Version tested: PC
Tow trucks. Proud whales of the highway. Gruff weightlifters of the road. Tanks in the war that is everyday life.
Our culture's obsession with tow trucks knows no bounds. One need only observe the popularity of films which speculate on the offspring of man and tow truck, such as Iron Man and Iron Man 2, and I'm sure the most loved of all the Autobots, Longarm, needs no introduction.
For centuries scholars have tried and failed to understand what makes tow trucks so beguiling to us. Perhaps it's the sheer power of their crane and tow cable, so much stronger than any one of us. Or maybe - just maybe - it is their ability, despite being a car (kind of), to pick up another car.
So of course a Tow Truck Simulator is... no. I'm sorry. I can't do this. I don't know why anybody would want to buy a tow truck simulator. All I know is that statistically, somebody does want to buy this game.
Over the last year the developers of Tow Truck Simulator, Astragon, have also put out Farming Simulator, Digger Simulator, Crane Simulator and Forklift Truck Simulator, so either somebody's buying these games or Astragon is on a crusade to force games journalists to at least pretend to do some real work. If the next games in this series are Civil Servant Simulator and Part Time Retail Assistant Simulator, I'm onto them.
But in all likelihood it's the former, and someone out there does want to buy Tow Truck Simulator. If I had to guess I'd imagine he's called Eamonn, lives in Chelmsford, works in a Post Office and despite fancying himself as a 'Beast' or a 'Hotshot', he is known among his friends as 'Fat Eamonn.'
Eamonn, if you're reading, this one's for you.
Here's how bad Tow Truck Simulator is: there is a spelling mistake on the main menu that invites you to start a "New Carreer".
When you click on this button the game displays a loading screen for almost an entire minute, forcing you to reflect for the first time on the single piece of muzak that loops ceaselessly during the entire game. After half an hour of Tow Truck Simulator this track will have become so powerfully repellent that in your mind's eye you will imagine the guitar playing you while Satan plays bass.
When Tow Truck Simulator finally starts, suddenly it's got no time for you. A box pops up telling you to recover either an illegally parked or broken down vehicle, and it tells you what you'll be paid, but that's it. There is no tutorial, and just in case you were thinking of partying like it's 1998, there's no paper manual either.
If you're smart or desperate enough to look in the game's directory there is a .pdf manual, but that only provides a list of key bindings. Optimist that I am, I wrote down these controls to make a crappy reference sheet and figured that learning how to operate a tow truck would be fun, like a Professor Layton puzzle.
The town that's yours to roam in Tow Truck Simulator is nothing to write home about, unless you actually lived there, in which case you'd probably write home saying something like "Mum! Send help! Jesus Christ! I'm trapped in an ugly, weird-looking town enclosed by high walls on every side where nobody's allowed to go outside and all the glass is opaque and everyone parks illegally all the time!"
Carefully obeying my hazy memory of the Highway Code, I arrived at my first illegally parked car to find it sticking out from the pavement at a 90 degree angle on an empty, narrow street. This was such an astonishingly prattish act that I actually took pause.
Briefly, I got excited. I was a force of street justice! Is this the feeling you're after, Eamonn? Because it didn't last.
Trying to park my tow truck alongside the jerk car was an incredible pain, largely because of having to change gears manually and the camera automatically swivelling 180 degrees when you start moving backwards. So, if you change the camera yourself, the moment you start moving backwards the camera turns to face forwards.
Finally I got snug next to the jerk car, turned on my dramatic hazard lights and discovered that once in Crane mode you control the crane using J, G, T, U, Y, H, P, K and all four cursor keys. Manoeuvring it is comparable to having sex remotely via an arcade claw.
Somewhere in my initial fiddlings I hit the R key, which resets your truck and puts it back on the road. I screamed, and accelerated off back towards the jerk car in this distance.
This caused a box to pop up. "During a speed measuring you were detected with a speeding!" I was stunned. There was nobody on this street and no cameras. "Fine: €50."
Swearing, I tugged my truck back and forth into position next to the jerk car and again began launching the space shuttle with these crane controls. This time I actually managed to get it into position and triumphantly hit Y, the "connect cables and car" key. But nothing happened.
Still hitting Y, I moved the crane a little bit this way, a little bit that way, up high, down low. I did the Macarena with this sodding crane until finally I accidentally hit R again, instantly slotting me back onto the street 100 feet away. Part of me died at that point.
So I went and opened the settings menu about as angrily as anyone can open a settings menu, and was just about to rebind the Reset key to the distant Siberia of the numpad when I noticed the "connect cables and car" button was assigned to Z, not Y. The manual had lied to me.
And so it was that on my third attempt at picking up the jerk car, suffering this abysmal handling and the Operation Flashpoint of cranes, I finally hoisted the bastard up and sat him on my flatbed. I was just trying to figure out how to tie it down when I hit the reset button again, which I'd forgotten to rebind. Unsure of what to do with this car on my truck, Tow Truck Simulator decided it was best if it just crashed to desktop.
I didn't play again that day, Eamonn. I was very upset. Do you understand?
As bad starts to games go, Tow Truck Simulator's is up there with installing a game only to find your PC doesn't meet the minimum requirements. Except that it's the developers who don't meet the minimum requirements. Of human beings.
With the basics down, Tow Truck Simulator becomes less repulsive, but only barely. As far as I can work out (and I spent more time trying to figure this out than anyone ever, ever should) the key that fastens cars to the bed of your truck is both massively unreliable and gives no signal when it finally works.
As such, once you've picked up a car you have to put the truck back into Drive mode, slink forward a little bit while watching the car for motion, and if it moves you then go back into Crane mode, move the car with the crane, hit the Fasten button again and repeat this process. Otherwise when you start driving your load will just fall off, like the game's idea of a practical joke. Although no matter how careful you are, there's every chance some nob of an AI driver will just crash into you at any point.
The best bit of Tow Truck Simulator is, no word of a lie, when you're stuck in traffic. Think about that for a minute - the best bit of this game, the most redeeming feature, is being stuck in traffic.
The pain stops, you see. You can swap the camera to the in-cab view, look around at the sterile plastic interior of your cab and imagine the simulator this could have been. You can visualise the in-cab decorations you'd get (cigarette packets, Yorkie bar wrappers, rosary beads hanging from the rear-view mirror) whenever you succeeded at a difficult job, and maybe an arcade mode that's a bit like Crazy Taxi, with you racing between jobs and praying your half-arsed restraints hold as you tear up a hill.
After several hours of Tow Truck Simulator I even began imagining how tow trucks could improve other games. Imagine a tow truck in Red Faction Guerrilla. You could lift up explosive gas tanks or gigantic bombs, then drop the rear ramp at your destination while accelerating to let them roll onto the ground before detonating them. Better yet, you could drop them from the top of hills and let them roll towards your target.
I've never given a 1 before, so I guess I'm just keen to let you know it's not because of the subject matter. It's because Tow Truck Simulator is unwashed offal hacked from the belly of the ugliest of digital cows. It's not hard to imagine a game that's worse than this, but it is hard to imagine that game getting published. So, sod it.
1 / 10