Part two of our RaceDepartment Big Mid Season Review takes a look at SCS Software's American Truck Simulator and Codemasters most recent off road rallying title, DiRT Rally. Today we will be having a look in more detail at two wildly different driving games, from cruising the wide open spaces of American countryside in a big diesel commercial vehicle, to blasting through the Welsh forests millimeters away from wrapping hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rally car into the nearest tree. That's right folks. We're going to have a look at American Truck Simulator and DiRT Rally (because we are obviously trying to fuel a "my sim is bigger than your sim war"....) American Truck Simulator Hauling a variety of cargo from one end of the Arizona state in American to the other doesn't seem like something that would transfer well to a computer game, but somehow it really does. Not only does it work as a game, but it actually provides a very enjoyable experience and has amassed a surprisingly large fan base in a very short period of time. The goal in American Truck Simulator is really quite simple. Start out as a lone trucker looking to earn enough money delivering cargo to a range of locations in order to be able to start your own business. Stockpile your savings to be able to purchase bigger and better trucks and expand your premises with the ultimate goal of hiring a team of drivers to go out and earn money on your behalf. While out on jobs, your aim is to deliver the items in the fastest time possible without incurring damage and nuisance speeding fines along the way, all with the target of increasing your driver experience points (thus opening up more job opportunities and greater earning potential) and earning more money for you and your business. Simple. But very, very addictive... Once you have some money in your pocket, you can splash out on new trucks or simply modify your current vehicle via the self explanatory vehicle accessories screen. Just as fun, you can ignore the call to earn more money and drive around admiring the beautifully crafted scenery from your seat behind the wheel of a real American muscle vehicle. As we will go on to discuss later in this piece, ATS has a stellar soundtrack to enjoy while in game and navigating the menus. The front end of the game is very simply built, with a virtual image of your favourite truck taking pride of place in the centre of the screen. The option menus load quickly and are simple to navigate, the map feature functions as you would expect and jobs are simple to search for, and choose, within the in game job select screen. Slightly disappointing is the need to exit the main game and load up a mod app to play multiplayer in ATS, but this is surely something the studio will look to address in future builds. DLC map and truck releases are planned for future updates, however development releases for ATS are currently on hold as SCS work behind the scenes to increase the scale of the current world within game, directly acting on feedback from the community who wish to see a larger environment to better reflect the American landscape on which ATS is based. To somewhat make up for the initial lack of content and delayed development, the community have created many new vehicles and maps that can be downloaded and added into the vanilla ATS install, a tactic that has gone a long way towards extending the useful life expectancy of SCS Software's last trucking release, European Truck Simulator 2. Content - ATS shipped relatively light on content when it hit the Steam Early Access programme back in February of this year. Initially the game only contained the Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680 trucks alongside an open world map of Nevada and California. Since initial release SCS have added Arizona and the Californian city of Ukiah as well as the Kenworth W900 truck, all as free updates to the game. Intended as an additional free update, SCS plans to up the current map size from its current 1:35 scale to 1:20, this will mean gamers can enjoy 75% longer road sections outside of heavily populated cities within the map. Not only will scale increases be implemented, but also finer details and improved road networks and buildings will make it into the new release. Much like the older European Truck Simulator 2 title, it is expected that American Truck Simulator will receive several DLC packages to flesh out the gaming environments and vehicle manufacturers available at present. Rumour suggests the possibility of Canada and Mexico maps to be joining the sim once the proposed upscaling work has been completed, alongside several new brands of truck. The are expected to include Volvo and traditional American style tractor-trailer type vehicles. Features - Czech development studio SCS Software know a thing or two about developing serious truck driving titles, and this latest instalment to the library of games makes good use of the experience acquired from producing almost 20 different truck and bus driving games. ATS has all the usual career options as you struggle to build up your business and earn more money. Hire and fire drivers, or keep them within the company and develop their driving abilities to help command higher fees for bespoke delivery jobs within the in game world in ATS. You will have management responsibilities of both your drivers and properties as the business expands, as well as managing cashflow with the aid of bank loans that need to be repaid on time or you risk losing money, prestige or even your existing truck/building! All the trucks in game are fully customisable with a neat selection of aesthetic, mechanical, and structural upgrades. Players also have the responsibility of purchasing fuel for their trucking fleet and carrying out routine repairs on their fleet of vehicles. Upgrades to each truck are dependent on the manufacturer and model, however they typically cover areas such as wheel styles, in cabin accessories such as name plates and country flags, chrome bumpers and wing mirror arrangements, air horns, mud guards, aerials, paint schemes and lighting arrangements. More mechanical options include upgrading your trucks engine and chassis length. Care has been taken by the studio to offer increased immersion in the physical driving aspect of the game too, while ensuring the more casual user can get access the gameplay and have an enjoyable experience whilst not being put off by the more advanced aspects of the game. The recent advanced coupling feature brings together an added difficulty dimension when hooking up your truck to the trailer you intend to haul (this can be switched off, or skipped altogether) and those difficult parking situations at the end of a job can also be skipped for a small reduction in your final pay difficulty bonus. Neither American or European Truck Simulator have online play functionality within the game itself, however a community created mod for both titles allows players to enjoy the large open world map in online public environments. A full range of jobs are available to complete online, and usually large volumes of players can be found on the servers during most times of the day and night. ATS, just like the older ETS2 game, has a full day and night cycle and a full set of weather options. From sunny American summertime to lightning and rain storms during the middle of the night, ATS has many impressive weather options to chose from or leave for the game to decide. Physics - Due to the roll play and mission orientated aspect of the trucking simulator genre, the game doesn't benefit from hugely sophisticated tyre models and finely detailed minutely reproduced physics for all the trucks in the game that one would expect to find in the likes of other sim racing titles. That is not to say the driving experience isn't reasonably believable and entertaining, you can still feel the weight of a fully laden truck through the force feedback effects and road feel is translated well in ATS. One can feel the different road surfaces as you bounce along the highway and city streets throughout the map quite nicely. Impacts with other road users and roadside signage gives a hearty jolt through the wheel to remind you to drive a bit more cautiously next time around. Personally I cannot feel a huge difference between the different trucks in game, apart from obvious areas such as speed and agility if you are not pulling a heavy load behind your vehicle. The driving model is however solid and very much fit for purpose in a game that does not need to rely on advanced driving physics to be played with any serious enthusiasm. Sounds - Pretty uninspiring in this department really. Trucks don't make the most engaging engine noise at the best of times, however ATS does an adequate job of replicating the big diesel units in American Truck Simulator. Not superbly realistic, but then the engine noises are never intended to be an integral part of the title. Where ATS really does shine is the in game radio function. The radio settings can be set in the pause menu, or players can map radio buttons to use while driving to select one of the many internet radio stations pre-programmed with standard game release. However if you can't find something to tickle your fancy, the player does have an option to either add an internet radio station of their choice, or alternatively play their own music from the computers hard drive. Cruising down one of the many scenic roads with your favourite radio station blasting out in the background it cannot be underestimated how enjoyable that can be. Personally this game has introduced me to Beatles Radio, so that alone is worth a bonus point in my book... RD Score: 7 out of 10. This isn't a racing game, so why is it covered at RD? Because, quite simply, its pretty damn cool. On paper it sounds as much fun as doing your tax returns, but in reality American Truck is an incredibly rewarding gaming experiences that engross a player into the virtual world of moving freight across the American landscape. Beautifully recreated wagons and cities make up the core ATS experience, supported by a cool radio function that allows players to listen to their favourite songs over the internet whilst following the speed limits ( ) across some of America's most iconic landscapes. Unlike many of the racing games in today's marketplace, ATS has that rare thing many of us have almost forgotten...no bugs (ok... very few bugs). Sadly the game doesn't quite manage to give the feeling of driving long distances across America at present. The scale of the road network just doesn't quite do the sheer size of the US justice, but SCS have taken this on board and are currently looking a bringing a map upscaling into the game at a later date. This is an excellent, and rare, example of a studio listening to community feedback and implementing changes that will allow a game that shouldn't be a commercial success, to thrive. DiRT Rally DiRT Rally surprised many people when it positively burst onto the PC scene in 2015 without any prior announcement, further amazing the general public when it became apparent that Codemasters had taken a step away from the style of recent DiRT games and gone back to the traditional rally routes of the series, formed all the way back with the acclaimed 1998 release of the Colin McRae Rally on PlayStation 1. Although not in receipt of the official FIA World Rally Championship series licence, DiRT Rally manages to pack quite a punch with many vehicles from the golden age of rally represented across the different classes in game. Cars are represented from the 1960's until modern times, including the ferocious Group B era machines that were subsequently banned in the mid 1980's due to their sheer speed and danger on the often tight rally stages. While not holding an official licence for the World Rally Championship, Codemasters have managed to secure rights to recreate the official FIA World Rallycross series, bringing to the game three real world Rallycross circuits and a selection of top name drivers from the championship. As for the game itself, it is no secret that DiRT Rally was created as something of a side project over at Codemasters and doesn't benefit from the huge budgets lavished upon the Formula One series of games. The studio even admitted on game launch that the title doesn't use the latest Codemasters game engine and several trackside assets have been reused from previous releases in order to save on budget. Nowhere is the small budget more apparent than in the sparsely furnished menu screens that give an impression of a product not completely finished and a tad rushed. From the nondescript menu music to the pretty poorly thought out button options throughout the various menus, what you see initially is in no way representative of how the driving aspect of the game holds up once out on stage. A perfect example of the often confusing opening menu options is the bizarre choice of buttons needed to be pressed in order to access some screens and options. When selecting liveries for the various cars for example, the game advises you to press a certain button, but doesn't tell you which button this corresponds to on your controller / wheel / joystick etc. Normally nothing more than an annoyance that could be avoided. Personally, I still can't find said button, so I'll not be picking any liveries in the near future. The game initially shipped without mouse support and Codemasters have since updated DR to include this feature, but again it has not been well implemented and reinforces the feeling one is churning through a menu designed for console release and converted to PC as an afterthought. All that being said, the driving experience remains of the highest order, so you can forgive the odd issue when it doesn't affect the experience in too negative a way. Content - DiRT Rally consists of three main classes of racing, namely Rally (a traditional rally event over 1 - 12 stages in six unique locations, Rallycross (head to head style racing with 6 cars racing on an off and on road track across several heats) and Hillclimb where you tackle the famous Pikes Peak hillclimb course in America using custom built high performance hillclimb specials. The Rally element of the game has several classes of car to choose from, starting with a selection of cars from the 1960's right the way through to a range of WRC machines from the modern era. Each decade is represented with a nice selection of vehicles but it is perhaps the iconic machines of the four wheel drive Group B period that cause most excitement, featuring cars such as the Lancia Delta S4, Audi Sport Quattro Rallye and of course the Ford RS200... Unlike the rally car section, Rallycross benefits from an official FIA World Rallycross licence and contains many of the top teams and drivers from the series. In the top tier of Rallycross, we have a choice of several cars to choose from as well as the recently added Rallycross Mini's. The Rallycross cars can be raced at the Lydden Hill, Holjes and Hell tracks, all official FIA World Rallycross locations. Hillclimb mode gives players access to both the modern and historic versions of the legendary Pikes Peak event in America, driveable in several iconic hillclimb machines, including the now infamous Peugeot 405... kicking our over 607bhp! Features- WRC style rally racing doesn't really require the raft of features found in traditional racing titles in order to recreate an authentic rallying experience. DiRT have done a good job bringing the necessary features to keep drivers engaged in the title, with a full range of (non dynamic) weather effects including day/night, fog, rain and snow. H pattern gearboxes are available to select for the appropriate cars and Rallycross contains the all important Joker Lap prominent in most modern Rallycross competitions. The Rallycross discipline within DiRT Rally also follows the full FIA World Rallycross event structure (Qualifying Heats, Semi Finals and the Final) which is a rather unique experience to take part in a rally event featuring 6 cars on the track at the same time. The traditional rally side of DiRT features single events that can be run up to 12 stages long, in any number or order as defined by the player. Unlike previous rally games from Codemasters, other cars on stage are not present in DiRT, so no longer can you suffer massive delays in stage and find the driver who started behind you suddenly hustling to get past as you share the same piece of road. Not a deal breaker, but it would be quite nice to see this little touch return at some stage during DiRT's lifetime. As is the standard practice for rally events, DiRT includes regular service points between stages where one can repair damage to their car, with advice from your engineer regarding which parts of the vehicle can be fixed in the time limit available. Career mode takes this a further stage as you earn credits to employ better engineers and mechanics, buy upgrades for your car and work your way through the various classes within game. Physics- I sadly haven't driven a proper rally car in anger, but I do know several people who have, with no little success at that. Several of my rally driving friends have had a go on my sim rig with DiRT Rally, and they come back with pretty much the same response - impressive. Although no one is pretending the game is trying to be a driver training simulation, DiRT does do a commendable job of simulating many of the key elements one may encounter when taking to a stage in a purpose built rally machine. The guys with rally experience whom tried my copy of DiRT all remarked how many of the techniques used in real life apply to the sim, and how in several situations they relied on their real world experience to recover the car in game. Body roll and weight transfer seem to be particularly well simulated within the title as you will often find the need to setup a corner many meters before one would traditionally start to consider diving for the apex in a normal racetrack environment. The different feelings between the many classes of car are well reproduced within the game. A very different driving style is required when, for example, you take out the classic 1960's era Mini compared to the flame breathing monsters found within the ridiculously fast rear wheel drive Group B class. Rallycross cars somehow feel slightly less impressively recreated than their traditional rally counterparts, the top class FIA World Rallycross machines feel slightly more casual gamer friendly and more forgiving in their general driving style than the hillclimb and WRC spec machines found in the other classes. Sounds - DiRT Rally has pretty much nailed the sound for the vast majority of cars in the game. The Group A specification Subaru Impreza is a noise to behold as you hang it out Colin McRae style across the Welsh forests at Sweet Lamb, or slide between the unforgiving barriers on the Route de Turini at the Monte Carlo rally. Backfires add a leash of life to the vehicle sounds and go a long with to bringing the immersion factor up to a level as yet unseen in any rally game released to date. Codemasters have done a fine job with the co-driver calls, recording and mixing in such a way that each pacenote message feels organic and repetition is admirably avoided. The effects of stress and car movement in the voice of your co driver is replicated nicely in game, and stands in stark contrast to some of the often hilarious efforts of rival titles in recent years. The pace notes are not without fault, sometimes calls are made too early, or too late, but these are a rarity in DiRT Rally. However it is not all good news for rally fans in DiRT Rally. Some of the cars in game don't seem to have benefited from the full audio capture experience as the aforementioned Impreza example, as several of the vehicles feel to have a less dynamic sound effects and somehow feel hollow in comparison to their more audio endowed brothers. Maybe because Codemasters have done the audio so damn good on cars like the Impreza others feel less impressive in its shadow, or maybe the source material they have to work from wasn't quite as strong (one of the devs rally their own Subaru). It's probably down to subjective opinion. Overall though the audio in DiRT Rally could well be ranked with the very best. Highly impressive stuff. RD Score: 7 out of 10 DiRT Rally crashed on to the scene and literally blew away fans who have long been waiting for a serious successor to 2004's Richard Burns Rally. A shot in the arm for Codemasters, DiRT Rally found instant fan praise for its engaging driving experience, impressive graphics and wonderfully technical and difficult rally stages. Since release, Codemasters have brought in the popular Rallycross and Hiillclimb classes to compliment the more traditional rally experience and further flesh out the title. A truly first rate VR implementation has again moved DiRT Rally further ahead of its off road competitors but development on the core game has slowed considerably in recent months. Hampered by a chronic lack of new events, with many rallies relaying on repeat sections for some stages, means fan interest and game longevity is slowing wearing off for this title. The game desperately needs new rally events in order to remain fresh and active in the steam popularity charts, as many long term players are beginning to become too accustomed to the nuances of each stage to get the maximum rallying experience from the game. If no further events are released during DiRT Rally's development lifetime, it could easily go down in history as a game that really should have put Rallying, and Codemasters, back on the top of the sim racing pile, but just fell that little bit short over the long haul. Stay tuned to RaceDepartment.com for our third instalment of the Big Mid Season Review! In round three we will be taking a look at Forza Motorsport 6 for Xbox One, Forza 6: Apex for Windows 10 PC and iRacing.com! Just in case you missed it, feel free to check out part 1, where we look at Assetto Corsa and Automobilista. Opening Image Credit: Tiago Gouveia Do you agree with our scores? Drop a vote on the attached poll and leave a comment below!