Excalibur – Digger Simulator 2011 review

No, the earth didn't move for us.
Photo of Excalibur – Digger Simulator 2011

As the name suggests, Digger Simulator 2011 is a simulation of digging. And no, we’re not talking about trowels and weeding the garden, or messing around with spades in the flowerbeds. This sim is all about making the earth move using a range of industrial diggers, trucks, bulldozers, vibration rollers and other heavy machinery to excavate and craft the landscape ready for building.

Can you dig it? Um… no
And if you think that sounds a bit dry, well… you’d be right. And then some. In fact, this game’s drier than a Martini served with a sandpaper umbrella by a mirage waiter in the middle of the Sahara. The basic concept is to tackle 30 different scenarios for monetary rewards. The earned cash can be spent on more advanced diggers and other machinery that’s required for later missions.

When all’s said and done, Digger Simulator’s uninspiring missions can be pretty much reduced to two bare elements: digging and flattening. You might have to dig a narrow trench to lay a pipe, say, or flatten a piece of ground to lay the concrete foundations for a house. Perhaps you’ll be digging a hole next to a cellar, granting access to allow the wall to be insulated. But whatever you’re doing, rest assured the process will be imbued with the kind of mind-numbing tedium normally associated with tax returns or sorting granny’s button collection.

Spiralling down
Digging a deep trench is a ridiculously slow process. To begin with, the digging arm must be swung across, then you extend it, bring it down, scoop the bucket into the earth, pull it up, swing away from the hole, tip the dirt out, then rinse and repeat.

Yes, this is a digging game, so you’re expected to dig – no surprises there. But the sheer volume of repetition is mind-boggling – you have to inch along on your caterpillar tracks, repeating the exact same process literally hundreds of times.

Okay, tiny variations and corrections are necessary as you dig away, and occasionally some earth might need to be tipped back into a hole that you’ve dug too deep. But this only prolongs the agony and tops up irritation levels.

Seriously – this is supposed to be entertainment on some level? It might be enjoyable in some respect for hardcore heavy machinery fans, but not us, and we suspect most other gamers. After a number of hours of non-stop excavating, there was only one thing we wanted to dig, and that was a shallow grave to throw our pixel-fashioned driver into.

Stale, flat and unprofitable
Flattening stuff is possibly even more infuriating. This involves using the bulldozer to level out a section of ground, pushing the earth around. It sounds like it should be much easier than the digging, but that isn’t the case. Getting the terrain level is a fiddly process which involves a great deal of messing about with camera angles, and tussling with slightly awkward controls.

Small molehills tend to be left around, or indentations where too much dirt has been displaced – either way you’ll spend a lot of time correcting slight errors. After 30 minutes of shoving little bits of earth here and there, the will to live, let alone the will to play, slowly ebbs.

Lacking in variety
At the very least, the developer could have introduced some management facets, with the player running a construction company, perhaps bidding for commissions and managing accounts between the overly lengthy bouts of digging. Sadly, the opportunity to flesh the game out in that direction has been ignored.

Throw in some lacklustre graphics, and dubious physics – we drove our digger partially through other items of machinery, and even inside a concrete block at one point – and you’ve got yourself a game which is the equivalent of playing tiddlywinks with razor blades. Painful.

Company: Excalibur

We can safely say that Digger Simulator inspired us to want to drive a real bulldozer. Only because we're not sure that running over the game's CD-ROM in our car would splinter it into enough pieces to ensure the disc could never be pieced back together.