Long Read

Truck Driver: The American Dream


When a "dream" becomes a nightmare...


Truck Driver: The American Dream (let's just refer to it as TDTAD) starts with a dramatic sequence as you struggle through a tornado-struck area one hellish night... It's not clear how he died and not explained but apparently this exciting start was the demise of our protagonist Nathan's father Charles (possibly sucked up by the tornado after he had driven several locals to safety–they didn't bother to show us). Charles was a bit of a trucking legend and this is the start of a story-based narrative that involves Nathan's fledgling career as a truck driver, his relationships with his unhappy wife Linda and Clint (his mentor, co-driver and buddy of his late dad). The story is told with static screens, which look like placeholder art and are rather basic and disappointing.

If, like I was, you're under the impression that TDTAD is a truck driving sim then I'll correct you now.  Soedesco may categorise this as a "Simulation" but to be more accurate this is a story-based truck driving game with a light RPG element (skill points and level progression.) The skill tree includes upgrades such as better fuel consumption, less damage taken from collisions, cheaper add-ons and repairs. This element of the game seems rather broken, having completed the story I only received 5 skill points–read on and this minor flaw will fade into insignificance.

In TDTAD you will navigate an expansive map that is very, very loosely based on New York (the state, not the city), complete with a couple of dozen real place names attached to small hamlets on the map that look nothing like the real places. The map is completely road & highway-based, meaning there are barriers along each side and invisible walls that are invisible right up until you hit them at which point they turn into a wall of magic flashing red cone shapes to stop you from wandering off the beaten path (this is just about the stupidest idea since "taking the knee" to protest and/or support something), so there's no nipping off-road to explore the countryside or anything interesting like that. Even the odd dead end roads that are shown on the map are walled off.

The trucks and trailers are well modelled.

The designers have put quite a lot of detail into the trucks, trailers and loads, and the scenery too, but sadly none of it is interactive. There's an Airport that has planes and airporty-looking buildings and vehicles, and a harbour that has docks and a ship, but the "train depot"? Not a train or railroad track in sight! The traffic is set at a sensible level and the roads are rarely empty. AI-generated traffic jams can bung everything up, and the AI struggles when several cars arrive at a junction or traffic lights. I wasn't surprised to see that the AI has crashes, but the frequency was unintentionally amusing but disappointing. A random scripted "event" meant I had to take a detour; although there was only one in the entire game. I happened across a cop car blocking the road because a taxi had hit a horse! The AI vehicles also sometimes collide with each other, with your truck and even sometimes roll their vehicles on sharp turns! The AI vehicles mostly seem to despawn after a while if they're flipped or stuck, but some jams can take ages to clear and I've ended up using the truck's bulk and power to bulldoze my way through. Throughout the entire game I only saw 2 other trucks on the road, and they weren't pulling trailers–the reason is obvious–the AI simply couldn't handle it.

The game has a day/night cycle and dynamic weather, although night seems to fall like a ton of bricks and it seems to rain every 5 minutes–which I think is a bit much even for New York State. Sadly, although lightning storms are well realised, the rain effect is terrible, and thanks to the blurry graphics, barely visible where they should be most obvious. Bizarrely the raindrops and water rivulets are more noticeable from the chase cameras and on the side windows than on the front windscreen (although they actually run the wrong way on the driver's side!), and turning the windscreen wipers on actually makes it slightly harder to see! Unfortunately the game's decent lighting FX also go way over the top with some bizarre reflections on the windscreen when it's wet. There's also a radio with several stations to choose from, all of which are infinitely forgettable.

The weather FX are actually rather good. WIDE LOADS WITHOUT AN ESCORT, DUMB AI TRAFFIC, The awful handling of a car that you HAVE to drive on a couple of missions and Disappearing highways & scenery that grows through the road surface are not.

Okay, so I think that's about all of TDTAD's good points covered. Now on to all of the others... and there are a lot. I am completely mystified as to why or how this game is "Optimised For Xbox Series X/S". Exactly how badly does it run/look on Xbox One, if at all?  I'm delighted to say I'll never know because our version isn't Xbox One compatible–despite looking like a late Xbox/early 360 game. As you can see from any of the screenshots the graphics are inexplicably fuzzy and the cab interiors are horrendously low-detail–the route on the in-cab GPS is extremely hard to see. Having played an awful lot of TSW (Train Sim World) I'm no stranger to glitchy dashboards, but TDTAD takes this to a whole new level.

We are now playing games on Xbox X/S and PS5 that run on the Unreal Engine 5 in 4k at 60 frames per second, but who knows which fossilised version of Unreal this is–I can only describe it as looking like you have the beginnings of cataracts–it had me searching for graphics options in-game, on the Xbox options screen and even on my TV! This game looks SO bad that I wondered if one or the other had developed a technical fault, but everything else looks fine. I also reinstalled the game–sadly TDTAD really does look this bad. At least everything moves smoothly–until there's a hitch in the frame rate because it's drawing (or un-drawing) something in the distance–a common Unreal Engine 4 LoD issue.

Some of the larger loads you'll be tasked with.

The handling has been tweaked since I first saw the game but the trucks are still a bit too quick, for an example I'll use a game that many will have played; the trucks in Grand Theft Auto V handle more realistically in terms of power, speed, braking and grip. The sheer number of 90° turns means you have to frequently drive over pavement kerbs to make a corner–particularly if a vehicle is coming the other way, so you can't use the left lane to swing out wide because the AI traffic is dumb as a bucket full of hammers and will block your way and even collide with you. You can never expect any road etiquette or common sense from traffic as a truck driver would in real life. Ironically enough, this game wishes you "Happy Driving" at the intro screen…

In a decent truck "sim" you'd be able to do all your driving from the cab, but this is impossible in TDTAD. There's no actual "head-out" or rear view (you even have to swing the chase cam around manually to see what's behind you) and the mirrors, despite showing traffic disappearing behind you, are not detailed enough to show parking or drop-off bays, so reversing into them is next to impossible from the driver's position. Extra large rear view mirrors are available with the chase cams by clicking the L3 button, but these occasionally glitch out and go all black!  While we're on the subject of mirrors, add-on mirrors are supposed to be an upgrade, right? The ones I bought for one truck actually showed an upside-down reflection–no, really!

The game offers 5 views.

Play long enough (good luck with that!) and it's allegedly possible to unlock 8 trucks through the main storyline. Only because I was curious to see what this literal and figurative car crash would throw up next, I managed to grind my way through all 31 missions and only unlocked 4 (including Clint's truck that you start with). The game also failed to pop 8 chapter completion-based achievements, which is always annoying. If nothing else the game's missions pay well, and as long as you don't crash too much you'll soon accrue enough money so you can customise your truck with new parts and paint jobs, pay for the inevitable repairs, and buy add-ons like sun visors, roof lights, bumpers, dashboard tables and air fresheners–which are a good idea because this game stinks.

Driving these trucks is tiring work both virtually and in reality, and you need to rest regularly at rest stops or you may fall asleep, which is never a good idea when driving. Rather than pull over at a roadside rest stop and just have a nap (your truck does have a sleeper cab after all), you have to find a gas station with parking, or a hotel/motel/b&b to sleep at. Some of the missions are quite long and the driving rather boring, so although the engine sounds crap and the gear changing doesn't feel at all realistic, using a manual gearbox relieves the tedium slightly.

I haven't played a PC truck sim in years so the only things I can compare TDTAD to are GTA V, Mudrunner/Snowrunner and the trucks in Farm Simulator or Dakar Desert Rally–all of which are far more convincing handling-wise, and are set in much more realistic and interactive worlds, several of which have AI that acts pretty much as you'd expect it to. As I mentioned, the AI traffic will sometimes collide with you as if you're invisible, and when vehicles get tangled with your truck & trailer attempting to drive away and part them can result in some explosive physics, sending your rig flying into the sky!

The '50s beauty below is your reward for completing 18 missions. On mission 19 you get to drive this crimson nightmare on a date with new girl Lara, sadly it handles like a shopping trolley on ice and looks like an axe murderer was its previous owner! For some reason, if driven from the interior view, the reflection effects are so wildly over the top that it’s like being on a wild, drug-induced trip! When switching to a chase cam to ease the strain on my eyes,  I found that its indicator flashers are reversed! As an added bonus it's actually slower than the trucks and its horn is the same!

The reflection FX on this car have to be seen to be believed.

Another silly glitch happened when completing the 12th mission and starting work for a new company. You unlock a new truck, the Sledgehammer Turbo E3! But wait, don't get too excited, as if I needed any more proof that the game hasn't been tested this was it. The truck's windscreen turns red and completely obscures your view when you apply brakes!

A mission called "Ahoy Matey!" sees you tasked with transporting a pirate ship across the map–with one slight problem; If you follow the GPS route the massive trailer with its piratey load will be hampered by dumbassed AI traffic at every opportunity and will not physically fit through the final 90° turn at the entrance to the port! More proof that the game wasn't tested properly...

Want some comedy sound effects to add to this mess? How about how the truck engine, that is very muffled and indistinct, and weirdly fades out to a tickover as you go faster? As for "ambient" sounds you can hear other cars whoosh past, but I also seem to have an overly loud rogue duck and some other bird (that sounds like a squeaky wheel) hiding somewhere in the sleeper cab (they're too flippin' loud to be outside), and there might be a swarm of crickets and coyote back there too!

Our very own "highlight" reel below. We had many, many more clips we could have included.

The game has 5 views, only two of which I actually used so how about being able to disable the redundant ones? Y'know–they call them "quality of life" improvements? When switching to a chase cam the camera is also too low, so the truck obscures the view ahead, and if you're pulling a trailer you can't see anything at all but trailer butt until you raise the camera. (See pic below) Now readers, let's take a straw poll: Who thinks the chase camera remembers the position you set it at? Nah, of course not! Oh and how about self-cancelling indicators like just about every truck has had for the last 50 years? Or cruise control like every single truck has had as standard in the last 25 years? Some of the jobs are LONG runs and a cruise control would be a real boon!

The final nails in Truck Driver: The American "Dream's" coffin are 1) that the vast map has a section of highway that your truck will just sink into! Mission 6: "The Hitchhiker" produced that sinking feeling, and I could only complete this mission by turning around, driving the wrong way down the 2-lane highway against the traffic and making a huge detour to get to the desired destination. This bug will inevitably mean some players give up on the game entirely as the stretch of road in question is very close to Jamietown, the place where Nathan's story starts and which features in many missions–I find it incredible that this wasn't picked up and corrected at the beta stage of the game's development.

Nail 2 is probably the biggest one and it's that the game randomly crashes. We have had it just "dashboard" for no apparent reason on several occasions. Many Xbox games seem to dislike the Xbox X/S "Quick Resume" feature, and TDTAD will almost certainly crash to the dashboard at some point if it's used, but it's likely to crash at some point anyway.

My natural optimism always hopes that a game's minor bugs, graphical glitches and gameplay flaws can be patched, but this game is probably the glitchiest I've ever played, and needs to be taken out the back of Soedesco HQ and put out of its misery. The brutal truth is that asking £49.99 for this mess is a joke, and Soedesco or the Microsoft Store should be doing the honourable thing and refunding any poor souls who paid full price for it. It's a sad indictment that despite the obvious potential of a truck driving game, Nathan's relationships with Linda and others is the most interesting thing about TDTAD, and will most likely be the only thing that sees you persevere through the bugs, glitches, crashes and awful graphics to the end of the 31 chapters of the game. Finish the game and there was no free roam mode or chapter/mission select to try and get those borked achievements to pop, so I gave up.

There! I got all the way through this review without calling it Truck Driver: The American Nightmare–despite the game resembling one at times...

Thanks to Soedesco and PressEngine for the review code.