by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
TAKING ON WATER
Deck 13 started their transportation with a high. TransOcean was a fun little game with a fair amount of depth and decent replay value. The sequel, TransOcean 2: Rivals, kept things dry but was a notable step down due to a handful of unfortunate design choices. It is a good thing TransRoad: USA takes place on tarmac as the series seems to be taking on water with every addition.
TransRoad: USA adapts the concepts of hauling freight between seaports and trucking freight between factories. It is a concept with much potential and the game shows the beginnings of something that could be great.
A single truck and trailer, a small depot and an equally small head office are the humble start of your budding transportation empire. You look for contracts in the towns that you have visited before, trying to create profitable routes between them. Providing you don’t piss anyone off with late deliveries, you’ll slowly be able to trade across the entire of the United States, unlocking a higher-paying clientele through your services.
Like any good business management game, TransRoad: USA is initially quite difficult. Making enough money for your second truck can be slow work, the necessity to expand the depot to have room for a third may be a bit of a surprise and most trade partners initially won’t give you the light of day. The game does well enough guiding you through these first few weeks, especially if you decide to play the rudimentary storyline campaign.
After that initial support, things get a little hairy. Before long, you’ll be buying two new trucks a week and hiring drivers to sit on the reserve bench for when you’re buying even more. Trucks are rated for specific types of cargo. Hauling cooled goods with reefer trailers can be done using almost every imaginable truck, but once you bought the concession that allows you to operate dump trailers, your trucks will need three axles and your drivers a special license. Managing drivers, trucks, cargo contracts and maintenance gets pretty involved by the time you reach around 25 trucks, and then the game starts messing with your head.
A CARGO PROBLEM
Cargo contract rewards can vary in revenue rather dramatically: over-service a specific cargo type and you will see a significant drop in what you earn per trip. Add an economic crisis to the mix and a trip may cost you thousands of dollars to make. With just 15 trucks servicing a single cargo type across the map, I ran into so many over-serviced clients that I had trucks and drivers sitting still in the depot between every contract, costing tens of thousands of dollars in fixed costs. Any sane business man would switch cargo types, and this is one area where the game is underdeveloped. It won't let you, at least not in any logical way. Each depot allows only one trailer per truck, and you can sell existing trailers, but at a huge loss. Dumbfounded, I figured I’d open more depots but those are severely limited and expensive to maintain. It’s a huge waste leaving a depot open – just – for trailers that aren’t earning any money. Fun? No.
I suppose the competition plays a role in the diminishing cargo revenue but they’re not really present in any tangible way. A few colored dots zipping around on the map represent competitor trucks. A list of companies that obviously got more money when they started than the player. Those are the only signs that the competition is doing anything at all. Are they competing for the same contracts? Are they cozying up to your favourite cargo providers? Are they poaching away your drivers? There is no way to tell. Only the truck salesmen give a clue that something is happening – their empty lots mean they’re selling to the others. I think.
All this would not be such a bad thing if the interface wasn’t such a twitchy, unwieldy apparition. The game features huge panels with hit and miss information presented in an overwhelming fashion. These panels conspire to block your view of the map at any moment – even when zoomed out you will need to hide panels to be able to reach cities on the far sides of the map. Dragging trucks onto a route causes the route panel to close before you can finish. When you open it again, a different route will be active. If you do not spot this in time, your truck will be driving to the other side of the country servicing the wrong factories. Some of the automatic pauses will automatically unpause when you scroll the map. Truck icons on the map are confusing and often do not flare up when you select a truck from the list. Spotting the right truck in the midst of a crowdy intersection is almost an (unintended) hide and seek game all by itself. The main visual identifier for your trucks are the driver portraits, of which there are so few that by the time you hit 15 you’ll likely have at least one double. In sheer desperation I started identifying trucks by the time they had left before needing maintenance! I’ll stop. Sorry. I could go on for a few paragraphs but I’ll spare you the rest, including the bugs. Suffice it to say that it feels like the interface is fighting you, rather than assisting you.
PROOF OF CONCEPT
Despite a lack of depth, the game has a frantic quality to it that has the potential to be entertaining in that tablet-game sort of way. But it’s not enough, unfortunately. I can’t shake the feeling that two intoxicated game designers worked out TransRoad: USA on a beermat during a drinking binge in their local pub. The concept lends itself well for a management sim but it hasn't been developed into something that actually works well enough to be enjoyed beyond a few days. As it stands, TransRoad: USA is more of a proof of concept than an actual game.
Frantic gameplay in a tablet sort of way
Lack of depth, terrible interface, a few too many bugs