If you're anything like PALGN, you'll probably be able to count the total number of games that have made you laugh out loud on one hand (maybe two), and most of those only exist because of Lucasarts. Which, you know, is kind of depressing. Maybe we're just miserable so-and-sos, but with all the obscene multi-million dollar budgets and whizzbang technology being chucked at games nowadays, we fiercely believe that we should be rolling in the aisles a little more than we are.
Sadly, Big Mutha Truckers 2: Truck Me Harder does nothing to buck this trend. Indeed, the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer innuendo in the title should prepare you perfectly for what to expect from the game's humour, so you've been warned - if you're over 13, and possess an IQ even higher than that, then you're likely to find Truck Me Harder's humour wincingly bad in most parts; Grim Fandango this isn't. All-too-easy double entendres litter the game, whilst it's stereotypical cast of hillbillies, trailer-trash and rednecks are pure cardboard. It possesses none of the knowing wit boasted by last month's Destroy All Humans!, which certainly made us smile a good few times, despite it's flaws.
So, it's real lowest-common-denominator stuff (biker girls called 'Slits', etc.), though at least Eutechnyx's game is honest enough about it's non-pursuit of anything resembling highbrow entertainment. The problem is that it often struggles with providing entertainment, period.
First off, let's just make this clear: this isn't a criminally bad game. But just take a look at those scores at the bottom of the page will you? Fives everywhere, with one lone six sat there, looking a bit out of place. Yet those scores are perfect for Truck Me Harder, because this is a package that screams 'average'. In a world of Burnout, Grand Theft Auto and Crazy Taxi, Truck Me Harder simply fades into the background, from the moment you pop the title into your Xbox or PlayStation 2 and watch the game take forty seconds to load the title screen. The menus are bland (despite the presence of Free's classic rock anthem 'All Right Now'), the presentation is nondescript and even the loading screens lack imagination. Everything seems to inspire a shrug. We've seen this before. We've been here.
In the original Big Mutha Truckers, we were introduced to the loathsomely butch Ma Jackson, the proprietor of Big Mutha Truckers Haulage, Inc., who had decided she was going to retire. Ma encouraged her four children to compete against each other in making as much money as possible in 60 days in order to inherit the company. Players bought and sold goods from one of five cities, each with their own levels of supply and demand. It was OK for the first few hours, before you replaced it on your shelf at the end of the day, never to be seen again. Ma Jackson begins the sequel behind bars for tax evasion, and it's the duty of her offspring (Cletus, Bobby Sue, Rawkus and Earl) to raise the money to bribe jurors and hire lawyers. Rather conveniently, old Ma Jackson has managed to sneak a CB radio into her cell (though pondering how she sneaked it in there is probably not worth thinking about), and it's from here that she guides you throughout the game.
Not that much guidance is needed, as Truck Me Harder treads the same uninspiring path as it's predecessor. The game flows in the same rudimentary way: buy stock in one town, drive your eighteen-wheeler against the clock to the next, sell stock for inflated price in next town or city, repeat until you almost start to forget you're playing on the game and, oh, what's in the freezer for dinner tonght? There's nothing to keep you gripped. Perhaps things would have been a little more engaging if Eutechnyx had implemented a greater sense of risk into proceedings. As it is, failing to reach a town within the designated time limit puts a small dent in your funds, though things are all too easily rescued. What if we could lose it all (or at least, a sizeable portion of it) in one go? Maybe we'd care more. Maybe.
Presumably in an attempt to relieve us of the A-to-B, against-the-clock drudgery that makes up the bulk of Truck Me Harder's missions, there's a smattering of sub-missions dotted around the place. Problem is, the vast majority of these rigidly follow the aforementioned A-to-B, against-the-clock formula, meaning the sub-missions are, er, fundamentally very similar to the main missions. Sure, maybe it's a different cargo you have on board, or a passenger you have to deliver somewhere, or maybe you're being chased by police cars or a UFO this time, but who really cares about such differences when ultimately all we're being asked to do is race against the clock from one point to the next? Again? We'll admit the casino distracted us for a short time, but it hardly saves things, particularly only with poker and snap (yes) available.
This lack of variety branches into other parts of the game. Because there's so few towns for players to visit, a sense of repetition sets in all too quickly, as we're forced to endure the same unamusing cut-scenes with the same unamusing characters. Actually being funny would have rescued this somewhat, of course. It's not that Truck Me Harder is the worst stab at humour we've ever encountered - remember we live in a world where Will & Grace was commissioned for more than one series - but the jokes are just too obvious and the target (the Deep South of the U.S) too easy. Even the Grand Theft Auto-style radio talk shows you can listen to whilst driving don't come anywhere near the masterful standards set by Rockstar's games.
Eutechnyx has attempted to inject a bit of variety by ensuring it's not just rigs you get to drive. Think it helps things? Don't be silly.
As you'd expect, the driving mechanics lean towards arcade-style handling, though the eighteen wheelers on offer here never feel like they have the same weight or inertia of those seen in Sega's marginally (note: marginally) superior 18-Wheeler: American Pro Trucker. Still, the handling is solid, and piling your way through traffic feels oddly satisfying for the first few hours (police cars at least demonstrate better AI than their colleagues over in San Andreas), whilst there's a nice range of upgrades you can add to your truck that allows you to transport larger or more expensive cargoes.
It's a little disheartening to see slowdown creeping in (especially in a game which is, uhm, some way off being the best-looking we've seen on this generation of machines), though the actual gameplay isn't seriously marred by it. That said, the visuals only succeed in maintaining the rank medicority that lies at the heart of Truck Me Harder. They're solid and colourful, but obviously lacking in any kind of ambition, while a decent sensation of speed is sorely missing unless you can find a generous straight to bomb down. Likewise, the sound effects are competent in a workmanlike way, but never dazzling (though we'll admit the voice-acting is the honourable exception to this).
Which all means that - just like it's prequel - Truck Me Harder is neither great or abysmal, but a middle-of-the-freeway experience if ever there was one. And with Christmas looming large, and the usual September-to-December avalanche of far more impressive games about to smother us and our suffering wallets, we'd be hard pushed to recommend a purchase from anywhere other than the bargain bins in six months time. A truckin' shame, but there you go.