Version tested: PC
Eighteen wheels of steel. Greasy spoons. Air brakes. Tattoos. Grrr! Yorkie bars. Pro-plus inspired twenty-hour shifts. Overtaking another lorry on a hill because you're going 3mph faster than them and can't possibly brake, thereby blocking up the dual carriageway for ten minutes. All things associated with truckers. Apocalypse isn't one of them; you can blame them for traffic jams but not for global thermonuclear war.
That's the politicians' fault (mind you, what isn't?), although Hard Truck: Apocalypse (HTA) doesn't really go into the ins-and-outs. All you need to know is that the war happened, the world's a wasteland and only cockroaches, bandits, truckers and Tony Blair are left. Your mission is to run over Tony Blair. Twice. Alright... *mutters*... it's to avenge your father's murder, at least to begin with.
HTA is best described as an open-ended Interstate 76 with trucks in a Fallout setting, with a heavy Eastern European accent. It was developed by Russian based Targem, and you can expect plenty of grammatical and translation issues. For example, "I smell fish" (instead of "That sounds fishy") is probably not something you should say to a lady trucker with twin machine-guns nestled under her bumper.
Sadly, that's only the tip of the leaky radiator, which is a real shame, as there's a pleasantly playable basic scheme of things here. You've got the freedom to explore the world, discover remote cities, scavenge better weapons for your truck, take on various side-quests and earn money to pay for upgraded systems or a new rig with chunkier armour and more cargo space. Chuck in some simple trading mechanics on the side and some branching choices in the lengthy main storyline, and you ought to be onto a winner, right?
That theory doesn't translate, either. Let's start with the physics. The game's unashamedly action-arcade flavoured, which is fair enough, but it takes a few too many liberties. You can drive your hundred-ton vehicle up a near vertical incline, and not a small one either. Worse still, you can descend the same slope as if your tyres were magically glued to it. It's actually kind of fun, but taken to the point where it seems rather silly; sillier because otherwise the truck's handling and turning circle are realistically sluggish.
You'll spend a lot of time turning when combat occurs, as one of the best methods of dealing with an opponent is to strafe them (weapons are manually controlled with the mouse) by circling around them faster than their turrets and guns can turn to hit you. Flimsier opposition can be taken out at range. Despite the repetitiveness of these two tactics being largely king, the combat is actually a high point, as there are other elements to consider in the bigger pitched battles, such as evading missiles using terrain, tactical ramming, or reversing at enemies when your cab armour is damaged.
The single biggest gaping, steam-hissing hole is with the quests. They're just too superficial. Deliver a package. Kill some bandits near town. Kill some more bandits. Deliver some bandits (to a nearby amusement arcade). And so on. There's the odd escort job, but the side-quests are almost uniformly bland. The main plot missions have more substance at first glance, only to disappoint. An assignment to kidnap an enemy general runs like this: Go to location. Five vehicles appear. Blow them all up. Completed. This lack of imagination is typical - why not make the player have to chase the general, reduce his health to 10 per cent then ram him off the road, to capture him alive? Or... just... well anything apart from another one-dimensional kill task. The script and quest back-story is also poor: "I am suspicious of you!"... "What's that you say?"... "Oh, I believe you now." It really puts the dire into dialogue.
Visually, attention to detail is lacking - the graphics are generally passable, and the explosion effects are impressive, but the street lights, for example, cast light yet their bulbs aren't lit. When your truck gets shot up, it looks like it's made of wax and half melted rather than battle-scarred. HTA simply lacks polish and a number of bugs just underline the absence of turtle wax. Invisible walls near the edges of the levels, quests that complete themselves, sketchy driver AI (at times the computer performs like Maureen of Driving School fame when she's forgotten to take her crook-lock off), exiting a city only to have the game immediately ram you into a friendly truck starting a war with the townspeople... there's a fair old list of them.
So the picture's a pretty bleak one, yet it's undeniable that there's some measure of enjoyment to be gleaned from HTA, despite its obvious issues. The more interesting large-scale fire fights and planning truck upgrades provide some reasons to stick with it, along with nostalgia for dear old Interstate 76. If only Targem had concentrated on lending the missions more of the depth I76's sported, the other faults would be far more forgivable.
4 / 10