Star Trucker – who needs a mountain vista when you’ve got the whole of space?

Look, I certainly wouldn’t call myself a trucking nerd – I’m not even sure I could tell the difference between a carburettor and a carbonara – but I do like to truck. American Truck Simulator has long been my equivalent of one of those mindfulness apps that whisper gently evocative nonsense at you in the dead of night; a world of seductively monotonous rhythms and repetitions set against a soothing soundtrack of engine drones and indicater clicks. And for the eyes, the majesty of nature: lakes, mountains, forests (or at least a decent enough facsimile thereof), sprawling from hard shoulder to sky. So imagine my delight when I stumbled across Star Trucker – all that calm and the most expansive natural vista of all: space!

Ordinarily, these X meets Y comparisons feel a little trite, but in Star Trucker’s case – going on the evidence of its newly released Steam Next Fest demo, at least – you’re going to struggle to find a more apt description than ‘American Truck Simulator in space’. This is big rig cargo hauling on an interstellar scale, a stately back-and-forth between pick-up and drop-off set against an ever-shifting canvas of shimmering nebulae and screen-filling worlds.

For all its fanciful sci-fi flavour, though, Star Trucker plays the whole thing surprisingly straight, grounding its slightly ridiculous high-concept premise in the minutia of the mundane. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have bags of personality – this is the far-flung future by way of Route 66, with an ever-present country and western twang on your radio, an incessant southern drawl on your CB, and just enough quaint Americana to give the endless void a distantly familiar sense of place – but its eye is firmly on the road, not on the stars.

Here’s a brisk overview of Star Trucker’s cargo job loop.Watch on YouTube

Its delivery loop is a reassuringly familiar one, cosmic displacement aside: fuel up, pick a job – perhaps a one-stop hop or a long-distance haul – load up your cargo then ease into the old routine, tracing signs along highways, keeping an eye on the clock, and ensuring property destruction stays at a minimum until you reach your goal. Only here, the highways are soaring helixes of hi-tech barriers and bobbing road lights, hazards are wayward meteorites and hurtling space detritus, and junctions are warp portals capable of catapulting you between systems with the sort of dazzling light show that would make George Lucas proud.

Honestly, if all Star Trucker had to offer was a couple of striking galactic vistas and some pleasingly zen-like cargo hauling, I’d be perfectly happy – but developer Monster and Monster takes the sim side of things quite a bit further, giving you space legs and chucking in a sort of tactile, Jalopy-esque vehicle management layer. Your cockpit is an analogue hardware dream, the kind of video game space that immediately makes you wish you could palpate it in VR. It’s got buttons and switches and levers galore – even a CB radio where you can natter to fellow truckers using RPG-style conversation trees, of all things – but your most consistently useful tools are the two monochrome screens flanking your perfectly, bulbously cushioned chair.

A Star Trucker screenshot showing a floating space highway as viewed through a truck's main cockpit window.

A Star Trucker screenshot showing a space truck's interior cabin, complete with an extremely comfy looking red leather seat.

A Star Trucker screenshot showing a space truck's cargo hold, with stairs leading up to a central airlock on either side.

A Star Trucker screenshot showing a stationary truck against a cloudy nebula, as viewed through a helmet during a space walk.

From the driver’s seat to the depths of space for a quick patch-up job – forgetting to put your space suit on isn’t advised. | Image credit: Monster and Monster/Raw Fury/Eurogamer

Here, you can cycle through a number of handy external cameras for better spatial visibility and awareness, but you’ll also find a real-time read-out of your truck’s overhaul health. Travel exerts a constant power drain on its various life support systems, meaning you’ll need to get up and stretch your legs every now then, prising open panels and replacing batteries so you don’t, say, freeze to death in the icy embrace of space when your climate control goes awry, or catapult indelicately into the ceiling when your gravity generator fails. Additionally, take too many prangs and you’re liable to have oxygen squirting through holes where holes shouldn’t be, meaning it’s time to don a space suit, barrel out the airlock and start patching things up as you careen balletically (or, more likely, alarmingly) around in zero-g.

It all adds a lovely bit of extra verisimilitude to the whole thing, but if I’ve any complaints, it’s that the demo leans a little hard on this kind of out-of-seat busywork, when I’d much rather be spending my time cruising through space to sad country songs while the awesome beauty of the universe drifts lazily on by. I suspect – I’m hopeful – this is just down to the way the demo frontloads itself with a bunch of tutorial stuff then, in a bit of a misstep, demands a total restart whenever poor judgement or confusion leads to your untimely demise. But as things stand, it’s hard to gauge just how intrusive this micromanagement side of things might be.

A Star Trucker screenshot showing an external view of a space rig firing its thrusters.

A Star Trucker screenshot featuring one of two dashboard displays, this one showing a external view from the docking camera.

This might just be the Elite Dangerous muscle memory speaking, but the lack of vertical thrusters on your truck in the demo can make performing more precise maneuvers – such lining up to dock or collect cargo – a touch irksome. | Image credit: Monster and Monster/Raw Fury/Eurogamer

Beyond that, though, Star Trucker’s demo is a treat, and there’s suggestion of some real depth here – surprisingly so, when it could easily have positioned itself as a fun, throwaway gimmick and moved on. You get a taste of its progression system, which opens up new employment opportunities across its sprawling skill tree (and do those jump-station security bots suggest there might be some more illicit avenues to explore?); there are shops to spend your pay in – assuming the contractually obligated punitive cuts for carelessness don’t bankrupt you beforehand – even vendors who’ll happily give your space rig a bit of an aesthetic overhaul. It’s promising stuff – slick, wonderfully atmospheric, and perfectly pitched somewhere between a sly wink and a straight face – and I can’t wait to properly truck off when the full game shows up later this year. American Truck Simulator might have mountains, but who needs mountains when you’ve got the whole of space out your window?

This piece is part of Wishlisted, a week-long series on Eurogamer covering some of our favourite games from February 2024’s Steam Next Fest. You can read all the other pieces from the series at our Wishlisted hub.

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