Trucking games are something of a rarity in the gaming world, with the nice but shamefully brief "18 Wheeler" being the only title to spring immediately to mind. Now Empire has entered the diesel-guzzling arena with "Big Mutha Truckers", an arcade racer with strategic trading elements. Armed with just a half-melted Yorkie bar, I jumped into my rig to find out just what in tarnation the fuss is all about.
Poor old Ma Jackson is getting too old to operate the family business - the aptly named 'Big Mutha Truckers'. She gathers her four young'uns together and gives them sixty days to terrorise Hick State County, doing whatever it takes to make a buck. Whoever earns the most money will take over the business. You have to pick from the unlikeliest of challengers; Cletus, Rawkus, Earl and the obligatory over-breasted female character Bobbie-Sue. There is no real advantage to picking one character over another; you just get different cabin décor and differing views from the natives.
There are two game modes in BMT, the central one being the 'Trial By Truckin' mode, but there is also the 'Mission' mode, which simply allows you to play through the various missions given to you in the main game. The inclusion of a straight racing mode or time challenge would have been nice, but you do get to race against other trucks in the main game anyway.
Once you've chosen your alter-ego, you are briefed by Ma Jackson herself, and you're off! You begin the game with cargo already on board, and it is up to you where you go from BMT HQ to sell it. There are only a handful of towns to go to, but the overall map is impressively large. Once at a town you not only get the chance to buy and sell goods, you can also upgrade your rig at the garage with more efficient brakes, turbo boosters etc, etc. A bar can be visited where you can play on the fruit machine to foolishly fritter your money, or pick up a loan from the local sharks. You also get handy tips from the bar workers of which towns are lacking what product, and pick up special missions too.
It's a fix!
To upgrade your rig quickly, you're best off going for the loan option, but as you'd expect you have to pay this back fairly pronto so you'd better hope to be earning some money and soon. Failure to repay will result in your rig being hit for home runs by the local baseball bat crew, until finally it gets repossessed and the game is over. A far more sensible approach is to simply trade from the very start. The trading system is a little simplistic, but effective, and you'll be raking in the dosh in no time. Be warned though, each visit to a town constitutes one whole day, so you really need to find out which towns are selling which goods early to make full use of your time.
It's not just about trading though - you also get hefty rewards for winning the various race challenges set by other truckers, and the missions pay well too. In addition to this you can find yourself sparring with the local police, (you actually have to blow them up to get any peace), and if you annoy the bikers they will come after you too. You have to shake these dudes off before they climb onto your truck and jack your cargo if allowed to get to your cabin.
Keep on Truckin'
Graphically, BMT is hard to fault with the towns and connecting road scenery all looking extremely nice. There are big frame-rate dips, but thankfully this is infrequent and certainly not enough to spoil the game. The only really disappointing thing is that with all the nice scenery whizzing past you can't really see enough of it due to the camera's questionable vantage point. You do have four modes to pick from, but while the default third person mode is the best to use, it is also somewhat oddly the most restrictive. Switching to in-cabin view is a hopelessly unplayable option, but amusing when you see the various states of untidiness of all four rigs. But they key reason for using the default third person view is simply the size of your rear end.
Controlling the trucks is a little bit cumbersome at first, but soon becomes a breeze; you just have to get that car driving thought out of your head! It is actually quite fun once you get the hang of it, but when you steer hard you've got a whole lot of rear to keep under control. It is by no means a simulation, but is convincing enough to require a different mindset to your normal racer. It can be quite amusing when you get yourself in what I call The Pendulum Situation, where your cargo is swinging crazily from left to right as you try to correct the steering. What isn't amusing is that when you crash, the time it takes to get yourself facing forwards again can be excruciatingly frustrating, and the cause of many mission failures.
All this hard truckin' wouldn't be any fun without some foot stomping music, and this is one area where BMT scores highly with a GTA3 style selectable radio. This plays anything from Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water' to your typical bluegrass style. There is a fair amount of bleeped out hick swearing on one of the stations, which may upset some people, but it tickled me pink for some reason. Which reminds me of the voice acting - overall, it's very nicely done, with lots of good humoured stereotyping going on. But what is going on with the lack of mouth movement when the characters speak? That's just plain weird Cletus!
Top of the World Ma!
Sadly, victory is a long ways off for budding truckers, and I often found myself thinking I was doing really well only to visit Ma Jackson and discover I was in last place. What's more, though the game is initially good fun, there just isn't enough variety to sustain interest for too long, and I can't see myself picking it up again anytime soon for another blast. With a little more content this could well have been a winner, but ultimately this one is bound for the shelf of doom. It's certainly worth a rental, but I would find it hard to recommend a purchase.