18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker is the latest in a long line of quirky arcade-to-home ports for Sega's Dreamcast, joining such past oddities as Sega Bass Fishing and Crazy Taxi. Unlikely as those games are, they work, and 18 Wheeler works too, to an extent. The basic play mechanics are pretty solid, but the game is ultimately too short to hold one's interest for very long. Still, trucking has never had its spot in the video game limelight, so it's an idea whose time has come.
The arcade mode is where you'll find the meat of 18 Wheeler. You pick from four initially selectable rigs, each with its own ratings in speed, torque, and durability. Then you take to the open road to deliver your cargo from one city to the next. Don't be discouraged by routes like "New York to Key West" though--you won't be driving 20-hour races. In typical arcade-racing fashion, you begin a course with a short time limit and have to hit checkpoints to extend your time. Highway traffic and a rival trucker will make your life more difficult, and if you can't make your destination in time, or you trash your cargo, it's game over. You can earn extra money by hauling heavier loads and avoiding obstacles, but since money can't actually be used to buy new parts, it only serves as the equivalent of a score. Finally, if you get to the goal before your rival, you'll get a shot at a bonus stage that lets you upgrade your horn, muffler, or engine for added performance.
18 Wheeler is pretty difficult at first: To really perform well, you'll have to master the slipstream technique, where you get a speed boost by drafting behind another truck for decreased wind resistance. Shortcuts are also available for faster times and varied scenery. All this is entertaining, until you reach San Francisco in the fourth level and realize that the game is over. Yes, the inclusion of only four courses in the arcade mode really hinders the replay value. After you've figured out the best routes on each track and when to avoid which obstacle, there's not a lot of incentive to play through the game repeatedly.
Fortunately, the home version of 18 Wheeler contains a few extras that extend the life of the game. The parking mode gives you four obstacle courses, like a garage and a mountain highway, and requires you to park your big, unwieldy rig in tight spaces within a short amount of time. Score attack resembles a normal racing game--it gives you four looping tracks in various settings and lets you race around them for three laps. Traffic clogs the tracks, and hitting cars marked "Bonus" will raise your money total, while hitting unmarked cars lowers it. Finally, the versus mode is simply a split-screen version of score attack. The game was originally supposed to feature online multiplayer, but this feature was stripped out.
And that's 18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker. The game is fun when you sit down with it, but two hours later you'll have seen everything there is to see. Industrious players can unlock a fifth truck, but that's hardly incentive to keep playing the game when even that small addition can only be driven on the same four courses. 18 Wheeler would be easier to recommend as a budget title; with a price comparable to more lasting games, however, it's probably best left as a rental. If or when it makes it to the bargain bins, though, keep an eye out. Ten-four, good buddy.