Jalopy is a game about driving a terrible car in a land of psychopaths.

Written by Rick Lane

May 3, 2016 | 12:31

Tags: #top-gear

Companies: #minskworks

See, Jalopy might be a game about the open road, but it equally a game about cars. Well, to be more preicse, it's a game about a car. I'm reluctant to call it a simulation, because like the art style Jalopy's systems paint in fairly broad strokes. It's more a celebration of engineering, of whirring engines and greasy overalls and kicking the tyres and wiping your hands on an oily rag and saying things like "Oh yeah, your exhaust definitely needs oiling (I've never spoken to a mechanic in my life)."

Jalopy is a game about driving a terrible car in a land of psychopaths.

Before your road-trip commences, your Uncle gives you a detailed rundown of how to look after your car, from replacing your tyres to building your engine piece by piece. You even need to mix oil with your gasoline when you refuel, in order to keep the engine running efficiently. It's important to point out, that, while detailed, it isn't difficult to understand. Everything is presented in a very methodical, hands on fashion that is actually quite fun to tinker with. You don't need to figure out where each component goes, only that it needs to go somewhere. Indeed, one aspect of Jalopy that is generally great is how tactile everything is. When you stop the car, for example, you have to "pull" the handbrake before "turning" the keys to switch the engine off, and when you pay for items you buy, you do it by taking your wallet in store and handing over the money.

Naturally, all of this information goes out the window when something goes wrong, and you end up desperately trying to remember how to replace a tyre while a queue of traffic is honking at you like a flock of angry geese. And things will go wrong, frequently. The starting parts for your Laika are temperamental at best, and you'll be lucky to get through the first day without something going awry in the engine department.

Jalopy is a game about driving a terrible car in a land of psychopaths.

Indeed, Jalopy soon reveals itself to be something of a rogue-like. Your first few trips will almost certainly end with you having to restart, whether it's through getting stuck on a hill that's too steep for the car to climb, running out of fuel, an engine blowout or so forth. You can carry replacement tyres and repair kits in the boot, but that space is also used to pick up boxes and crates left on the side of the road, some of which contain juicy contraband that you can sell at petrol stations for a small profit. Over time, you can improve the quality of the car, enabling you to go longer without having to stop for repairs.

Picking up random stuff off the side of the road is an odd way of introducing an economy into the game. It fits with the tone to an extent, Jalopy is all about surprises and chance discoveries, after all. But it needs refinement, which can probably be said about the concept as a whole.

Jalopy is a game about driving a terrible car in a land of psychopaths.

Being an early access game, there are plenty of issues that need addressing. The AI for other drivers is astonishingly aggressive. I don't mind this too much, it adds a bit of challenge into the otherwise fairly simplistic driving. But when one rams into the back of you and you incur a penalty charge for it, that's a bit much.

Also, I'm broadly happy with the direction the game is going in terms of difficulty, but at the moment journeys rarely have a hard "failure" state. Instead, you simply get into a situation where it's impossible to go any further and are forced to restart, which is always rather anticlimactic. It can also be hard to tell whether you've screwed up or the game has. Getting stuck on inclines is one example, I've also had to restart because the car got stuck on geometry. In these situations, there definitely needs to be the ability to get out and push.

Jalopy is a game about driving a terrible car in a land of psychopaths.

Nevertheless, I'm fairly confident that, when it's finished, Jalopy is going to be great. The concept is enormously attractive, a game about cars and roads that doesn't involve racing or running people over, and I was surprised by how much substance there is already to the mechanics (both in the systemic sense and the vehicular sense). If nothing else, it's taught me more about cars than any episode of Top Gear. Let's just hope Jalopy can keep its engine running until it reaches its final destination.
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May 5 2021 | 09:30