American Truck Simulator celebrates life on the move. It’s about mastering the details of your rig and whatever heavy load you happen to be hauling. Planning is key, but being open to the unexpected also helps you make the most out of the game’s deep commitment to its core simulation.
And as Andy Kelly observed in his review, it’s often the small things in the game that make for the most compelling moments—an unexpected vista, a well-made turn, or a successful, on-time run. For me, American Truck Simulator is fundamentally about travelling well and embracing all the experiences the open road has to offer.
In this edition of ‘If you like…” I’ve pulled together films, a travelogue, and a graphic novel that celebrate the stories, the mystery, and even danger of the American highway.
Duel, directed by Steven Spielberg
Although it’s set in what today might feel like a dusty vision of the past, Steven Spielberg’s Duel gets at something essential about the American open road—it’s a place where you always have to watch your back. The film takes place in the hills and back roads of the California desert as the mild-mannered protagonist David Mann undertakes a routine business trip in his red Plymouth. But a chance encounter with a mysterious tanker truck on the highway leads to an insanely tense battle of wits, packed with paranoia, adrenaline, and risky driving.
The movie offers up what would become a signature style for Spielberg in many of his later films—perfectly-shot scenes that expertly communicate story through cinematic action. In the case of Duel, one of his first feature films, the director uses all of the road to create moments for near-misses and high-speed maneuvers. And although one could argue that Spielberg is besmirching truckers in order to establish his faceless antagonist, the core of the film gets at the danger built into the narrow spaces that cars and trucks have to share on the asphalt.
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, by Bill Bryson
A truly funny, non-fiction take on American life in the late-1980s, there’s a lot to learn from Bill Bryson’s humor. In The Lost Continent (opens in new tab), the noted travel writer returns to his place of birth, Des Moines, Iowa, and kicks off a tour of various cities and towns across the American East and West. Bryson’s road trips are a good way to get to know some of the nooks and crannies of a massive country many of us may never see all that much of.
But his writing echoes a lot of what’s universal to all travelers, truckers included: The open road has a way of dropping stories and strange happenings right into your lap. And while Bryson is a master at vividly describing the casual absurdity of everyday life, his commentary can be biting and critical as well. The contrast of brutal honesty and knowing-compassion makes his writing seem fresh and contemporary, even though his observations are now nearly three decades old.
Big Rig, directed by Doug Pray
A collection of vignettes profiling truckers at work, Big Rig gives us a view from inside the cab. The 2007 documentary was shot with a small crew and offers up a startlingly-intimate look at the various men and women who make their living driving trucks in the United States. We hear stories—oftentimes their gripes and problems—but also what motivates them to do what can often be a difficult, expensive, and thankless job.
Director Doug Pray, who also shot the movie, does well to avoid sweeping arguments or generalizations about trucker life in favor of authenticity. By getting to know some of the many different types of people who make their living hauling freight across the United States, the film offers up portraits of truckers that are simultaneously sympathetic and controversial. Its strongest approach as a documentary, however, is in always letting the truckers speak for themselves. It’s their story and Big Rig does an admirable job letting each perspective shine through.
Ghost Fleet, story by Donny Cates, art by Daniel Warren Johnson
Collected in a two-volume graphic novel, Ghost Fleet (opens in new tab) offers up a crunchy, fantastical look at high-speed violence and mayhem on the American highways. Donny Cates’s story picks up what may or may not be an urban legend among American truckers—the existence of elite drivers who haul strange and dangerous cargo across the country—takes the concept and cranks up the intensity in a comic that deftly combines vivid action and smart writing.
With panels reminiscent of scenes from last year’s motor-mayhem blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road, every impact and altercation gets its due in this excellent book. And while the story in Ghost Fleet pushes in the direction of conspiracy theories and alternate history, its 1980s, action-movie sensibility keeps it feeling grounded in a way that suits its trucker core.
Patrick currently works as web editor for Hinterland Studios, which is making The Long Dark. For more installments of ‘If you like...’, check out the other games he's covered in this series below: