This Obscure Truck Simulator Had an Open World in 2001
It almost got a Polish version too, courtesy of CD Projekt Red
With CyberPunk 2077 around the corner (hopefully), a case of chronic doomscrolling led to my curious self discovering a fragment of CD Projekt Red’s past. While the game developer’s original life as a Polish translator of videogames is well-known, the fact that they almost made a Polish version of Hard Truck 2: King of the Road caught my attention. It was no diamond in the rough, but it was still a game that I have fond memories of. After a bit of time traveling, I found that this little-known game was ahead of its time.
70 miles to explore with some big rigs? Check.
Weather systems and cops with speed traps and helicopters? Check.
Circuit races with trucks? You bet.
Hard Truck 2 sets you up for the long haul. As a trucker, your goal is to deliver all kinds of goods across the map in a race against other truckers. Show up late and you’ll be paid a pittance compared to the early birds. Every now and then you could get an invite to a good-old circuit race. Winning a race brought you a license to hire other truckers, letting you form a company of your own. The goal of the game? Become the biggest player in the delivery market.
In Hard Truck 2, money makes the world spin. Everything has a cost, from refueling to paying for being caught by a speed trap, so cash keeps your truck in the race. Speaking of trucks, the game lets you pick from over two dozen vehicles, from salons to 18-wheel monsters with their own unique handling and speed stats. Want a snazzy new ride? They don’t come for free (but you could get stolen ones on the cheap).
You earn money by fulfilling deliveries (after bidding for them) and racing with rig-masters through obstacle courses and other truck racing shenanigans. Unlike most racing games, you can’t just get free repairs at the end of each race. Those nasty dents from screwing up your parking? That’s going to cost you.
Putting the pedal to the medal and flooring it all the way from point A to point B won’t cut it. Speed traps and the weather will test your patience at every turn and that’s before the cops are involved. You’ll have to stop to service your vehicle or refuel it. And if you crash, the costs will mow through your pocket money. Once you hire a few employees (incredibly, you can encounter them on the road), your cash flow gets a massive boost but it’s a hassle nonetheless.
Trucks up your sleeve
Apparently, you could use your radio to negotiate terms with the mob and the police on your tail but the game didn’t exactly give me a how-to guide. You could even talk rival truckers out of their feud. But back then, I didn’t even have an internet connection for multiplayer, let alone a silly tutorial. Those were the days when learning how a game worked was half the fun.
Competing to reach the drop-off point first was an experience quite unlike any other racing game out there. For starters, even if a bit of paint is chipped from your vehicle, the goods you’re hauling take a beating. Add to that inevitable repair costs and you can see where this is going. If you want to make a dent in the delivery business, caution is the name of the game.
Despite being the very soul of vigilance (I even stopped at red lights) I still made the cops antsy fairly often. Carrying precious cargo would entice members of the mob to put some holes on your fresh paint job, ruining a potential “peaceful trucking” experience. Again, the game supposedly had a store where one could purchase scanners and protection systems but I rode it out in the dark. Some upgrades could even render you invisible to the police. How’s that for stealth?
Truck or treat
If you were expecting the game’s visuals to remotely compete with Forza or Gran Turismo, I’m sorry to disappoint you. The pixelated mess you see above is what you get. By 2001 standards, I can’t really complain. Fortunately, exhaust fumes and tire marks are a part of the visual package. The pixels on your windscreen that bear a passing resemblance to real-life objects often have to contest with raindrops, fog, or the blinding sun thanks to Hard Truck 2’s impressive weather system. This game even has a day/night cycle. While the environments seem diverse at first, you’ll be treading the same paths (even the secret ones) often enough that they become monotonous.
Pesky bugs smeared rock salt on those graphic wounds. They marred the experience more often than I expected them to, leading to unexpected crashes and glitches that would make me forsake my goods in transit. Created by the Russian rock band Aria, the soundtrack was pretty good for a truck simulator but it pales in comparison to what popular Need for Speed entries used to offer.
Overall, it’s a fairly solid package, especially for a hardcore truck simulator. Few games have the same kind of in-depth systems that are found here, which apply quality additions to the highway trucking life, from cheap stolen trucks to an upgrade system that lets you get away with carnivorous capitalism. The trucking genre has its fair share of fans: the game made over $2.1 million and was among the top 100 games sold in the US at the time. It’s no surprise that CD Projekt Red agreed to work on a Polish version of Hard Truck 2. Unfortunately, it was canceled in August 2002. Either way, King of the Road is a game that outlived its flaws with systems that made getting from point A to B in a truck a cautious yet memorable ride.