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18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker

Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Sega
Media: GCD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:

Remember when you thought getting wasted was going to be the coolest thing ever? And then you woke up in a pool of your own filth and the Party Life didn't look so glamorous. Yeah, bringing arcade games to the living room is kinda like that. I mean, who wouldn't have killed a man back in the day to have a full-on version of the cool games we played in the arcades residing in the family living room. Forgetting for the moment that your folks would never have gone for that, doesn't it basically suck to realize that with all the badass technology available today, bringing an arcade game home might not be all that and a bag of chips?

18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker as a production in the arcade is killer. Like the tricked-out sniper rifle mounted for Silent Scope, the 'big rig' effect kicks a ton of big butt when you jump into a lifelike cab, blow the horn and lurch off the starting line into traffic. The on-screen elements are converted faithfully to Gamecube, much more so than the Dreamcast could manage. And, the sounds of the game are here also, including all the raunchy roadhouse music you could possibly want. For devotees of the arcade experience, there's no question that the sights and sounds of Sega's 18 Wheeler have been accurately reproduced. But, will it be enough to justify bringing this one home? Read on.


Gameplay:

These days, people seem more open to games that push - shall we say - less conventional subject matter? I mean, we have this trend to thank for Incredible Crisis and Mr. Mosquito, you know? Not to mention the Dating/RPG genre, which my mind still boggles over periodically. And, while I completely support the idea of fringe gaming endeavors, I do find most 'out there' concepts fall into the category of things you do once because you're curious and then never again. Like girls kissing girls. (Girls with stories about this: please send e-mail to the link below to support my ongoing research on the subject - and please don't send image attachments bigger than 50MB!)

18 Wheeler is a great rental, and a fun party game, but unless you recently cashed in your trust fund, putting down money to own this permanently is a poor idea. The idea of driving a big rig is exciting, and racing them across the country is too excellent for words. Parking them is a pain, but we'll get to that. The mainstay of 18 Wheeler is Arcade Mode, a series of 4 runs taking you from New York to San Francisco. Get to the finish line in each stage before the competition and you get a bonus parking session! That exclamation point is pretty tongue-in-cheek, kids. A straight port of the Arcade version awaits you, so if you want to square off against little Johnny next door, you'll want to try Versus Mode. Here you pick a course and race in split-screen to the finish. In Score Attack, you'll find a chance to race for points alone on one track to practice and improve your score and skills. But when it comes to skill, nothing tests you more than Parking Mode. Oh yeah, you know you can't even parallel park your Geo Metro, so don't pretend navigating a 50-foot rig through tight corners to a small slip and stopping on a dime doesn't scare you! Oh, it doesn't scare you? Well, it's all part of the spirit of competition, I guess.

For sure, as a game to be enjoyed with others, 18 Wheeler does a nice job of being a fun distraction, but for a single player the excitement is over all too soon. Like many things that seem exciting but don't quite live up to expectations, 18 Wheeler is gone before you know it. The Arcade Mode is moderated by timed checkpoints and all kind of environmental obstacles that make progress difficult, but nothing really keeps you from blowing through the 4 stages and watching the credits roll in one sitting. And then, my friend, you're parking.


Difficulty:

My next-door neighbor, a trucker, tells me that nothing about driving a truck is really tough except finding something good to eat along I-40 that isn't an armadillo. Well, there's always the 72oz. steak in Amarillo - maybe that's what he said, actually. The lawnmower was running at the time so I can't be sure. But, he did confirm that parking is harder than hell. And, that your truck handles differently depending on the type of load you have. Before each race in this game, you'll pick your character and the type of trailer you want. Heavier trailers earn more points, but handicap your stats considerably. Luckily for the single-player segments of 18 Wheeler you can choose 1 of 5 difficulty settings, so all but the most impossibly sucky gamers will have a shot at the title.

Game Mechanics:

Unlike a combat racer such as the tightly wound Extreme G3, 18 Wheeler doesn't give you much to worry about for controls. To the extent that realism were possible, it would have been nice to see more than a Hi and Lo gear option. I mean, the real trucks have like 20 gears! I may not be any good at manually shifting in racing games, but I could handle shifting 10 gears between 0-15 mph! Oh well, maybe in the sequel.

The controls are tight and laid out well, but who won't miss that huge steering wheel? Reverse is a gear you probably won't use much, but it's there. When using the horn, remember that some vehicles actually belong plastered against your front fender. A 'bonus van,' when swiped, will add seconds to your timer and give you a better chance to reach the next checkpoint. Other ways to clear the stage in first place are to find shortcuts, 'draft' off the guy in front of you (called the Slip Stream effect here) and pick carefully when a fork in the road appears. I like the racing environments, full of action and surprises the first time through. With different trucks and divergent paths plus shortcuts, it's not like you'll see everything the same way every time, and it's only after you get a handle on the competition that you can settle in and enjoy the view. These races are fast and furious, contrary to what the oversized trucks might lead you to expect. Trucks carry a few critical characteristics, including Speed, Torque and Toughness. The outer choices are obvious, but if Torque doesn't ring your bell, just think of it as the energy needed to put a stationary object into motion. And then look it up, because I'm not sure that's correct. No, really, torque lets you start from a dead stop (as in a crash) and get up to speed more quickly. Some racing games like to call it acceleration, a convention that saves me dumb explanations like this - sheesh! So, you pick the kind of truck you want to drive, choose a trailer that takes advantage of your strengths and hit the open road.

In no way do I want to suggest that 18 Wheeler is a game you should stay away from, but like the edge of the Grand Canyon, approach cautiously. It is NOT the home equivalent of the arcade version, but it's a reasonable substitute for people who want to bring a piece of the arcade home. As a fun rental, especially for a party game, it promises to delight a crowd and really impress your trucker friends. 'Hey, these gamer types are okay!' My neighbor has instructed me in the secret cabala of driving a truck in such a way as to approximate a veritable Highway Shao-Lin Style. The transmission of this style would no doubt thrill you, but some secrets are too precious to pass on. Play 18 Wheeler for yourself as a rental before you decide if the amount of play is enough to justify adding this one to your permanent collection.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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