When it comes to racing, it’s fair to say that gamers are pretty well catered for. Whether you’re after the high-speed thrills of Formula One, the two-wheeled mayhem of MotoGP, the off-road antics of the world’s finest rally courses, or even a casual stroll through the local countryside in some of the fastest supercars on the planet, there is very little that you can’t enjoy. There is however one other racer now available for players to master. Welcome to European Truck Racing!
I get it, I wasn’t particularly aware that that European Truck Racing scene was even a thing either. I wasn’t aware it had a championship and I certainly wasn’t aware the FIA were officially behind it all. Considering the vehicles involved bear a striking resemblance to the very irritating ones that often clutter up my route to work at 7am most mornings, I mean I wouldn’t have even thought they’d be capable of race worthy speeds, let alone competing for the chequered flag!
Nevertheless, many races later, with European and World Series titles tucked firmly under my belt, I now consider myself not only a master of the truck racing world, but a converted fan of the most recent sim-cade racing title to arrive on Xbox One.
Before we get carried away though, let’s take it back a bit, back to where it all kicks off. Before players even get out on the track and partake in anything exciting like Career mode, there is a Truck Racing license to be obtained. Think of it as an extended tutorial if you like, and to complete it you must run through 15 different lessons, each one covering different aspects such as acceleration, and stopping distance, as well as more involved aspects such as temperature control of the water-cooled brakes and drive-through penalties for when you swing that 5-tonne rig a little too far around a corner.
Upon completion of any lesson, players are given a rating of either Bronze, Silver or Gold depending on their performance, much like the licenses seen in the Gran Turismo titles.
Once you’ve passed them all, you can then continue on with Career, provided that is the place you wish to start. You see, there are other modes available, such as Quick Race, Championship, Event, Time Trial and Multiplayer.
The Career mode is where you’ll find the real heart of the action though and here players make their name by chasing down a contract with one of the 20 teams, before fighting it out to become the Titan driver on your team; all with the aim of completing the overarching goal and becoming the series champion. As mentioned earlier, there are two series for players to compete in, The European Truck Racing Championship (ETRC) and the World Series.
The Career may be where you’ll find the most in-depth action, with teams to earn contracts for and long-fought championships to win, but it isn’t quite up to the standard that you’ll see in other motorsport titles on Xbox One. There is no deep vehicle management to be found here, there are no big driver rivalries, and in all honesty, it’s all a bit bland and basic; even the menus consist of simply choosing the next event on the calendar, and having a quick flick through the in-game emails, before cracking on with the event at hand.
The reason why I have enjoyed FIA European Truck Racing Championship has nothing to do with the game modes at all though, but rather the overall driving experience. After progressing through the various Practice Sessions, Qualifying and the Super Pole, players are simply down to the thick of it, taking part as one of the twelve 1000-horsepower, 5-tonne racing trucks, on the starting grid. It’s a bit of an eye-opener to see just how delicate the likes of F1 cars are when you stick such gigantic racing machines side by side on a track and listen to the engines roar as the race begins. What really stands out in this game though isn’t the realistic engine sound, or even the rather pleasing, albeit not Forza-standard, visuals. Instead it’s the incredible handling that seems to be in place as you whip these behemoths around various circuits including the Official ETRC ones, as well as the likes of Laguna Seca or Fuji Speedway, to name a few.
In any given race, you’ll find yourself pacing your way through the pack, slowly but surely pushing on each position, trying to avoid clipping your tail end on the front of any nearby opponent to avoid a spin-out. As you build your speed up towards the race limited 160 KM/H, you’ll find yourself fast approaching the next corner, and this is where race tactics can come into play, do you brake early and try to undercut the opposition, or do you brake last, overtaking before the corner but then finding yourself with little room for manoeuvre? Either way, braking will play a big part in your outcome as these trucks may pack a punch but they also come packing a lot of extra weight. Should you fail to rip on those brakes with adequate time – as taught in the license lessons from earlier on – you’ll soon find yourself plowing into the gravel trap and forced to rejoin from what will most likely be the back of the pack.
Now this is where one of my gripes with the European Truck Racing Championship comes about, as whilst the A.I. are just as likely to drop into an accidental spin-out or collision as the player, seeing opponents quickly restart on the track ahead, whilst I am forced to drive at the crippling speed through the gravel is certainly something that tests the patience; a spin-out would usually see me forced to take an entire lap just to begin overtaking again due to the pace of the rest of the pack.
Another thing to watch out for during races that also doesn’t seem to affect the A.I. racers, is the penalty system. Throughout each corner, players must stick to the track, however should you hit a penalty marker on the side because you’ve been shunted by another truck, you can expect to see a healthy penalty added to your overall finishing time. Keep it up, and it’s a drive-through penalty. Now admittedly, you do get a number of warnings before action is taken, but those penalties should equally stand for the A.I., yet it seems time after time I have been left watching the rather aggressive A.I. force each other into penalty markers with not a single time addition added to any of them. It’s a simple thing, but if you’re going for the simulation feel – which it seems FIA European Truck Racing Championship is, even despite feeling a little arcade-y at times – then surely each race needs to be completely fair.
Besides the punishments though, the racing experience does feel rather good. The weight of the trucks is portrayed fantastically as you tear around each corner and into the apex, with the camera allowing for multiple viewing angles, including a cockpit viewpoint which is pretty decent. Further, the A.I. opponents do a fantastic job of keeping a competitive edge on things, with the pack breaking away towards the end of a race and often challenging the player to keep ahead of things right from the off.
The biggest feature that stands out though is in the braking and the mini game of sorts that comes with it. You see braking is something you do a lot in any racing game, but with such enormous trucks, you can’t just expect a simple brake pad to be enough to put a halt to those breakneck speeds. During each race you’ll need to make sure to maintain the brakes by pushing water onto them at each hard turn to ensure they don’t overheat, whilst also maintaining a good temperature to ensure they still work. It’s fantastic stuff and is something that really brings a sense of realism and originality to the game. You only have a certain amount of water in your tank too, so you can’t just go around willy-nilly spraying water at everything, at least not if you’re playing on a slightly harder difficulty, so there really is a sense of concentration and engagement brought to each race beyond the usual grid climbing.
Away from the gameplay side of things though and we have the visuals and audio to take into consideration. All in all, FIA European Truck Racing Championship looks and sounds the part. It’s no Forza, and it isn’t going to wow the masses in the visual department, but it does what it sets out to do, which is to provide realistic tracks and trucks to enjoy. There aren’t many tracks admittedly, but they certainly resemble their real-life counterparts, while all 45 trucks come with their official liveries from manufacturers such as Volvo, Man and Western Start. The sound is equally well done with trucks sounding as you’d expect, and the screech of the brakes proving rather satisfying as you try to slow these speeding rigs down.
This all comes together to ensure that if you’re a fan of ETRC, then Bigben Interactive have done a fantastic job of bringing the sport to the console experience. The competitive feel is certainly there, and the unique handling seems to have been particularly well crafted. It would be nice to have a little more to do in the career mode, but the racing experience does a great job of ensuring this doesn’t feel like another typical racer – with a few menu changes and some extra activities to partake in, we could well have a new racing series ready to make waves.