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Wot I Think: Giant Machines 2017

The harder they fall

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Stand aside, other construction simulators. Do your vehicles require ladders to get on board? Do they have enough surface area to host a cocktail party? No? Pshah I say. Which I also say to this pile of crap. Here’s wot I think of Giant Machines 2017 [official site]:

I will admit that I have not hitched a ride on the Enthusiasm Simulator 2018, whether genuine, ironic or post-ironic, for your bus driving, truck trundling, bus stopping simulation games. I think I came in too early, taking a look at the earlier wave of Farming Simulator and the like when things were very, very poor. But Giant Machines 2017 grabbed my attention simply because my almost-two-year-old is presently obsessed with all things machinery. Perhaps this could be something I play while he watches, instead of having to sit in front of more sodding Blippi YouTube videos. (I now know that what I thought were just “diggers” are in fact “back hoes”. I didn’t want to know this.) Turns out it’s even more dreary than he can cope with. And he can cope with Blippi.

The intention is good. Provide a series of enormous vehicles to drive about in a story scenario tangentially linked to launching a shuttle. But the game opts for this utterly berserk approach to embracing realism, with its focus entirely placed on the banality of such industrial work, and not in the simulation thereof. This is a game in which you’re required to repeat the exact same dull, achingly slow task four times in a row, but you can climb ladders at 5 metres per second. Operating a crane takes about ten minutes to manoeuvre it into place, but setting a machine’s fuses into the correct position is a puzzle minigame. And perhaps worst of all, despite implementing a physics engine, you don’t actually ever hook anything, or pick anything up – it’s done automatically by putting one thing in the proximity of another, and a little countdown clock ticking off.

The result is a very silly set of tasks set in slow-motion, with no real sense of operating the heavy vehicular machinery, but quite a lot of climbing ladders and plugging in batteries. Apparently that’s a big part of large-scale industrial work – plugging in batteries.

It’s a shame, because the novelty of controlling such enormous apparatus could have been quite the thing. It’s still kind of fun to pootle about in the spectacularly huge bucket-wheel excavator, driving what looks like an on-land oil rig to mine rocks out of a nearby cliff-side. But then when operating the enormous digger-wheel-doodah (it really made an impression, you can tell), it’s a colossal mess of a broken engine, as you watch the metal structure impossibly slide into the rockface, then be told you broke it when seemingly far more appropriately placed. After digging up a couple of tons of silicon rock, you’re then tasked with putting it in a massive tipper truck (we’re talking ladders to get on board scale) and driving it over to the plant. Make sure you don’t spill any out! Except goodness knows what you’d have to do for that to happen, considering the way I wildly off-roaded to get back.

It is ever thus. Using a crane to move four containers from one place to another is immensely dull, and the only possibly interesting bit – getting the crane hook into place – is done for you. Which makes no sense, considering the engine seems to be able to accurately swing the hook around. The game’s last few sections involve getting a space shuttle ready for launch, which sounds far more exciting than it is, instead involving even less involved tasks than you’ve encountered previously. This culminates in a challenge so silly as to be surely a joke – you must drive the shuttle precariously balanced on the back of a vast platform, such that accelerating to 5 kph too quickly causes the spaceship to topple over and explode. And then have to drive it up and down a ramp. Because that would be a thing. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of space-bound equipment loosely placed on a platform then driven over an assault course. I blew up that rocket so many times.

Like those dreadful early tractor sims, the most fun is to be found in subverting its po-faced requests. Off-roading a 20-ton vehicle is entertaining for a bit, while doing handbrake turns in an eighteen wheeler crane lorry is certainly something no other game has offered me. But unfortunately such frivolity is in short supply, and you’ll more often be stuck operating a hydraulic excavator required to dig out ice from an ice wall (in order to pick up handy balls of uranium, no less), which defies all known physics, fails to simulate digging, and often the front bucket falls off if you tap it too hard. Which is as nothing compared to a wildly broken sequence using a small excavator to pick up rocks from a pile, in which they impossibly pass through the sides of the metal bucket, both in and out, rendering the entire simulation a farce.

Which, well, it seems to embrace. After being deadly serious throughout, in the last sections, as you attempt to get that rocket into place for launch, one of the instruction screens reads:

“If you are born to hang, you will never drown. I specifically asked not to experiment with teleportation this week.”

I have literally no idea what this means, but the segment involved carting barrels of toxic waste out of a building on fire, and had no apparent place in this game about driving big metal toys. Soon after I was asked to put out another fire, but invisible barriers wouldn’t let me down off some steps so I had to give up before getting that space rocket into outside-space.

Yeah, it’s poop, which is disappointing. And it doesn’t help that you have to switch off one of a whole bunch of hideous German techno/thrash metal music stations every time you start a vehicle. That’s weird. It didn’t entertain me, it didn’t distract my son, and it’s very broken. Maybe it’ll be a cult classic by Giant Machines 2023, but not yet.

Giant Machines 2017 is out now on Windows via Steam and Humble for £12/$16/€16.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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