Trucks are great because they are two things: a) big and 2) shiny [why do I even get up in the morning? -Ed]. We're never likely to ever be able to get our hands on a bona fide juggernaut with which to terrorise the neighbourhood, but as long as one of our game developer friends comes along every so often with a few huge glistening behemoths to climb into and lug about the town, we're happy rednecks. The King of Route 66 is the latest attempt at drawing us into the world of Yorkie-munching hairy chaps (not you Rob), and as an AM2 production, it shouldn't be too shabby at it either.
It's not for girls
The last trucking game we played was 18 Wheeler, way back on our cherished Dreamcasts. It felt chunky and dirty, and had stuff sliding about all over the dashboard, and even a little Sonic key chain dangling from the rear-view. Yeah, 18 Wheeler was quite good, it's just a shame it lasted for all of about fifteen minutes. And so we look to the recent arrival of its sequel - The King of Route 66 - to revive our enthusiasm for this particular strain of the driving genre.
The bulk of the title is played out in story mode, which sees you driving all the way along Route 66 doing battle with various drivers from the Tornado Corporation, the arch nemesis of every right-thinking road-bound citizen. The plot and acting are totally hilarious for all the wrong reasons - we nearly died when the Tornado boss was wailing in despair and suddenly a rough and tough Marlboro-voiced cowboy clicked his spurs in the shadows and took up the cause - and serve no real purpose, but we can live with that. It is an Arcade port after all, and we're here for the driving.
The state-by-state cross-country trip is presented in a series of head-to-head and time-based challenges, each progressively trickier than the last. First you'll be pelting across town to pick up some cargo, and then you'll be racing it to its destination before your Tornado rival can beat you to it. While progression is strictly linear, there isn't just one specific route through the game. You usually get the opportunity to select between two types of cargo, and this will split your course through the game in two, allowing you to play through again with slightly different challenges should you so wish.
Handling is of course key to the success of Route 66, and each of the five rigs you can choose from certainly feel sluggish enough. Unfortunately, the AI opponents don't seem to have nearly as much trouble handling their vehicles as you do, frantically swerving from side to side to knock you off course, and pulling off some miraculously fast ninety-degree turns while you struggle to brake in time to get your truck round the corner.
It's hardly surprising that the trucks themselves aren't the speediest of beasts, and it comes as some relief that Nitro power-ups are on hand to give you the necessary boost so you can pile past your opponent on your way to the goal. If you enjoy sneaky last-minute victories, then you'll enjoy vying for the Route 66 kingdom.
We found that the first half of the stages are worryingly easy to plough through on the first play, but the difficulty curve soon ramps up and most Tornado drivers will start to give you a run for your money. The sheer violence with which some of the other characters drive will rub off on you and you'll soon be quite literally rubbing shoulders with your counterparts.
Priscilla, Queen of Route 66
That's not all there is to it, however. Alongside the King of Route 66 mode is the Queen of... challenges. This set of levels tasks you with traipsing around a range of locations attempting to find and collect items for the Queen of each state, like misplaced jewellery. These stages represent an even tougher task for players who manage to breeze through the King mode.
Elsewhere there's a collection of eight mini-games, which reminded us quite distinctly of those in Crazy Taxi. If nothing else, they are at least interesting; driving into and punting a parked car as fast as possible; performing flying leaps while attempting to collect as many emblems as possible; hurtling the wrong way down a freeway and destroying cars; and even a Speed-style 'there's a bomb on board' game. They certainly inject a little more life for a game that could otherwise run dry once the two main modes are out of the way.
Sadly the visuals aren't quite up to the job at this stage. We didn't feel quite as enamoured with our rigs in Route 66 as we did when we first got our hands on 18 Wheeler, but that could just be misty-eyed nostalgia toying with our memories. There is also a noticeable amount of pop-up on some levels, and some quite severe slowdown seems to be an issue at present as well, but there's a 60Hz mode in place, which is something.
For those of you that welcomed 18 Wheeler but wanted more honk for your buck, The King of Route 66 is looking pretty promising. Once we've given the versus mode a shot, attempted to fill our medal cases with mini-game achievements, and managed to get all of the Queen of Illinois' precious gems back to her, we should be ready to give you our final verdict. The King of Route 66 is currently down for a September release. Toot toot.