A fun experience, hampered by limited features.
- Developer: N-Racing
- Publisher: Bigben Interactive
- Release date: 18/07/2019
- Genre: Racing
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Switch, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
What The Truck?
You would be forgiven if you had never seen a televised race of the FIA European Truck Racing Championship that the game is based on. I’ve been an ardent fan of motorsports for nigh on thirty years, and I don’t even recall seeing any highlights on the 6am broadcast of Trans-World Sport. In the interest of providing a fair assessment of how the game compares to its real world compatriot, however, I settled in to watch a few races on YouTube.
Well, that was trucking excellent! FIA ETRC is a very entertaining racing series, with lots of on-track action, despite the relatively small field of 15 drivers. There’s close racing, the occasional contact, and it is very similar to touring car racing, albeit in vehicles travelling much slower, and weighing around three times as much. An eye opener was how stringent the rules are, although when you’re throwing five tonnes of truck around a circuit, safety is of course paramount. Heavy collisions, exceeding track limits, or hitting the track markers (small poles at the apex and exit of corners) all result in penalties, depending on the severity and frequency of the infringement. Having seen enough to pass myself off as a veritable expert compared to an hour before, I embarked on my own truck racing career, but how does it compare?
As far as authenticity goes, N-Racing have managed to recreate all the tracks, teams and drivers from the ETRC. Although there are only 8 tracks in the season, they are all present and correct, and all benefit from a healthy smattering of trackside decorations in the form of ferris wheels, hot air balloons and a lot of other generic objects you tend to see littering the scenery in racing games (there are 16 tracks in total, including Laguna Seca and COTA). For fans, the inclusion of what I have been assured is most of the drivers from the current season is a worthy addition, even if the only time you see them is wearing their helmets, performing a very wooden celebration on the podium. A few names I recognised from my brief foray into the world of truck racing were there, and much the same as beating Hamilton or Vettel in an F1 game is satisfying, so it was here. It’s the same again for teams and their respective livery, I had a cursory glance at the official site for the ETRC, and from what I’ve seen they’ve recreated all the trucks accurately enough, and the models of the trucks look as I’d expect, with a good amount of detail going into them.
As a general heads-up, the rules and structure of the FIA ETRC are summarised as follows (thanks, official ETRC website!):
- Four races (2+2) per event
- Two Qualifying and Super Pole sessions per event
- Speed limit at 160 km/h (99 mp/h)
- Minimum weight per vehicle 5,3t
- Reversed grid at race number 2 and 4 for trucks positioned 1st – 8th in previous race
- “Black smoke” – first infringement leads to a warning, and a second leads to an exclusion
- Race drivers attributed in two categories: Chrome and Titan; with only “Chrome” eligible for the GRAMMER Truck Cup
This is all translated very well into gameplay. During career, you have a few practice events at various circuits (feel free to skip these, they have no bearing on your progress), with eight race weekends over the course of a season. A race weekend is split up into practice, followed by a two lap qualifying run, with the top ten drivers then advancing to a one lap super pole shootout, then, once the grid is set, you have the first race. Second race has the top eight reversed, then the following day repeats the process of qualify, race, reverse.
Compared to the real events, the only part that is really differentiated is the penalty system. In-game, it is much more lenient on when it applies penalties, in part I imagine based on how easy it is to receive a collision warning when another driver moves into your truck. I received my fair share of penalties for hitting track markers and being involved in collisions, but apart from a couple of instances, it seemed fair, as well as serving to keep my racing cleaner than it would be in most games.
Before you can begin your career, which is where I envision most people spending their time, you have to complete Gran Turismo style license tests, ranging from braking points and slaloms, to full laps, and you need to earn a bronze medal or above to progress. It may be annoying for some, but it’s absolutely necessary to get you used to the handling mechanics of the trucks. I had no problem passing all these tests, even topping the leaderboard in some, but your mileage may vary (apologies for all the motoring puns).
Once you’ve passed all your tests, you can begin your career, but it comes with the unusual restriction whereby during your first season, you can only race for teams on a single weekend basis. All your championship points count, but you can’t earn cash and upgrade your truck like you can in your second season (if you perform well enough). There are a reasonable number of difficulty settings (ranging from super easy, to expert), and I found it possible to fine tune the opposition to be suitable for my level of racing. On the hard setting, I still managed to win most races, whereas on expert I struggled, but if I drove well could still reach the podium, if not win.
On the subject of difficulty settings, there are a few things you can adjust. Some are restricted in career mode, such as speed limit and corner cutting penalties, but I’d recommend leaving them all turned on not only for realism, but because it is too easy without them. Driving assists boil down to a few parameters. Driving line is useful but inaccurate, the braking points should be much later. Overheating brakes – your brakes heat up a lot, so you have to press a button to cool your brakes by spraying water on them. You have a limited amount of water but it doesn’t seem possible to use so much you run out, and although realistic, it took so much concentration I turned it off. Next up is damage, which apart from a cracked windscreen, made zero difference to my racing, even when repeatedly hitting a wall at 99mph (for testing, not because I suck), which was very disappointing. Lastly, transmission can be set to realistic or simplified in the options. Simplified, which I’d recommend, uses a four gear setup, whilst assist can be toggled between manual or semi automatic. Use manual and simplified. There are a slack handful of corners where you need to use second gear, literally every other corner can be taken in third if it’s between 37-70 mp/h, or fourth for the high speed corners.
As a racing game, it lives or dies by the handling. Thankfully, FIA ETRC does a superb job of simulating the feeling of driving an enormous truck around a race track. The trucks feel weighty, which made me cautious when throwing the truck into a fast sweeping turn. The huge amounts of torque these trucks have creates a propensity towards oversteer, and while it is possible to completely truck up and launch your truck into an unrecoverable 360 spin (which I saw happen in real races), once you get a feel for when the truck will break traction you can really throw your truck into corners, prepared to countersteer and correct the inevitable drift. It’s a system that rewards patience and perseverance, and although you may never go any faster than 99 mp/h, you can still have a lot of fun with FIA ETRC.
When it comes to actually racing, the AI on FIA ETRC is great. Opponent drivers are aggressive, and often miss braking points, or lose control of their trucks (just like real life). There were a few instances where they lost all control, veering wildly into my path, but for the most part, these inconsistencies are closer related to how real people play these games, and made for some fun situations. More games should adopt this fallibility in their CPU controlled drivers, as it makes for much more entertaining races.
How the truck does it look?
Graphically, FIA ETRC isn’t going to win any awards. I spotted a few aliasing issues, even running 4k on the Xbox One X. For the most part, it doesn’t look dissimilar to many other racing games, and the tracks I’ve spent a lot of time on, such as Laguna Seca, are accurate insofar as compared to the other games I’ve driven them on. Given that you will spend most of your time concentrating on either the apex or the other racers, I couldn’t be too harsh on them, and indeed, at times, the graphics were excellent. Trackside decorations are, as mentioned, very good, and driving around the Nurburgring, in the rain, the reflections from the rain soaked surface were phenomenal, far exceeding what I have seen in rival games. In truth, the real detrimental factor in the graphics is that it runs at only 30fps. Running an Xbox One X, I would have liked to be able to play at 60fps at a lower resolution, especially as the graphics aren’t that detailed, but it’s a minor complaint.
Audio is… satisfactory. Music is generic and ignorable, whilst the engine sounds are ok. Seeing as these are big diesel engines, pootling along at a few thousand RPM, you don’t expect big roars from them, but even so, they sound alright, and the tyre squeal serves as a useful tool in determining when you have reached or exceeded peak grip. As with most racing games, the audio is more of a tool than a major component of the experience, so in that regard, it sounds okay.
What the truck do I do next?
Outside of career, there’s not really much of interest. You can run a customised quick race or championship, or take part in the weekly event. Yes, you can choose these options, but they are largely irrelevant to the game as a whole, and beyond catering to a true fan’s desire to race a certain track, under certain conditions, they don’t offer much in terms of longevity. At the time of reviewing, choosing the weekly event didn’t do anything at all, not even an error message. They may make it into an event with a leaderboard or similar, but I don’t see it being a significant addition to be honest.
We also have time trial, and whilst this mode often serves as a way to keep a game’s harcore user base engaged, it is poorly implemented in FIA ETRC. Checking the leaderboards requires you to load up the track and run a lap before you can view the standings, which already doesn’t bode well. When I reached this point in the review, two days after release, I had tried a track in time trial and reached first place amongst nine drivers. Now, a few days later, I am sitting in fifth place, among nineteen entrants. Needless to say, this mode doesn’t appear very popular, and is unlikely to increase the lifespan of the title.
Overall it’s a largely hollow experience, and the career mode seems likely to only hold attention for a couple of seasons, but for what it’s worth, the 15 hours or so I spent playing through the ETRC and World Series careers felt worthwhile.
Multiplayer, which is another proven way to increase appeal and lifespan for a title, is limited to split screen (which is always appreciated these days), quick race, search (where you can look for a race within a set of parameters), or create. Unfortunately, over four nights of searching, I didn’t find a single game to join. Thankfully there are no achievements/trophies related to the online mode, but it’s still disappointing to find no one to race against.
During my review, I spent around 15 hours playing the game, and unlocked 930/1,000 gamerscore, with the final few achievements being grindy, but attainable.
Should I Give A Truck?
This is a difficult one. I really enjoyed the career mode, and the challenge of learning the handling characteristics of the big trucks was welcomed, but I couldn’t help feel the whole package was lacking. From the overly simplistic design of the menus, to the awkwardness of finding the leaderboard times in time trial, I was never overly impressed with FIA ETRC. I enjoyed the racing, and they did really well in conveying the feeling of throwing a big truck around a circuit, but as a cohesive package, I found it lacking depth and substance. For fans of the series, however, the adherence to the real world rules and regulations, and the quality of the racing, makes this a worthwhile purchase.