Sim-plicity: I am a tow truck driver?

Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week he faces a deep existential crisis: is he a tow truck driver... OR THE TOW TRUCK ITSELF?

In regard to the question mark in the title: I'm a little uncertain about this week's simulation. It's called Tow Truck Simulator , and it promises to place me "in the role of the driver and operator of a rescue truck." Thing is, as a player, I never get out of the tow truck and walk around, nor do I ever see myself sitting in the tow truck, nor are there any other human beings visible in the game anywhere : cars drive themselves and sidewalks are empty of pedestrians. So, I think maybe I am playing the part of a literal tow truck, as if this game were taking place in an eerie alternate world abandoned by humanity and filled with sentient automobiles, like in Pixar's terrifying horror movie Cars. Who am I? What am I? Am I MAN or TRUCK? Take my hand (my DOOR?) and we'll find out together.

The tutorial in Tow Truck Simulator is refreshingly brief: a giant green arrow points into the distance, as if to simply say: "Go. Explore. Discover. Live . Thou needest only the tools thou hast with you already." Or, maybe they just didn't feel like creating a tutorial. I follow the arrow, driving my truck (or am I driving MYSELF?) down the abandoned streets of whatever post-apocalyptic city this is.Turning a corner too quickly, my truck (SELF?) tips over and slides along on its side, eventually popping back up onto all four wheels (TRUCK FEET?).

Eventually, I spot the quest car illegally parked on a sidewalk, a gold icon hovering above it. I back up to the car, then scan the controls menu, trying to figure out how, exactly, I am meant to solve this dastardly case of crime-parking. There are controls for Crane, Tackler, Dock, Ramp, and Rope, and after some experimentation, I find that Dock, Ramp, and Rope don't do anything. I can, however, extend my crane, but not far enough to reach the car behind me, so I re-park next to the car and manage to snag it by the wheel wells. From there, it's a relatively simple matter to lift it up, move it over and place it on my truck bed (MY BACK?) disconnect the crane, and drive off.

A problem, though, as I drive away: the car starts slowly sliding off the back of the truck. I stop, re-pick it with my crane, and set it back down, then scrutinize the controls menu again. There's a "Secure Load" key, so I press that, but as I drive off the car again starts sliding off. No matter how I move or adjust it, the car keeps trying to tumble off my truck-back. The solution I come up with: just leave the crane attached to the car.

Another problem, though: as I start driving, the car swings around wildly from the crane. Even at 12 MPH, the car is spinning and swinging behind me like an umbrella on a windy day. Distracted by the sight of a car swooping dangerously through the air behind me, I slam into a few other cars, then run a stop sign and get a notification from an invisible police officer that I've been fined 100 €. The officer apparently doesn't have an issue with the yellow sports car streaming around behind me like a child's balloon.

Well, at least there's no one around to endanger. I follow the quest arrow and find it pointing to what appears to be an abandoned building surrounded by a wall and a metal gate. It doesn't look like a place you'd tow cars to, and driving close to the gate doesn't make it open, and neither does nudging it with the front of my truck, and neither does repeatedly ramming it at full speed. Clearly, I've discovered a little glitch in the matrix: I don't think this arrow is pointing to the correct location. Well, maybe dropping the car over the gate will end the mission? That's how desperate I am to get rid of this stupid balloon car, that I actually tell myself dropping it over the fence will satisfy the green arrow of destiny.

As anyone could have predicted, the car is sitting there on its side, probably horribly damaged, and the arrow is still stubbornly pointing inside the gate. I, too, am stubborn: I've decided not to restart the game or cancel the mission. I am going to tow this yellow car successfully: I have simply taken too many screenshots of it to do anything else. After tons of fussy re-parking, I manage to reach over the fence and retrieve the car, though I accidentally disconnect the crane in mid-air and it falls on the ground upside down. Seizing a rare opportunity, another car comes along and immediately tries to mate with it.

Now the car I'm supposed to tow is upside-down under another car. Well, if there's a problem that can't be solved with some high speed ramming, I haven't found it yet! Except for that gate, earlier, that didn't work at all.

Finally, after some more picking and driving and wondering what to do about the errant quest arrow, I notice an option on the control menu titled "Recover." I tap the key, my truck immediately is parked nicely on the road, and the quest arrow suddenly points in a different direction, back to the tow truck company location where I started the game. I finally get the yellow car properly towed, and then I tow a blue car, and then a green one, and then I decide to take a short break from playing Tow Truck Simulator for the rest of my life.

Conclusion: I don't think I'm cut out to be a tow truck or a driver of one. Picking up cars with a crane is fun (picking up anything with a crane is fun), but there's just not much else to do in Tow Truck Simulator besides drive around eerily empty streets and get ticketed by invisible cops and encounter occasional bugs and glitches, like this one:

I do think there might be potential here for a good game, it needs a few more layers of simulation, some actual simulated people, and some interesting scenarios. BRAINSTORMING SESH:

  • You're about to tow a car that is double parked, but you notice, on the dashboard, a stethoscope and medical bag. Is this a heroic doctor who had to rush into a building to save a life, or a selfish jerk who didn't feel like parking properly while he bought a coffee? Moral quandary!
  • An uptight businessman begs you not to tow his car because he just lost his job, his girlfriend dumped him, his identity has been stolen, and he's been forced to live with a comically large St. Bernard that has destroyed his house and gotten covered with wet paint. Comedy movie quandary!
  • There's an asteroid headed for earth, and it's the exact same size and shape of a 1993 Ford Festiva. NASA is putting together a crew of the world's best tow truck operators to tow the asteroid out of its projected path. The President of the United States just asked you to save the world. Anyone want to say no?
Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.