeal most to the gamers that have an interest in the given occupation. The action is slow and a lot of the fun comes from what you bring to the table, not the other way around. Still, it feels like the developers might be trying to have it both ways. There are enough race elements in this game to genuinely be considered a racing game, while one could argue that it should be classified as a simulator. Regardless of whether it's a racing game or not, the game didn't connect with me. The game works well as a simulator, but I wonder how the constant racing elements will go down with the target audience.
The other problem I have is that I simply don't understand the mindset of somebody that wants to jump into a hardcore truck driving simulator. Flight simulators I get, since the dream for many is to fly all over the world in large and small aircrafts. But a truck? I've driven these California highways in real life and don't feel the need to do it in a game. But I'm sure there's a market for this kind of product. For what it is, Rig 'n' Roll is a well-made game that is only marred by some technical glitches and some questionable design decisions.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Give credit to SoftLab-Nsk for trying. Rig 'n' Roll is hardly the best racing game of the year, but it's certainly better than the competition. Simulator fans will get a kick out of the California countryside, but gamers who grew up with Burnout and Gran Turismo will likely be bored by the whole affair. It works as an idea, but an hour-long race from San Francisco to L.A. is a bit much!