I have a couple of theories about Sega. I believe that either Sega does not possess the ability to meld innovation with entertainment or it has just been on autopilot since the launch of the Dreamcast. With the exception of a few milestones in Chu Chu Rocket!, Samba de Amigo, Crazy Taxi, and most of its Sega Sports franchise, Sega's recent highly anticipated releases have failed to live up to expectations. Sure, most of their games would qualify as unique and even innovative, but they usually shipped with one fatal flaw, sometimes more, that limited the playing experience and thus diminished the game as a whole. 18-Wheeler is another such game—certainly unique, but burdened with so many problems that it is not much fun to play.
Chi nails 18-Wheelers controls which are one of the game's biggest problems. In Sega's defense, 18-Wheeler does support racing wheels like Agetec's Rally Wheel, but the majority of players are going to be using standard Dreamcast controllers. Handling a giant steering wheel and stick shift was an integral part of the arcade game and that cannot be replicated on a gamepad. Without authentic controls, half the appeal of 18-Wheeler is tossed out the window and the game is greatly reduced to a simple arcade racer. That is a crucial oversight that has me wondering why Sega even bothered with this release.
Ultimately what killed 18-Wheeler for me was its lack of depth. As an arcade game, 18-Wheeler would have been a success if it managed to hold a persons attention for a mere 20 minutes; the criterion for a good home game is the exact opposite. I was never looking for the deep metaphysical experience that Chi was seeking but I did expect a more fulfilling playing experience. 18-Wheelers four scant stages hit you with the double whammy of being both brief and possessing near-impossible time constraints. Gameplay degrades into you crashing through as many areas as possible to find all the shortcuts and using every opportunity to Slip Stream (riding the draft behind other vehicles to gain a quick speed boost) to stay ahead of the competition and the clock. It may take a few tries, but 18-Wheeler can be beaten in one sitting and once it's done, there is no compelling reason to go through the game again.
The lone bright spots in the game are the more trucker-oriented features. There are a couple of bonus stages where you have to park the truck and navigate close quarters—not an easy endeavor with an unwieldy semi. This is a glimpse of what Chi may have been expecting when he sat down to play 18-Wheeler. These very short diversions do make you feel like a trucker, but they will never make up for the games shortcomings.
After playing 18-Wheeler, I feel confident in my assertions about Sega. It had the hook of allowing players to race, sometimes drive, a tractor-trailer through a series of stages, but in this port, Sega didn't even bother to revise the arcade gameplay to suit the new platform. How else could you explain why a game with such repetitive and shallow gameplay was released onto the home market? Sega had to know 18-Wheeler was not up to snuff yet it just threw the game out there and hoped it would somehow be a hit.
Disclaimer:This review is based on the Dreamcast version of the game.