If you ever wanted to take the concept of a sandbox game to its literal conclusion, you're in luck.
After seeing Digger Simulator 2011 come up on the list of new titles to be released, and pausing momentarily to imagine destroying things with a metal bucket, I wondered if there was merit in checking out a title that is somewhat removed from the usual fare of mainstream shooting and driving games.
After all, there's nothing wrong with the odd game of Angry Birds, or Bookworm Adventures, and Flight Simulator X has taxed a disproportionate amount of my life thus far.
Digger Simulator 2011 is exactly what it says on the box. Diggers, trucks, excavators, and all the earth moving trades signature vehicles are available to use. There’s even the pretence of a career mode, which really is simply a menu system for various levels, some of which you can’t get to until you’ve earned enough money to buy the right tools for the job.
Effectively each mission features some fairly routine objectives. Dig this trench, sort this sand, that old chestnut. Whilst basic in principle, each mission comes with its own difficulty in execution. The machines themselves are fun to play with, but are perhaps more complex than they first appear.
The first vehicle sampled was a wheeled digger, with a simple scoop on the front. Using this mainstay of the earth moving fraternity, I'd been tasked with collecting dirt from a pile, depositing it in a sorter, and then collecting all three different types and dumping then in the correct bay using a dump truck. Simple enough. The digger utilised standard ‘WASD’ keys for movement, and arrow keys for adjusting the reach, tilt and height of the bucket.
Soon enough though, I’ve got the stupid thing stuck with it’s front wheels in the air and the bucket deep in the dirt.
The next level carried with it the requirement to dig a simple trench with a mini excavator. A typical two track machine with the ability to rotate on its base, an extending arm and tilt adjustable bucket. Always seemed simple with my little Tonka Toys back in the day, but it's harder than it looks. You have to line up the tracks, turn the cabin and arm, stretch the arm at the right angle to allow the bucket to catch, tilt the bucket, then dig a hole. Perhaps move a little backwards and drag some more dirt out as well, just to do things faster.
Only I’d managed to line the bucket up with the tracks at ninety degrees to the direction of where I was digging, so a soon as I moved ‘back’ which was actually ‘sideways’ I dug a huge scar across the front of some poor folks lawn.
It occurred to me that perhaps there’s actually more to doing heavy machinery work than leaning on a shovel at the side of the road in groups of five or more and smoking whilst holding up traffic.
What makes things interesting is the physics of the soil, which a wholly implausible statement to make on a gaming website. One of the things lauded on the back of the box is realistic soil physics, which I’ll agree with to some extent. When you dig some sand out of a pile, more falls down and fills the gap. Heavier materials and lighter materials can mix, and you can easily dig yourself into places you can’t get out of. Unfortunately, when this happens you’ll have to restart the level as you can’t reset your vehicle.
This game would have been so much more exciting and hilarious with the inclusion of collapsible objects and advanced physics. As it stands, the soil and the vehicles are the only things given physical properties. Buildings and so forth are simply static objects in the game, and cannot be moved, altered or destroyed.
Certainly with a fully integrated damage model, the penalty for failure would be far harsher, and far more hilarious as you undermine a house, or swing your digger arm through someone’s patio. Perhaps that’s something to be put in the sequel. Currently, the objects modelled are generally pretty good, though you can pile dirt and drive on relatively impossible angles.
Graphically it’s not going to win any awards, but it’s perfectly fine for the type of game it is. Everything looks real enough and it’s generally a matter of picking the right camera angle. Though at times, with the myriad of controls for each vehicle, and the fact that they don’t correlate to the direction the camera is facing if you move it, you can certainly make things much harder for yourself.
That's not to say that it isn't reasonably straightforward to control the vehicles, as long as your remember that you can’t do everything at once, and that everything needs to be done in a planned sequence. Try and wing it, and you’ll simply make a complete mess of things.
Not a title I’d normally go out and buy, Digger Simulator 2011 was actually a lot more enjoyable than a first glance would suggest. I'm not the target audience and I’ve kept that in mind. But it's certainly fun tinkering and driving around, making a mess and generally getting things very wrong. As an endeavour to retire to between fast paced action games, it’s good for a change of pace.
My only issue is that the price will probably keep it in the hands of enthusiasts only. An RRP of $80 is probably too high for the typical gamer.
Digger Simulator 2011 is a bit of a challenge to score, all things considered. I can see it appealing to kids in winter when the sandpit is more useful to the local cats, and also to enthusiasts of machinery. For the hardcore gamer however, it's probably little more than a distraction.