Have you ever wished you could embark on a Thelma and Louise style road trip through 1970’s Italy? Buckle up, amica. Wheels of Aurelia is available now on Steam and PS4, and is coming soon to XBOX One.
Part rally racer, part choose-your-own-adventure, part graphic novel, this is a game like no other. You begin your quest in Rome with your new friend Olga, heading to France in search of a mysterious rendezvous with a figure from your past, and an abortion, respectively. You can also swap companions and pick up hitchhikers, further complicating the plot. Depending on your conversation choices, and which path you take on the highway, your fate could have as many as sixteen different endings ranging from happy live-in gal pals to untimely death.
The storytelling is enhanced by the stealthy use of real history, which is stored for later reference in your “Wheelapedia.” Just by exploring the various conversation topics, you can learn about the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro, the phenomenal achievements of Simone Veil, and even, interestingly, a few tidbits about David Bowie. Speaking of which, the soundtrack is pure funky gold. I don’t know why Olga repeatedly asks you to turn it off, because every track adds flavor to your adventure up the Italian coast. That combined with the stylish character illustrations and dreamy color palette, makes this title a treat for the senses.
With that in mind, there are however a few things that don’t quite work.
For a driving game, the driving mechanic is surprisingly clunky. You can leave your car on auto-pilot, giving you time to respond to your friends’ questions and comments and come up with the right response. But even in self-driving mode, the car occasionally bashes into other vehicles or drifts into the wrong lane. Some portions of the game involve races or other timed adventures (like escaping from the police) but flooring the accelerator makes the car almost impossible to control with no noticeable increase in speed.
Different endings occasionally allow you to unlock different cars, with the idea being that some cars are faster and more powerful. But on one playthrough I found myself winning a race with the goofy tricycle tractor that I had to accept as a consolation for losing that race in a previous playthrough. With the exception of the police car, there isn’t really much difference in the speed of your different vehicles (and the police car makes an annoying siren sound when you hit the gas).
What’s more, there’s not an option to save your progress and try again, so if you want to see the ending that would unfold had you won the race instead of lost, you must play through the entire fifteen minute story from the beginning all over again just for another shot at the same tricky race. To make matters worse, it is virtually impossible to talk to your friend and still drive fast. I’ve repeatedly had to ignore Olga’s lighthearted banter or serious questions, all for the sake of keeping up my speed, which detracts from the conversation and role-playing aspect of this game.
One other hangup I have is that while some choices are up to the player, some things are still out of our hands. I meet a smug fascist at a rest stop and he challenges me to a race where the winner takes the loser’s car, for example. That seems like a request I would politely decline in order to avoid stranding my pregnant friend and myself on the side of the road, but there’s no option to say no. It makes sense from a racing perspective, but not from a role-playing (or a practical) standpoint.
Still, these quirks are forgivable given the beauty and sheer novelty of Wheels of Aurelia. It passes the Bechdel test within the first ten seconds, sheds light on an overlooked period of history, and provides memorable, sympathetic characters, all while humanizing some hot button political topics. So start your engines. The Via Aurelia awaits.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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