Sponsored By: My Parents as a birthday present. (There’s commentary in there, I can sense it)
Time Played: 61 minutes
Well, it’s a relief to know I don’t love every mundane vehicle sim out there. I was beginning to worry I was blind to the imperfections of the genre.
I think I’m actually becoming a connoisseur. I don’t usually stick with a genre long enough to be able to tell whether I’m tasting the grapes or the feet that crushed them (The next time a sommelier offers you a “foxy” wine, now you’ll know how it got that way) but I think I’ve actually played enough mundane vehicle sims to have a hierarchy of ones that I like versus ones that I don’t.
Note that I’m not claiming to know which ones are good versus which ones are bad. I am not becoming a critic of the genre, just someone who knows what he likes.
Take Recycle, for example. In fact, take Recycle and recycle it. It’s not for me. I say this as a person who has enjoyed bus-driving simulators, farming simulators, truck-driving simulators and goat simulators. Recycle just doesn’t work for me.
Recycle is a waste-management-company management sim. You start with a truck and some dumpsters, and must build an empire through driving around on scheduled days to collect garbage and bring it to a landfill. I like the idea behind it, but there are a few hiccups in the execution that put me off.
First, there’s the traffic law enforcement. I do like it when games like this enforce traffic laws. This is the sort of game that should have realistic traffic laws. However, it’s far too easy to run a red light or exceed the speed limit by accident in Recycle. Speed limits are not posted in an obvious way, and the traffic lights …
Well, let’s take a moment to think about traffic lights. Have you ever noticed how they work? In America they usually have three colors, one of which is lit at any given time. When the green light is lit, you go, and when the red one is lit, you stop. Then there’s the yellow one, which means you should stomp on whichever pedal is nearest to hand (to foot?) and hope nobody hits you while you’re doing it.
In Recycle the lights don’t do that. Instead of transitioning from green to yellow to red, they transition from red, to red and yellow simultaneously, to green. I'm unused to Euro-style signals, so this made it difficult to parse at a glance whether the light was turning red, as it doesn’t do that American-style transition from green to yellow. Since getting tagged for running a red light costs $300, and a day’s recycling brings in around $600, there’s not a lot of margin for error there.
In addition, the camera is not helpful to show you what color the lights are. There’s no first-person camera, so you’re constantly trying to maneuver the camera so you can see the traffic lights through the trees that line the streets. On at least one occasion, I got tagged for running a red light that I didn’t even know was there.
I will give credit where it's due, and the developers took some interesting risks with the controls. You have to manually wheel the dumpsters to the truck in order to empty them, but you don't directly control the person who's doing it. Instead, you drive the truck and issue commands to the person riding shotgun. You can even tell your helper to ride the back of the truck instead of in the cab with you – you know, for when he smells or something. The animations are kind of impressive. The AI helper will fidget and look around while the truck dumps the bins or crushes the garbage. He’ll even flip the lid on the cans for you if you've forgotten whether you already emptied them.
Oddly, that twist that makes the game more interesting from a design standpoint results in a less interesting game to play. By taking control away from the player during trash collection – which is arguably the most interactive part of the game – the developers leave us with a game that you spend most of your time watching instead of playing. You're waiting for lights to change, you're waiting for the helper to go fetch a dumpster, then you’re waiting for the truck to empty that dumpster, then you're waiting for the helper to put the dumpster back and waiting for him to return to the truck.
When you factor in that, in the early game, you can only even do any collection runs on one day out of the in-game week, you have a game that is ninety percent waiting and ten percent paying traffic tickets.
I've played bus driving simulators with realistic traffic laws before and enjoyed them, so it's not that Recycle is boring me. It's the myriad little problems that pile up. It's the traffic lights. It's the frustrating camera. It's the fact that the truck moves like a Tonka toy rather than several tons of steel and hydraulic fluid.
I'll forgive a lot of jankiness in a sim. It kind of comes with the territory. But Recycle is just that death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario that pushes it into the “regrets” category. There’s no one thing that put me off. I almost wish there was, because then at least I could point a finger when asked “What’s wrong with it?” Instead, I have to vaguely wave my hand at it and say “the whole package.”
Is it the Devil Daggers of garbage-truck sims?
The difficulty in Recycle strikes me as accidental. Unless the road signals are supposed to be that confounding, in which case this is the most diabolically mean-spirited game ever devised.
Two out of seventeen daggers.