Italia is Euro Truck Sim 2 at its most beautiful – but it is time for something more

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I’ve spent a lot more with American Truck Simulator than I have with its by-now much larger predecessor Euro Truck Simulator 2, mostly because a more distant land seemed more romantic than one I am already part of. But ATS, in its current South-Westerly configuration, is a game with a heavy reliance on rock and sand landscapes – evocative for sure, but while we await a hoped-for move to greener states such as Oregon, ETS2 is there to fill the verdant gap. This Mediterranean allure of this week’s massively-expanded Italy DLC proved especially irresistible.

Three things: 1) it’s remarkable how different ETS2 feels from ATS, despite broadly being the same game 2) Italia is the prettiest Truck Sim module yet 3) even so, the Truck Sim games now badly need a big visual overhaul.

The headline difference between Euro Truck Simulator 2 and American Truck Simulator is clearly the geography – the US sim has got the big landmarks of California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, but its European sibling has the sheer mass of landscape granted by its UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and now Italy modules. If you want the epic, full weekender truck sim experience, there’s simply no contest.

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But, in practice, more roads and different scenery is only the half of it. The essential driving experience is meaningfully different too. You’re on the other side of the road; you’ll rarely see as many lanes as you do on US highways; you have roundabouts big and small to contend with; you’re far more likely to find yourself queuing to join a motorway; towns and cities don’t tend to be built in neat grids and so have far more changeable and counter-intuitive road systems; speed limits are often faster, to the point that, as an ATS veteran, I was mildly shocked by how fast passing traffic hurtled past me.

All told, navigation is just that little bit more complex, and that means there’s a little less of the elbow out the window, free-as-the-wind cruising that characterises ATS. ETS2 feels a little bit more like the work of lorry driving, a little less like the imagined romance of it. But I value that difference hugely – two surprisingly different experiences from what is superficially the same game with switched-up art assets.

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Speaking of art, this really is a very pretty module. The honeyed hue of the light, the mix of mountain and forest and field and ocean, villa, grove, supermarket and nowhere town, and what I think is the slightly improved tree models introduced in ATS: New Mexico. It definitely feels Mediterranean. But, as with New Mexico, I’m finding that the more improvements are made to certain features, the more the cracks in the foundations start to show.

I’m not banging the ‘why aren’t the streets filled with people’ or ‘why can’t I get out of the truck’ drum here. It’s more that buildings look too much like 3D models plonked down, the static people that there are look increasingly cartoonish, and particularly the lighting is too flat and even. The latter means that a field can look like its rapeseed flowers or rows of olive trees has been spray-painted on.

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Clearly I’m not even slightly expecting the Truck Sim games to enjoy the kind of budget that a Forza or Gran Turismo does, but the guts of both ETS2 Italia and ATS are 2012’s Euro Truck Simulator 2, and it’s really starting to show now. There’s a certain starkness that nags at me, and I worry – selfishly – that at some point in the not-too-distant future they may not be able to scratch my roadtrip itch in the same way. The question is, stay the course and finish the land-mapping job, or focus on fundamental improvements to power the next half-decade of Truck Simulation?

Personally, I’d favour the latter. Across both games, there is so much land to drive across now, so more content is scarcely an issue. Can it, or should it, be done without a full-tilt Euro Truck Simulator 3? Clearly, selling the same country DLCs all over again would rub a lot of people up the wrong way, but on the other hand, funding a massively overhauled look doubtless requires selling a new game. I don’t envy SCS the task, but maybe they can yet find a halfway house with the existing tech.

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In the meantime, the sun-kissed Italia is a lovely, all but essential add-on to a game that has increasingly found its voice and its freebird mojo since its greyer, more ostensibly simulatorish origins. There’s certainly a sense that the atmospheric gap between ETS2 and ATS has now narrowed to the point of closure, and Europe is now just as alluring as California.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 – Italia is available now via Steam, for £13.49/£17.99/€17.99.

22 Comments

  1. Pantalaimon says:

    I always used to use SweetFX to tweak the graphics in ETS and it did make it look a lot better (bloom, rebalance the colours, edge sharpen a bit etc). You can go a long way with very subtle enhancements.

    I assume that Reshade (successor to SweetFX) works with ETS in much the same way. I bet it would look awesome with this DLC.

  2. bit.bat says:

    I would love larger cities personally. Navigating narrow streets and traffic could be fun, perhaps not so meditative.

    • LewdPenguin says:

      A change in scale would be amazing, although sadly extremely unlikely. ATS already covers 3-4 states and is barely the equivalent of the primary roads in one city, ETS2 has had more time to grow geographically but still feels like little more than a city and its immediate environs, and both games suffer the same dire problem of major cities being modelled as small villages.

      I have zero hope that SCS will change their approach, but maybe some day a group of modders will get together and do a realscale map of somewhere, there’s more potential content in say Birmingham (England, not the myriad US ones) or Los Angeles than the entirety of both games as they are combined.

  3. blondie4091 says:

    I have several hundred hours on ETS 2, use all the DLCS and also have Promods installed when its compatible (shout out to a great mod team there btw).
    I agree though, and not just with the visual overhaul. The AI could do with work.
    All told though, its a fantastic game. Heres hoping SCS also begin showing love to the other truck brands which Scania and Daf have enjoyed.

  4. hanshanshans says:

    I’ve seddit before and I’ll say it again: There needs to be a collaboration with some of those big money people who made The Crew or one of its competitors. That way we’ll get a decent looking world (that the Truck Simulator guys don’t have the $$$ to make) AND an interesting gameplay experience (that bigwig studios don’t seem to be interested in). Everybody wins!
    For reals, just imagine those $$$ people making a super nice world and licencing it out to less rich developers to muck about with (while of course taking a big chunk of the profits from them, too). Win, win, win!

    • Fnord73 says:

      Ooooh! And then we can get the phyiscs-people from the Shadow of War to cooperate with the Code Red writers! It will be heaven…

    • April March says:

      I still dream of the day that would happen. Imagine the kind of amazing games we could have in Los Santos if it wasn’t bundled with a nihilist edgelord’s wet dream of a story.

  5. Dreylin says:

    “The essential driving experience is meaningfully different too. You’re on the other side of the road”

    Wait, what!?

    • AthanSpod says:

      Only if you’re driving around the UK. You’ll actually spend most of your ETS2 time in Europe, so will be driving on the right just like in the USA.

      And this is why I set up all my trucks with left hand steering, rather than the more immediately intuitive right (for me, I’m an Englishman).

  6. flykas says:

    This is the thing with these games. I think when you spend most of the time just driving and looking at the scenery(having a relaxing experience), graphics and artsyle should be high priority. This is why I so eagerly waited for a game Rig’n’Roll and was so disapointed to find out that it’s just a shell of a game. Still I really respect the artists who worked on that game, because I think this is how trucking game world should be done, it wasn’t perfect and a bit dated because the developement took maybe 10 years but still there was alot of love put into it.

    Another thing is more random action, I would like the AI to be more dynamic, not just driving in rails. They could make accidents and stuff so that we could be amused, like it was in a game King of the Road, well maybe a bit to wild :]

  7. Lurid says:

    As a Swede, I was really disappointed that the scandinavia expansion didn’t include northern sweden with narrow dirt roads, snow and overloaded log-trucks.

    • Fersken says:

      I agree. I would also like more of a challenge in Norway, specifically in the mountains. Snowstorm and convoy driving behind a snowplough would be heaven :) (Diff. lock!)

      Unfortunately where I live isn’t included in the game, though you could get closeish.

      • Zeewolf says:

        Norway was a disappointment to me, it looked and felt completely wrong (with the exception of the area around Kristiansand, which maybe suits the engine better than the rest of the country). Plus, when the name of the expansion was Going North, not being able to go north was a bummer.

    • Lord-Vivec says:

      Northern Sweden and Finland have been modded in with the excellent ProMods map, as well as new roads in Norway and the Murmansk area. It’s really well done.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Solrax says:

    my main gripe is with nighttime driving. Yes, I know there are mods, but I wonder why they never let it get darker than dusk by default. I’d enjoy the challenge of driving on a dark night with just my headlights and the reflective markers to go by…

    • LewdPenguin says:

      I think any time a developer does testing on night modes they get feedback from players not liking ‘real’ darkness and/or finding it too hard to play, so they go with the barely-twilight version of night and leave it to modders to implement something more realistic.

    • Pantalaimon says:

      If you install a graphics mod then it gets pretty dark at night time – dark enough that oncoming headlights are dazzling, for example.

  9. BillyBantam says:

    Let’s just all agree that what we need is ETS3, with a spanking new engine and optional MMO element. Imagine what fun you could have hiring real drivers to transport virtual goods, for your virtual company!

  10. Dogshevik says:

    If the game doesn´t include cars switching to the breakdown lane in slow moving traffic it can´t really call itself a Truck Simulator in Italy.

  11. metalangel says:

    If you play sims, you realize that the best ones are about the feel and depth and immersion, not how pwetty the graphics are. Ask Tim. This is why Microsoft Train Simulator endures. This is why Flight Simulator X endures. This is why there are still communities for Falcon 4.0, Silent Hunter, Battle of Britain and folks trying to get Longbow 2 to work on modern machines.

    Bus Simulator 2016 might have a modern graphics engine, but the physics, sound, and challenge of driving have nothing on the venerable OMSI2, even though it is otherwise as creaky as the old double deckers you wrangle through the streets of Berlin. Train Sim World might have the most stupendous graphics ever seen in a train simulator, but as Tim noted in a recent column, the physics and sound are complete cobblers.

  12. Romeric says:

    Well said, Alec. I’ll be buying this one for sure but I agree it’s starting to look (and sound – it could use more effective environmental audio) a little dated. I’m a bit torn about paying for a new release and all the subsequent DLC, but I’d gladly pay say £15 for a significant graphical overhaul, provided it was of sufficient quality. These devs absolutely deserve our cash.

    I’m on the other side of the fence to you though – ATS is really great, but I think the EU speed limits have spoiled my ability to enjoy ATS to its fullest. For me, a lot of the game is driving as fast as I can get away with, making risky overtakes and avoiding speed traps. There’s just something thrilling about doing 80+mph in a truck, carrying a load of more trucks. The almost perpetual 55mph speed limit in ATS just grates me a little too much. There is never any reason to want to perform an overtake, since the police are seemingly omnipresent. I’m sure many will say I’m “playing it wrong”, but to counter, I have played 200+ hours across both titles and would undoubtedly class myself a fan. If ATS offered the option to apply the same speed limits to both cars and trucks, I’d rate ATS as on par with ETS2 at the very least. In terms of enjoyment, anyway.

  13. HypenessGR says:

    I agree, Italy is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. This DLC is an absolute banger, to be honest.

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