Crane Simulator 2009 (PC)

Cranes, lift things and put them down. Occasionally turn, yet they fascinate even a child
But in practice is this really all that much fun?

Originally my review was posted on Acegamez here.

Full text below the cut:

Crane Simulator

Simulators are that very most esoteric of things. The fine art of rendering a real-life experience into its minutest details, and convincingly portratying them digitally is one which has great scope for going terribly awry. Without a real love of the subject and clear attention to detail, the simulation is merely a badly made game and with too much focus placed on the minutiae; you are instead left with a dry and boring series of button presses.

It’s curious then that Astragon’s new range of simulation titles would include something as innocuous as a Crane Sim. Considering that manning a crane is probably the sort of dream which generally populates the dreams of small boys and slightly obsessive middle aged men, it’s a wonder who the target audience for this game is thought to be. As far as simulations go however it’s a noble idea to cover the humble crane in such fashion.

The first obvious thing with Crane Simulator is that this is a no frills package. You’re unceremoniously dropped to a fairly spartan menu system and from there can see the options to use a trio of increasingly massive cranes to complete some basic and realistic tasks. In fact the menu systems are so workman and severe that they wouldn’t look out of place in an office somewhere being used to train crane operators. Perish the thought. The three possibilities form the entirety of the simulation and allow the player to start off by building a pre-fabricated house from sheets of precut wood and the odd beam. From here they can hone their skills by moving onto the heady task of unloading and loading large industrial shipping crates from a freighter and finally to complete the ultimate goal of using a giant crane to build office blocks. Sadly no alien tripods to beat down a ‘la War of the Worlds, but that’s forgivable (errrm what?- Ed)

In a pleasant surprise the game itself is actually quite pretty, with grand and sweeping vistas of rural and urban Germany stretching into the middle-distance. Equally the cranes, crates and background detritus is well rendered and detailed enough to make it feel genuinely impressive from any of the many camera angles you can play from. There are two minor omissions, the first of which being people, who could have easily been added for extra amusement factor as they’d scramble to help fix the payloads to the jib and hooks. Sadly no such luck and the world of Crane Simulator 2009 is a cold and empty land free from the laughter of children and the leering wolf-whistles of workmen. (Get on with the review -Ed) There is also a perfuntionary whirring of engines and pneumatics to accompany the odd twitter of birds as you play but no music.

Now being as operating a piece of expensive industrial machinery is a fairly complex affair that usually requires hours of practice, careful theory training and a good working set of health and safety rules, you’d expect the game to give you some sort of grounding in Crane operation and technique. Well it doesn’t, however you do get ‘on the job training’ in the form of a series of very basic instructions detailing which keys control each particular manipulation of the winch, hook or body. It’s a fairly effective method as it starts off simple enough for anyone to get to grips with as you first move the body round and lift a board from the back of a flatbed truck. It’s pretty sensibly increased by small parts until you’re very soon able to lift, rotate, twist and place objects with the crane with some degree of success. It’s fairly hard to go wrong as well, since the objects will flash yellow at three of the four corners with the final red corner showing you how to align it with the destination.

Since the simulation comprises of not a whole lot more than basically lifting and placing objects, there is a cunning method of scoring in place. You So once you’ve mastered the controls, it’s simply a case of increasing your speed and accuracy. Every time you pick a load up, a 300 second counter begins to tick away, letting you build a higher score by getting it into place as fast and as cleanly as possible. Bump into another object and you’ll lose precious seconds off your score, which is tallied up at the end of each segment. Allowing the competative Craner to work on their abilities and see how they’ve done.

Unfortunately this is where the game starts to fall apart. There’s a curious duality to Crane Simulator 2009. It manages to be both an entertaining and curiously addictive passtime on one hand and on the other a colossally repetative waste of precious life-seconds. When the mood takes you and the controls are at your fingers, the fun is definitely there. You’ll grin to yourself as you slickly grab red and blue cargo blocks from a ship like Gordon Freeman never quite got to in Half-life 2, or seamlessly slip the chimney stack into the tiny slot in the roof of your house. However you’ll curse the makers children the moment you need to stop and come back later because, quite criminally, Astragon never saw fit to include a save-game option. This means that as soon as you start a game segment; such as roofing the upper level of the house or loading the ship, you have to finish it in one sitting or start again from scratch.

Now whilst this isn’t exactly a huge inconvenience, it falls apart further when you note that you cannot play any later levels until you unlock them by playing all of the previous games. Now while building a house isn’t that uninteresting, it does get repetative fast and nothing would break up the flow like building an inner-city yuppie factory for a short jaunt. Instead, you must build the house, then you must load the ship then you can play with the Tower Crane. Now while a simulation needs some level of authenticity to keep it realistic I don’t think that the best way to make a game is to focus on making the tedium of a working day toiling behind a jib the key part of the experience. If that was the case they could at least have included some sort of industrial action minigame (ok, you’re being weird again -Ed)

So what we end up with is a curious mixture of repetative boredom and precision perfectionism, tied together with a lot of lifting and dropping. Is that the life of a crane operator, it might just be, in which case the game succeeds. An interesting curiosity, which will likely be gracing the bargain bins of your local supermarket sometime soon. The funny thing is, it might just be worth reaching your arm down and picking it up.



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