With the international success of Crazy Taxi, it only seemed natural that its developer, Sega, would follow up the smash hit with 18-Wheeler, another arcade-style occupational theme videogame. As the title implies, the difference this time around is the switch from driving a limber and high-flying car that cabbied passengers around town to driving a massive truck that transports goods from one location to another. This might sound like a good idea and loads of fun on the surface, but the execution of the title is so dreadful that the loads of fun ended up being just plain crap.
The main problems with 18-Wheeler stem from the questionable representation of the "trucking" occupation. In my mind therere two ways to recreate the experience properly: control and gameplay.
By removing the giant-sized steering wheel controller that was present in the arcade coin-op version and replacing it with a standard Dreamcast controller, Sega inadvertently dismissed a large part of the spirit of the game. Part of the experience of driving a massive rig is not only negotiating the physical landscape, but also having to skillfully manipulate the vehicles cumbersome controls. By distilling the controls into a simplistic control pad, the essence and challenge is lost. 18-Wheeler handles more or less like any other driving game and thats a bad thing when your main selling point is based on the distinction of driving a truck.
Compounding the control issue is the gameplay. The basis for the four meager stages in the game is to transport cargo from point A to B and to beat a "rival" driver to the destination in the process. Theres nothing inherently wrong with the setup, but once again, the execution fails to deliver. The "trucking" lifestyle is about being on the road for days, weeks, and even months. Sleeping under the moonlight; eating out at roadside diners; and delivering your cargo safely on schedule. Its as blue as blue-collar work can get, but theres also a Zen-like quality to the job where it's a solitary existence with nothing but you, your truck, and the roads of Americas heartland. Sega tries to condense this iconography into short stages that average around 15 minutes in length, but it just doesnt work in such a short frame of time. It also doesnt help that the stages are extremely linear in design and that time constraints are too stringent in order to up the difficulty levels. Without any sense of freedom to navigate your own routes and with virtually no margin of error with the timer, the gameplay feels joyless and hollow in addition to being too short and inauthentic to the source material.
To sum things up, the developers tried to implement the same kind of fast paced and frantic action that Crazy Taxi rode to success in 18-Wheeler. The problem is that driving a truck isnt the same hyper-kinetic experience as driving a taxi. Driving a truck has more to do with control and pacing. 18-Wheeler fails to understand that and delivers a game that feels false. I understand that releasing a suitable steering wheel controller for the game was unlikely and reinventing the game mechanics from the arcade version is unrealistic, so I question why Sega even bothered to release 18-Wheeler with all its inadequacies to begin with.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Dreamcast version of the game.