18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker Hands-On

The console port of Sega's popular arcade big rig racing game is out in Japan. We got our hands on an import version to see how the game fares on the Dreamcast.

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18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker is a gimmicky arcade game that puts you behind the wheel of a fully loaded semitrailer and has you race it out from one side of the States to the other. The arcade cabinet featured a large bench seat and a huge 15-inch steering wheel. We traded the wheel for a Dreamcast controller and the bench seat for a couch and sat down with the import version of the Dreamcast game.

The premise of 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker is pretty simple. You're a rookie trucker who must prove himself by hauling cargo along various routes across the US. Your main objective is to beat the clock and your rival - a competing trucker who drives an incredibly speedy big rig and who will deliberately try to slow you down. Additionally, running into certain vehicles and destroying them gives you a small time bonus. When you start each route, you'll get a quick briefing over your CB radio, and then you'll set out for your destination. Each course has two different routes to the objective, and each route has its own advantages and disadvantages. In between levels, you'll be awarded with power-ups based on your performance in the previous level, and you'll occasionally participate in a parking challenge - an obstacle course that makes you swerve around hairpin turns and then park your rig in a designated zone before the timer expires.

The gameplay hasn't changed much in the arcade-to-Dreamcast conversion. You control the rig using the standard Dreamcast racing game control scheme. The analog trigger buttons serve as the accelerator and the brake, and the analog stick controls steering. The face buttons honk your horn, switch your gears, and change the camera. The game hasn't been made any easier on the Dreamcast - playing 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker on the default difficulty is painfully hard. You'll have to race perfectly to reach your destination before the timer expires, and the rival truck spends plenty of time getting in your way. Thankfully, the game features different difficulty settings, so the game can be toned down a bit for those looking for a less rigid experience.

18 Wheeler has some impressive graphics. The rigs themselves look very good, and there's always plenty of action, with several cars and semitrailers onscreen at any given moment. Additionally, the backgrounds all animate very well - one level features a beach with several beachcombers hanging around, and another features a very impressive-looking twister. The frame rate stays very smooth, and the pop-up is kept to a minimum. The game features a soundtrack that desperately tries to fit into the trucker stereotype, and the twanging blues and hard rock is enough to get on your nerves at times. The audio does feature crisp sound effects and voice work, though, which provide the game with plenty of amusing moments.

While 18 Wheeler: American Pro Trucker features plenty of chaos with several huge rigs swerving all over the road in a frantic effort to beat the clock, the game is not a Crazy Taxi with trucks. 18 Wheeler is a more rigid, linear game with a definite objective to each level and a fairly unexciting game premise. Unfortunately, the novelty of sitting behind the wheel of a huge tractor trailer wears off pretty quickly, and the gameplay isn't as innovative enough to make 18 Wheeler anything more than a standard arcade-style racing game with hulking sluggish trucks instead of sleek, responsive race cars. Still, 18 Wheeler is a perfect arcade port, and fans of the arcade game should be happy with the accurate translation. 18 Wheeler is scheduled for a US release this January.

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