When I was a kid -- way back in the Land Before Time -- some of the most sought-after toys were Tonka Trucks. Like America in the post-World War 2 era, those trucks were forged out of steel slabs, full of sharp angles and sharp edges, and virtually indestructible. Having a fleet of Tonka bulldozers, dump trucks, and excavators and a big pile of dirt -- no doubt full of intestinal parasites and gluten -- was the ultimate way to spend an afternoon. It’s true, kids. Look it up.
But alas, American steel gave way to cheap plastic imports and throwaway culture, and now we have Construction Simulator 2015: Gold Edition, which suggests the opportunity to play once more with all the big machines in the safety of one’s digital environment, if not to actually learn to operate the machines on an real-world construction site. Like a palette of dimensional lumber on a flatbed rig, the game delivers, though not without some caveats.
I honestly expected Construction Sim 2015 to just be a big virtual playground, but that is not at all the case. You have to learn to walk before you can run, or in this case, learn to couple a trailer to a truck, drive awkwardly to the construction site, decouple the trailer and offload the excavator, fight the excavator’s controls, and dig some holes. In fact, the first several hours of the game is essentially a slow moving series of basic tutorials.
After that, the game has another surprise, which is that it turns into a non-linear, story-less open world where the player can complete literally hundreds of construction missions that range from the simple to the massively complex, involving the skilled use of over 15 different machines, such as excavators, forklifts, cement mixers, cranes, compactors, pavers and loaders. One minute your humble construction company is pouring concrete in a little faux-European village, and a few hours later, it’s supervising the construction of bridges and skyscrapers. There’s even cross-platform multiplayer, and you can assign tasks to your crew, though you don’t gain XP for doing so. Over time, the city skyline is chockablock with evidence of your prowess.
If you stick with it, that is. Like a bumbling inspector that refuses to sign off on a permit, the game can be frustrating. For starters, the pacing of the first few hours is slow and repetitive. It’s not like I expected Call of Duty-like action, but the tutorials task the player with a lot of loading and unloading of materials and driving back and forth to construction sites.
The controls are slightly nightmarish, perhaps purposely communicating the complexity of the real-life machines. Keyboard commands are awkward and use multiple keystroke combinations, and using a controller doesn't make things much better. The help system doesn’t provide much assistance, with menus simultaneously, and confusingly, listing both keyboard and controller assignments. There is a lot of trial and error to learning and using the controls. Likewise, the camera is not always an ally. There are some bugs in the camera controls, but even when functioning perfectly, neither the fixed or free-look camera never quite seems optimal for the situation.
I wouldn’t necessarily expect Construction Simulator 2015 to be a graphical showcase, and it isn’t. Visually, it looks a little better than functional and sometimes even much nicer, but there is a lot of texture and scenery pop in, some slowdown, and in general a lack of detail in the world.
Including additional equipment -- like the Liebherr RL1300, for all you tall crane enthusiasts! -- and several new DLC missions/jobs, the Gold Edition provides many hours of content for the patient player to invest some serious time in learning the systems. A streamlined and more engaging tutorial, optimized and richer visuals, and less awkward control scheme would certainly make this a better game, but it’s a lot safer and much cheaper than buying that Liebherr for $1.7 million, which probably won’t fit in your garage anyway.