The human race can be a confusing species indeed. We merrily build powerful trucks designed to transport lots of cargo, and then for some reason decide to go racing with them, despite the fact that we also build incredible cars and bikes designed specifically to race. These trucks are so completely unsuitable for racing that their brakes literally attempt to self-destruct, and yet race them we do. Because humans are bloody stupid. We’re the same species that create energy drinks, slap on a warning that they shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol and then proceed to mix them with alkanol anyway. It’s a wonder we’ve actually made it this far. And that brings us to FIA European Truck Racing Championship, the officially licensed game of the real-life sport of racing things that shouldn’t be raced.
Since it’s based on the official sport that means there’s a selection of 14 circuits, including the likes of Laguna Seca and the Fuji Speedway, plus 45 trucks across 20 different teams. Before you can unleash your racing fury on these tracks, though, you’ve got to work through a pretty extensive tutorial in order to earn your race license. It’s a lengthy process that reminds me of playing Gran Turismo back in the day. It might be frustratingly long for some people, but it does give you a good idea of what makes racing big rigs different to anything else.
The career mode forms the bulk of the game and offers two modes; the official European championship and an entirely fictional worldwide championship involving slightly faster but more cumbersome trucks. The game holds you back from getting to the best stuff, though, by having you sign weekend contracts with teams for the first while. Once you finally get free of these you can sign up properly with a team, unlocking the ability to upgrade your truck. Profit becomes part of the mix, too, since damage must be repaired and your team will have certain demands when it comes to performance and cash. If you fail to meet expectations then you might even get kicked out of the team.
It’s certainly fair to say that the career mode lacks the polish, flair or even depth of other racing titles like F1 2019. Deciding to have you go through an entire season without getting to sign up with a team properly, upgrade your truck and try to maintain cash flow baffles me. With the A.I. turned up I still wound up winning the European championship in my first season despite not being signed to any one team, and the idea of going for a second season was daunting.
Over on the multiplayer front it’s pretty barebones, too. There are no online championships or full seasons to play through with friends, for example, but of course you can just jump into a standard race with other folk or create a custom event. Be warned, though, that finding people to race against is tricky. Even close to launch the online community isn’t large, a direct result of the niche nature of the game.
But let’s get to the actual truck racing part of this truck racing game. If you need proof that chunky 5-tonne machines aren’t meant to be raced around tracks then look no further than the brakes which will scream in pain as soon as you touch them. These things just aren’t designed to stop so much weight so quickly. Stomp on the brakes, and they’ll basically try to destroy themselves. To combat this the racing trucks are equipped with jets that can spray water directly onto the brakes to cool them back down. These are manually controlled, so while you race around you also need to keep an eye on the brake temperatures. To get the best stopping power you want to keep them in a certain temp range, and if you let them get too hot they’ll degrade.
This brings an interesting extra layer of strategy to the game, at least in theory. A limited water supply means you should need to be careful with cooling off the brakes, yet there’s so damn much water that I never came close to running out during races. Still, having to think about cooling off the brakes before coming charging into the next air-pin bend does make the game stand out from so many of the other racing games out there.
It might be tempting to see overheating brakes as a perfect excuse to smash into the other trucks but FIA European Truck Racing Championship is actually a very strict game. If it was wearing a shirt and tie the very top button would be done up and the tie would be cutting off all blood and oxygen to the brain. There are penalty markers on corners to stop you cutting them, and merely brushing up against another truck in a vaguely sexual manner is enough to earn a warning. Sometimes, though, the penalties can be extreme and unwarranted. I’ve been given penalties for other racers smashing into me, being shoved off the track and more.
Thought they might look all sexy and sporty trucks do not handle like Formula 1 cars and that’s what makes them interesting. Momentum is everything in these metal beasts, but keeping that momentum is tricky. They’re big and lumbering, the braking distances large and the turning radius akin to the average iceberg. Despite this they’re prone to powersliding, too, so it’s not unusual to find yourself going sideways around a bend.
Another feature of trucks that makes them different from racing anything else is that there’s just four gears, two of which you don’t even use very often. The trick behind this is that the trucks have a narrow power band and a powerful turbo, so you need to keep yourself in that band to get the most performance. It can take a bit of time to get used to this, but once you do it’s yet another fun way in which FIA European Truck Racing Championship differentiates itself from the rest of the rabble.
There’s even some tyre degradation to take into account. While I’d say it’s not a heavy focus of the game (you can’t choose tyres or pit for new rubber) you can certainly feel the grip altering and fading away as the laps count down. Later in races it’s not uncommon to wind up trying to coax your truck round a bend because the damn thing just won’t turn any more.
I have to give some props to the A.I. too. While they’re too slow they do also race in a fairly believable manner, often misjudging corners and overtakes before going flying off the circuit, barrelling into other racers and into you. They can race wheel-to-wheel as well, and given the size of trucks the close battles can be a lot of fun. I had some great battles side-by-side through several corners. For all of their prowess, though, they can also be horrendously stupid, managing to spin off on formation laps and being prone to braking randomly on straights. This is why drink-driving is a bad idea, kids, not because you might hurt someone but because it makes for shite racing.
This is absolutely a racing game that benefits from a wheel and pedal setup. It’s much easier to appreciate the challenges of racing massive trucks when you literally have to wrestle the wheel round and round. Unlike proper racing machines trucks take considerable steering to actually turn, and the wheel is suitably heavy. Even small adjustments take a surprising amount of movement in the wheel. It’s a pretty solid workout if you can’t be arsed going to the gym.
For the best experience I’d recommend heading into the force feedback and ramping up the suspension setting as that helps give the trucks a heavier feeling. And speaking of the force feedback it does a pretty decent job of telling your hands what’s going on, though I’d say the road surface itself doesn’t have much feel to it outside of the kerbs.
However, a frustrating bug does appear when using a wheel, or at least when using my Logitech G920. When you come back on track after taking a drive-through penalty it’s like the deadzone is suddenly exponentially increased and the force feedback nearly disappears. The only way to correct the fault is to pause the game, unplug the wheel and then plug it back in.
I don’t mean to say that playing with a controller isn’t fine, too. You just don’t manage to get quite the same sense of lumbering weight as you do when you’re spinning a steering wheel around like you’ve just been told that your life-long crush is standing behind you wearing nothing but a thong and some whipped cream.
One thing I disliked about the game wasn’t really its fault, rather it’s the reality of licensing a real sport and thus being held to its rules and structure. A typical race weekend of European Truck Racing will consist of a practical session, a qualifying, a SuperPole qualifying, two races, another qualifying, another SuperPole and another two races. It’s certainly an authentic experience but personally I did find it to be too much of a single track. While there’s an option to cut down race distances and you can retire out of practice sessions whenever you want, there’s no way to trim down the amount of events over the course of a weekend.
But on the other hand the structure of the racing is great. The first race plays out as you’d expect, but the second race reverses the finishing positions of the top eight trucks in order to form the grid order for the second race. If that sentence made any sense to you then congratulations, you’re probably a petrol head or as mentally challenged as I am.
It’s a real shame that while truck racing in real life has 18 vehicles but the game is limited to just twelve. I’m not sure if this is a development limitation or perhaps a deliberate choice to avoid too much on-track chaos.
Unsurprisingly where the smaller development budget shows is in the graphics which are occasionally quite good but mostly about on par with something from the end of the Xbox 360/PS3 era. It’s almost at its best when the sun is sitting low on the horizon and blinding you with its burning rays of doom. It’s at its very best when it’s wet and the reflections of the light manage to make the track look more dynamic and alive. But when the track is dry and the sky is staying frustratingly free of wetness the game looks…flat. The trucks themselves are wonderfully recreated, but everything around them lacks detail.
The audio does fare a little bit better. Although the music will be forgotten faster than a cheap petrol station sandwich the sound of the chunky engines comes across great. I just wish there was a chunkier sound when trucks collide.
As a game aiming for a niche audience I think FIA European Truck Racing Championship is actually a lot better than I would have expected. Though it feels like a basic, bare bones package in comparison to a lot of other racing titles on the market it makes up for it with some terrific on-track action.It’s not going to be for everyone, but if the idea of 5-tonne trucks drifting round corners sounds like something the world needs more of then FIA European Truck Racing Championship is the game for you.
But for the sequel I demand that your truck can transform into Optimus Prime.
3 out of 5