King of Route 66

Review

posted 4/2/2003 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
You’d hope that a sequel would clean up the problems fans and critics had with the original. And if it were a sequel to a game that was almost unanimously considered lack luster, you’d expect a much better second try, right?

Well, on the surface the King of Route 66 seems address many of the problems found in 18 Wheeler: All American Trucker. It has a two-player mode, bonus games, dozens of characters, and a wider range of levels. On paper it sounds like AM2 listened to our demands, and finally gave us what we wanted. But now that the game is here, we are left to ponder if we were clear enough in our critiques.

So this time I’m going to be extremely specific, in the hopes that AM2 will eventually get the series right. I have quite a lengthy list of issues pertaining to the King of Route 66, as well as 18 Wheeler, and knowing I have this opportunity to be heard, I’m not going to let it pass.

Of all the problems I have with this series, it’s the level designs that really get under my skin. Most racing games pride themselves on their strong courses and interesting backgrounds, but 18 Wheeler wasn’t like that. Instead the levels seemed like something of an afterthought. Even though you would be traveling from Miami to New York, in game time that was only a matter of minutes.

This was one of those problems I was hoping they would address, and I’m here to say they have. The problem is, they didn’t do a real good job of fixing the problem. Gone are the tracks that take you straight from one state to another in mere minutes, but they kept the deathly short levels intact.

Actually, I think the levels found in Route 66 are quite a bit shorter. They are slightly more varied, though. Instead of having one long circuit from one place to another, this game has cut each state up into various stops. You’d think that this would allow the designers a chance of showcase a lot of interesting backgrounds and monuments, but I’m sad to report that this is not the case. Whatever chance they had is wasted in generic cityscapes and dull Midwest themes. Even though each state is split up, there’s quite a bit of redundancy, and you’d never know they were separate.

The game is split into a couple of different kind of missions. There are the ones where you simply race another truck to the destination, and there are the ones where you have to deliver something, or simply run a course. In theory neither of these tasks seem too difficult, but the truth is, they are extremely challenging, even on the lowest difficulty setting.

The problem is not that the game is challenging, which it is, it’s that the game is extremely frustrating. No matter what difficulty you play this on, you will find yourself replaying the same levels time and time again because you missed the target by the slimmest of margins. And when you think it can’t get any more difficult, you realize that the game cheats. The rival you race against appears to have unlimited nitro, and has an uncanny way of always being on your tail. The game never gives you the chance of feeling like you are ahead, because no matter what skill level you are, you generally aren’t ahead.


The controls also leave a lot to be desired. While it’s probably a given that a racing game consisting of 18 wheel behemoths might have somewhat slow and muddy controls, this game never actually gets past tolerable. After a slow acceleration, your truck barrels down the road with very little input needed from you. Don’t get me wrong, you can still steer and move around like you normally would, but don’t expect anything in the way of complex motor skills needed here.

Usually the controls behave themselves, but it’s in those rare instances where your truck get wrongly aligned or you need to back up, that it just falls apart. In fact, turning around is one of the most problematic aspects of the control, and I found myself starting the race over instead of negotiating the tricky reverse.

It should be noted, that while there is a lot of bad in the King of Route 66, it does improve on the original in a few substantial ways. While the original was a straight up, no-nonsense port of an arcade game, Route 66 feels slightly more like a console game thanks to the various extra modes. For example, there’s a much needed two player mode included, but like just about everything else in the game, it’s so bare bones and dull, it’s hardly worth talking about at all.

It’s the Queen of Route 66 that deserves the most amount of credit, though. Think of it has a mini-Gran Turismo, complete with 70 different parts you can equip to your rig. This mode has you completing various menial tasks, from smashing boxes to collecting scattered jewelry to simply racing to the next objective, all so you can collect a little bit of money, and upgrade your truck.

This is actually a really good idea, and I commend the programmers for trying to give us something that will keep us coming back well after we’ve finished the arcade mode. But, like so much of Route 66, this mode just doesn’t feel finished. It’s hard to stay interested in the tasks when they range from boring to mundane. At best this is a tedious test of ones patience, and however well intentioned this mode is, it’s hard to get past the mediocre execution.

One of the coolest things about the Queens of Route 66 mode (or the most kitsch, depending on your viewpoint) are the queens themselves. Each of these busty beauties represents a different task, and once you’re work is done you are treated to a cinema. But not just any old cinema, Route 66 gives you what seems like a ten minute long dance video. I’m not kidding. I haven’t seen this much fly dancing since Wild Style in 1982. Without a doubt, if you’re going to weather the King of Route 66, this is the reason.


The King of Route 66 also features more bonus games, challenges, and extra missions than you’ll likely ever want to play. I’m serious, there are somewhere in the ballpark of 50 mini games for you to explore. You’d think that this would make up for the games already shallow arcade mode, but it doesn’t. In fact, in many ways these mini games help to illustrate just exactly what isn’t fun with the game.

Of course, by the time you actually get to these mini-games, chances are that you will be sick and tired of the game, and have little patience left over for these trivial tasks. Like every aspect of Route 66, these little games are mind numbingly frustrating. You will likely have to do them over and over, until you either get it right … or sell your copy used to buy any one of the better PlayStation 2 racing games.

After all these complaints, it almost seems pointless to talk about the cosmetic aspects of the game. By and large the graphics look better than those found in 18 Wheeler. There are more polygons used, and the environments are better represented. Having said that, Route 66 does not look like a game from this generation of consoles. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a port of a Dreamcast game, because it’s not far from that look. While this game provides a few neat tricks, like the way the nitro warps the environment, the game just looks dated. In this day and age there’s no excuse for the backgrounds to draw-in, and this game is littered with sloppy visuals to that effect.

On the other hand, the audio may be more to your liking … if you’re a huge fan of generic AM gold played through a MIDI device. There’s also a fair amount of voice acting, most which sound like they were hired souly on the fact that they have a voice. Given the circumstances, it’s not hard to understand why I quickly turned off the sound, and put forth my own tunes.

There’s quite a bit to do in the King of Route 66, but I have a feeling you won’t have enough patience or desire to attempt most of it. It’s hard to decide what’s worse: the micro-sized levels, the terrible controls, or the lackluster presentation. What isn’t hard to figure out, though, is that the King of Route 66 isn’t the sequel we’ve been asking for. It addresses some issues, but opens up a whole new set of problems. Let’s hope the third games the charm.





F
Sega answers many of the issues that surrounded 18 Wheeler: All American Trucker with this brand new game. Whether or not you like the answers is a whole different issue.