It's not easy for a truck-drivin' man in a world gone wrong. Set in the desolation of a devastated planet, Hard Truck: Apocalypse challenges players to make their own way through the wastelands, earning profits from dangerous deliveries and investing in truck weapons and armor to support even more daring runs. Brigands and pirates haunt the open spaces of the post-cataclysmic Earth, and they won't hesitate to attack anyone who crosses through their territory -- especially anyone who might be hauling a load of valuable goods. The game's driving action is designed for fast-paced vehicular combat, while exploration and upgrades provide elements of adventure and role-playing. Five basic models of truck are available, and all can be customized.
From the title, you might expect cloven-hooved truckers with flaming arm hair, biker chicks in spiked leather thongs, and endless roads paved with human skulls. But in Hard Truck: Apocalypse, the devastated landscape looks more like Iowa. As you drive your first truck - a farmer's jalopy that's as much fun to steer as, well, a farmer's jalopy - through the countryside, you may be soothed by the blue skies and amber waves of grain, and while an occasional raider gets in your way, the tempo stays low-key. This budget-priced role-playing game leads you through an easy routine of "deliver this" and "kill that" quests, while your real objective - aside from avenging your dead family - is to make money to pimp your truck.
Hard Truck: Apocalypse looks boring by big-budget standards, but it has the same appeal as a good B-movie: It's cheap, it's weird, and it never pretends to be anything it isn't. The depopulated world and the long commutes between towns and missions make it feel vacant and primitive. But wheeling around and strafing an enemy with your latest laser cannon has its own thrills, and there are just enough close fights and curious plot twists to keep a mellow gamer lumbering to the finish.
Beyond the game:
Hard Truck: Apocalypse comes from a Russian studio, and it's full of kung-fu-movie-grade translations: One character's name keeps changing from Alice to Lisa, you get cryptic missions like "The tunnel's guardians must die for the sake of high ideals!", and your hard-bitten trucker squeals, "Well, I never!" Needless to say, these are all pluses.
Worth playing for:
Lull yourself into its slow pace, and the steady grind of earning money to get the next truck upgrade becomes addictive.
Frustration sets in when:
Most of the trucks ride like they should be carting oranges or vending-machine refills, instead of chasing bandits. Pushing them down the road with a keyboard ain't much fun - and driving eats up almost all of your playing time.
Entertaining on its own terms - but there's a reason Mad Max wasn't a lorry driver.
Hard Truck: Apocalypse is best described as an open-ended Interstate 76 with trucks in a Fallout setting, with a heavy Eastern European accent. It was developed by Russian based Targem, and you can expect plenty of grammatical and translation issues. For example, "I smell fish" (instead of "That sounds fishy") is probably not something you should say to a lady trucker with twin machine-guns nestled under her bumper.
Sadly, that's only the tip of the leaky radiator, which is a real shame, as there's a pleasantly playable basic scheme of things here. You've got the freedom to explore the world, discover remote cities, scavenge better weapons for your truck, take on various side-quests and earn money to pay for upgraded systems or a new rig with chunkier armor and more cargo space. Chuck in some simple trading mechanics on the side and some branching choices in the lengthy main storyline, and you ought to be onto a winner, right?
That theory doesn't translate, either. Let's start with the physics. The game's unashamedly action-arcade flavored, which is fair enough, but it takes a few too many liberties. You can drive your hundred-ton vehicle up a near vertical incline, and not a small one either. Worse still, you can descend the same slope as if your tires were magically glued to it. It's actually kind of fun, but taken to the point where it seems rather silly; sillier because otherwise the truck's handling and turning circle are realistically sluggish.
You'll spend a lot of time turning when combat occurs, as one of the best methods of dealing with an opponent is to strafe them (weapons are manually controlled with the mouse) by circling around them faster than their turrets and guns can turn to hit you. Flimsier opposition can be taken out at range. Despite the repetitiveness of these two tactics being largely king, the combat is actually a high point, as there are other elements to consider in the bigger pitched battles, such as evading missiles using terrain, tactical ramming, or reversing at enemies when your cab armor is damaged.
The single biggest gaping, steam-hissing hole is with the quests. They're just too superficial. Deliver a package. Kill some bandits near town. Kill some more bandits. Deliver some bandits (to a nearby amusement arcade). And so on. There's the odd escort job, but the side-quests are almost uniformly bland. The main plot missions have more substance at first glance, only to disappoint. An assignment to kidnap an enemy general runs like this: Go to location. Five vehicles appear. Blow them all up. Completed. This lack of imagination is typical - why not make the player have to chase the general, reduce his health to 10 per cent then ram him off the road, to capture him alive? Or... just... well anything apart from another one-dimensional kill task. The script and quest back-story is also poor: "I am suspicious of you!"... "What's that you say?"... "Oh, I believe you now." It really puts the dire into dialogue.
Visually, attention to detail is lacking - the graphics are generally passable, and the explosion effects are impressive, but the street lights, for example, cast light yet their bulbs aren't lit. When your truck gets shot up, it looks like it's made of wax and half melted rather than battle-scarred. Hard Truck: Apocalypse simply lacks polish and a number of bugs just underline the absence of turtle wax. Invisible walls near the edges of the levels, quests that complete themselves, sketchy driver AI (at times the computer performs like Maureen of Driving School fame when she's forgotten to take her crook-lock off), exiting a city only to have the game immediately ram you into a friendly truck starting a war with the townspeople... there's a fair old list of them.
So the picture's a pretty bleak one, yet it's undeniable that there's some measure of enjoyment to be gleaned from Hard Truck: Apocalypse, despite its obvious issues. The more interesting large-scale fire fights and planning truck upgrades provide some reasons to stick with it, along with nostalgia for dear old Interstate 76. If only Targem had concentrated on lending the missions more of the depth I76's sported, the other faults would be far more forgivable.
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