Pretty much since the dawn of time, the video game simulator has had a place; admittedly left to the exclusivity of PC gaming. In recent years though, as technology has advanced and developers have worked magic, those same simulators have slowly trickled over to the console scene, with various success rates. I mean, there’s little chance that the upcoming launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator on Xbox Series X|S will be anything but stellar, but then we’ve had to put up with some disastrous outings too – Airport Simulator 2019. Aerosoft are veterans on the scene and should therefore be capable of delivering a decent experience in On The Road – Truck Simulator as it comes to console. But they haven’t, and they’ve missed this particular truck stop by many a country mile.
As the name suggests, On The Road – Truck Simulator puts you in the shoes of a long haul trucker, attempting to harness more than 6000km of German roads in the hope that you can push your own haulage business on to all new levels. Picking up consignments, heading out to the open road, and then delivering those goods safely is the basic backbone, before rinsing, repeating, earning more cash and growing your company with additional drivers and various vehicle and trailer types in the process.
From the word go, On The Road disappoints. After attempting to set the scene with an opening gambit that has you choosing your player name, company name, driver likeness, truck type and location for your Headquarters, you’re thrust straight into a logistics screen which tries to immerse you. With an initial email from your senior consultant requesting you to get on with the task in hand – an email which cannot be scrolled through so you can’t even read half of it – and you’re left to decide on the mission objectives from there on out. A map screen is key here and by interacting with it you’ll discover a host of different companies all with packages ready to be delivered. Which you take is up to you and, provided you own the correct truck type for each assignment, you can easily see how much experience, reputation and – most importantly – cash each delivery will bring.
From there you’re left to join the trucking fraternity, popped behind the wheel of the machine of your choice. Engaging the ignition, releasing the handbrake and moving forward is all well and good, but being consistently asked to add a specific card, and then finding that the option in the menu doesn’t work unless you’re in the right camera mode, seriously hammers home the slackness of development. This is something that just gets worse and worse going forward.
But get going, ignore any warnings that may pop up on your dash, and you may find that working the German streets is actually rather cathartic, in a weird way – as is feeling the need to indicate when you come to a junction, and slowing down when you see a speed camera and actually stopping at red traffic lights. Of course, you don’t need to do any of these things if you don’t wish to, but On The Road certainly shouldn’t be treated as one of the plethora of racing titles that are on the market. This is very much a driving simulator, much aligned with Driving Essentials that has previously tried to teach console players how to follow the rules of the road.
However, at no point will you ever really enjoy what you’re doing, and On The Road takes you through the motions just for the sake of it. You’ll find yourself needing to stop at gas stations to fill up, getting out of the cab and aimlessly staring at the fuel tank until you’ve spent your hard-earned money on fuel. You’ll also be tasked with actioning a number of different objectives and missions that pop up on the map but, yet again, dropping off a delivery, delicately reversing up to a loading bay before again just jumping out of the cab as any delivery is miraculously picked up or dropped off, ruins any immersive feel. These may bring a little sense of purpose to On The Road but there are only so many times you can cover the same A to B bases before becoming bored.
Actioning these is easier said than done though. You’d think that following a world map in the menus and a mini-map in your cab should be straightforward enough, and it is when you start setting waypoints and are able to follow a basic sat nav system. But there are invisible walls present throughout this take on Germany, so taking routes that are longer than you’d expect is required. And even if you are found hurtling along correct roads, strange white slabs of nothing pop up in the middle of the road numerous times. You’d think you can’t drive through these, slamming the brakes on in desperation, but you can. On The Road is not helped by a mini-map that is nothing more than a splattering of lines, making little sense and failing to point out essentials. The best way of getting around is to use the world map, mentally make a note of a rough direction and city name, set your waypoint and then follow Autobahn signs. It’s also well worth crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
On The Road is a bit of a mess, and it gets no better visually. Aside from the trucks that you drive – trucks that are reasonably well-detailed both in and out of the cab – everything else has seemingly been ripped from decades past. Buildings are nothing more than copy and pasted cookie cutter square blocks, other cars and lorries look like something 10-year-old me could have created, and the pop-in and draw distances are so bad it’s laughable. Throw in the fact that other vehicles actually float down from the sky before joining the road – perhaps teleported there by some alien being – and the whole thing is a mess visually.
It gets even more disappointing when you consider the finer details too. Scrub what the Xbox Store page for On The Road shows you – those screenshots are a world away from the truth. Whilst there are wing mirrors on your truck, they are nothing but grey slabs that fail to reflect. On the plus side, there are three different camera angles, but each is limited in use. You’ll have to fuss around with all three of them to really get a grasp of what is going on around you. And that’s no fun when you’re trying to stabilise a twitchy long wheeler.
As a truck driver you need to be able to see what is around you at all times and On The Road tries to make that as difficult as it can. Smashing into lamp posts and bushes is a regular part of cornering, each of which will stop you dead in your tracks. Perhaps this is realistic but go slamming head first into oncoming traffic at 80kmh and you’ll be able to happily push them back where they came from, without any form of cosmetic or physical damage to either party. Oh, and those guys will be more than content with smashing you right back too; causing a tailback as cars, trucks and lorries just continue to pile in, intent on ploughing forward no matter what is in their way. Sometimes these tailbacks and problems are so great that you’ll be wishing On The Road to end, as does the game itself with full game crashes fairly commonplace.
Not everything is totally bad with On The Road though. I mean, it sounds decent enough and to the untrained ear the crunch and mangle of a big hauler’s gearbox actually allows for a tiny bit of immersion. And honestly, the trucks you’ll get behind the wheel of handle pretty much as you’d expect them to, with consideration needed depending on the vehicle at hand if only so you don’t jackknife across the road every five seconds. I mean, you can’t come into this straight from DIRT 5 and expect a similar feel, but treat it for what it is and in terms of ‘simulation’ it gets reasonably close.
But the rest of On The Road? It’s a bit of a mess to be honest and will possibly only really deliver any appeal to those who find love in rolling the open roads day in, day out. And even then, if you’re doing it in real life, do you really want to fire up a virtually condensed version of Germany to do it all over again, especially at the price being asked?
The main problem that On The Road on Xbox has is not in the tedium of the driving, it’s not in the poor visuals, it’s not in the game crashes and it’s not in the clunky, amateurish menus. Nope, it’s found in a combination of all those things along with an asking price that is verging on disgusting. And that means this is one trucking simulator that is going to struggle to make any form of headway on any console street.