Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Release Date: TBA
Out of the ruins –
Out from the wreckage.
Can't make the same mistake this time.
We are the children –
The last generation.
We are the ones they left behind.
-Tina Turner, We Don't Need Another Hero
For all the flak it receives by fans, I've always loved Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. I suppose it may be due to my love affair with post-apocalyptic radioactive wasteland fiction. I so crave anything in this category that I'm willing to overlook Hollywood excess and comic-book aesthetics so long as I get to witness a decaying "steam-punk" sense of what life will be like when all we have is the rotting machinery of a better time and a desperation to survive. It's been far too long since Fallout 2, and there's been frighteningly little in the way of PC gaming that touches on life after thermonuclear hijinks. Thankfully, there are some European developers who want to fix this; S.T.A.L.K.E.R. looms on the horizon, and now we also have the upcoming Hard Truck Apocalypse by Targem to look forward to.
Called Ex Machina in Europe, the most succinct way to describe Hard Truck Apocalypse would probably be as "Freelancer, only with armored trucks in a nuclear wasteland instead of in space." The preview build I've been dabbling in certainly shares a great deal of similarities in terms of play mechanics to Digital Anvil's sprawling galactic action gem. The story, as best as I've been able to glean so far, involves a mutant (I think everyone is a mutant in this game) who's been down on his (its?) luck for awhile.
No missions seem to be working out, and he's in danger of losing his status within his clan. Braving the wrath of the village elders, he steals a truck and sets out to collect a bounty on a notorious road bandit. While pursuing his target, he gets pulled into a massive electricity storm that appears out of thin air above some ruins. He passes out, and wakes up in the care of an old hermit-like survivor who saw the storm but can't explain what it was, where your vehicle went, or how he got his hands on you. Your task, and presumably the focus of the entire Hard Truck Apocalypse experience, is to find out what happened to you, the truck you stole from your village, and the villain you were after in the first place.
Hard Truck Apocalypse is a lush 3D game that sports a smooth "second-generation" appearance. Its models are in the low polygon range, and its textures are fairly detailed. I am absolutely not one of those elitists who penalize any new game that comes along for not re-inventing the wheel with ever-increasing graphics muscle. In my opinion, performance and art are more important than expanding boundaries. With that in mind, the efforts Targem is putting into this game appear to be aimed at providing a solid foundation that will look good and perform well across a wide spectrum of different hardware configurations. Long story short, if you haven't spent $4,000 on your computer, you should still be able to install and enjoy Hard Truck Apocalypse. If I had to be ominously judgmental, I'd say the only thing that this game could use is a darker, grittier paintjob. Everything is bright and rich, not at all the color scheme I usually associate with a dead world.
The actual gameplay is relatively free-form; start driving around and shoot down anything that attacks you. Exploration plays a big role too, as oftentimes you can find valuable scrap and fuels lying around in out-of-the-way abandoned farmhouses and ruins. The landscape is dotted with settlements and villages of varying size. When you drive into these, you can tap your "H" key to "park," and that brings up a multi-tabbed window that takes care of all your "out of vehicle" transactions, as an abstraction rather than showing you as a little avatar running from hut to hut. While in this window, you can repair any damage to your vehicle, buy new vehicles, buy new weapons, "pimp your ride" with a new paintjob, sell scrap and other looted goods, refuel, and chat with any relevant quest NPCs.
The bartenders in each town are the local quest-givers, frequently offering bounties for bandits or delivery jobs to other towns. You can also make money in other ways; establish trade routes by figuring out how different settlements value goods. Bulk sacks of potatoes can be purchased and sold for a significant profit, provided you can figure out where it is in the wasteland that spuds don't grow. This is just one example of many, and there are other trade goods, too.
Vehicles have many upgrade options available, and tweaking your ride for better performance is a huge part of the impetus to keep going. You can buy or loot better weapons, but the installation of these is restricted by both the gun hard-mount points on your chassis as well as by your vehicle type. My short time with Hard Truck Apocalypse didn't afford me the luxury of seeing all that many different munitions, but I did get to see some chain-guns spitting rounds like an angry cobra.
Some of you may have seen that little video clip that's been floating around the internet for a while that shows a mini-gun being used ruthlessly on a car; the damage it inflicts is essentially what Targem is hinting at here. More than just slug-throwers are available; mortars, missiles, and even some energy weapons are just waiting to be found. You can also install fuel efficiency upgrades and engine torque improvements to accelerate more efficiently and maintain a higher top speed. Maneuverability is extremely important when facing multiple opponents, so even though the guns are flashier, it's just as vital to make sure you're not a stationary target for any length of time.
The current state of Hard Truck Apocalypse, while quite playable, still requires some polish before it can be successfully released to North American audiences. The translations need to be completed, and more quests and ambience need to be added, mostly in the way of NPCs for you to chat with, who can provide a deeper sense of immersion and background to the virtual world they inhabit. Once these two issues have been dealt with, however, I foresee a bright future for this scrappy little game. I love the setting, and it has solid play mechanics and a huge world to explore. This is Freelancer meets The Road Warrior; can you think of a better combination?