Game Description: Even if you're not the type to bleat out the 1975 hit "Convoy" over a CB radio, you'll probably still get the sweats thinking about racing with 20 tons of cargo pushing your rig. Choose between four 18-wheel trucks, and then ride against rival truckers and the clock as you try to deliver your payload intact and on time. The game offers 20 stages on the way from New York to San Francisco, as well as four play modes: Arcade, Parking Challenge, Score Attack, and Versus. Eighteen Wheeler is compatible with separately sold steering-wheel controllers.
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.
I have a couple of theories about Sega. I believe that either Sega does not possess the ability to meld innovation with entertainment or it has just been on autopilot since the launch of the Dreamcast. With the exception of a few milestones in Chu Chu Rocket!, Samba de Amigo, Crazy Taxi, and most of its Sega Sports franchise, Sega's recent highly anticipated releases have failed to live up to expectations. Sure, most of their games would qualify as unique and even innovative, but they usually shipped with one fatal flaw, sometimes more, that limited the playing experience and thus diminished the game as a whole. 18-Wheeler is another such game—certainly unique, but burdened with so many problems that it is not much fun to play.
Chi nails 18-Wheelers controls which are one of the game's biggest problems. In Sega's defense, 18-Wheeler does support racing wheels like Agetec's Rally Wheel, but the majority of players are going to be using standard Dreamcast controllers. Handling a giant steering wheel and stick shift was an integral part of the arcade game and that cannot be replicated on a gamepad. Without authentic controls, half the appeal of 18-Wheeler is tossed out the window and the game is greatly reduced to a simple arcade racer. That is a crucial oversight that has me wondering why Sega even bothered with this release.
Ultimately what killed 18-Wheeler for me was its lack of depth. As an arcade game, 18-Wheeler would have been a success if it managed to hold a persons attention for a mere 20 minutes; the criterion for a good home game is the exact opposite. I was never looking for the deep metaphysical experience that Chi was seeking but I did expect a more fulfilling playing experience. 18-Wheelers four scant stages hit you with the double whammy of being both brief and possessing near-impossible time constraints. Gameplay degrades into you crashing through as many areas as possible to find all the shortcuts and using every opportunity to Slip Stream (riding the draft behind other vehicles to gain a quick speed boost) to stay ahead of the competition and the clock. It may take a few tries, but 18-Wheeler can be beaten in one sitting and once it's done, there is no compelling reason to go through the game again.
The lone bright spots in the game are the more trucker-oriented features. There are a couple of bonus stages where you have to park the truck and navigate close quarters—not an easy endeavor with an unwieldy semi. This is a glimpse of what Chi may have been expecting when he sat down to play 18-Wheeler. These very short diversions do make you feel like a trucker, but they will never make up for the games shortcomings.
After playing 18-Wheeler, I feel confident in my assertions about Sega. It had the hook of allowing players to race, sometimes drive, a tractor-trailer through a series of stages, but in this port, Sega didn't even bother to revise the arcade gameplay to suit the new platform. How else could you explain why a game with such repetitive and shallow gameplay was released onto the home market? Sega had to know 18-Wheeler was not up to snuff yet it just threw the game out there and hoped it would somehow be a hit.
Disclaimer:This review is based on the Dreamcast version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
Parents, there isnt much thats offensive about 18-Wheeler other than the dull gameplay. Youve been warned.
Fans of Crazy Taxi and other arcade-style driving games are going to be really disappointed with 18-Wheeler. The action is much slower and the experience is far more linear. As for fans of realistic driving simulators, 18-Wheeler doesnt even come close to replicating the control or the experience of driving these massive rigs symbolically or in any other way.