The Perfect Roadtrip Game

I’ve played a few games about roadtrips recently. It wasn’t intentional, though I do love the idea of games about journeys, they all just happened to land in my lap at the same time. First up was Overland, a turn-based tactical post-apocalyptic game about travelling across a bug-infested America. Then there was The Crew, in which I competed with Brendan in a race. That also took me across the US. If you’d rather escape the US, check out the excellent Death Road to Canada, which is funny, short and sweet…with lots of guts and headshots.

And there’s Jalopy, a game about car maintenance and travelling across the former Eastern bloc. Finally, I spun the Wheels of Aurelia, the most interesting of the three in many ways. That’s a game about the conversations you have with people as you drive, rather than the driving itself.

Three very different takes on what is a similar starting point. You’re in a car and you need to get from A to B. What makes that different from an actual racing game is the stops you make along the way, for one thing. A roadtrip tends not to be one continuous forward motion, but a series of starts and stops, and diversions.

The shadow of Euro Truck Simulator and its Americanised cousin will hang over every driving game, and playing these four recently I decided to draw up a list of features that I hoped to see in the perfect roadtrip sim.


I want to take along food and drinks, maybe even boardgames and other entertainments. Ideally, I should be able to stock up along the way, stopping at service stations and the like.


Gotta get your head down when you’re driving long distances. Sure, I want to have a backseat I can bed down on if need be, maybe even a mobile home to decorate, but I’d love to be able to walk around motels and pick a room as well.


The road is all well and good, but I don’t want to be travelling forever. The Crew is very good at destinations – its cities might not be to scale, but they’re large enough to have recognisable districts and landmarks. It’s the area where the Truck Simulator games are weakest, the lack of urban sprawl, but that’s because those are games about the in-between that treat cities as little more than depots. But in the ideal roadtrip game I’ll be able to walk around a city, go to a bar, visit a museum or park. All that good stuff.


People like achievements, right? Souvenirs are a kind of achievement – a memory of a task accomplished. In this case, you’d be taking photos or buying some local piece of tat to commemorate your visits.


Travelling alone can be fantastic but if I want friends along on my roadtrip, I should be able to invite them or collect them along the way. Interaction doesn’t need to be complex – Death Road to Canada’s simple system or traits and perks is enough for me to get a handle on characters given the nifty pixel art – but there should be at least some kind of conversation system to break up the hours on the open road.

If you run out of fuel, the whole thing becomes a horror game

If you’re in a city and the tank runs dry, fine, you can sort something out I’m sure. But if you’re on the backroads, at night, in a storm? You better believe the whole thing suddenly transforms into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Enjoy!

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  1. caff says:

    I like all your ideas.

    But if I could have a roadtrip game, it would be along the lines of Easy Rider or Fear and Loathing.

    • poliovaccine says:

      First off, I love that angle, and second, I could see that being a real nice horror game frameup.. like, for one thing, among your Supplies would be drugs, and like in real life, there shoulf actually be incentives to use them, to get you interacting with their mechanisms – to me, the effects of drugs are an untapped goldmine of game design potential haha… and then the horror element could come from all kinds of novel angles – from Southern backwaters who are homicidally unfriendly to longhairs, a la poor Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, to flat out paranoia – civilians turning into alerted police right before your eyes or something, but paranoia is a tough one, cus it should be able to culminate in violence, but incentivized to be only as a last resort…

      A proper road trip game would be fantastic in any right, though. I actually have been trying out Jalopy myself, and I like it but I’ll like it more once it’s had time to grow… but that sense of travel is just plain fun, in movies, games, real life, etc.

      I wouldn’t mind it being an “on the lam” kind of scenario, to keep things moving, to make it a tense and dangerous thing to get involved with people you meet, to get attached… that could be really cool RPG material, methinks.

      Along similar lines, with a different kind of fleeing, the early promo shots of State of Decay, back before it came out, made me envision more of a travel/road trip element to it – I don’t mind the basebuilding focus it’s got instead, but I would still love to see that game, that open world, character driven, RPG-lite, 3rd person zombie chase game that I mistakenly envisioned. I fucking love motels.

      Anyway – nice post, nice musings, glad to see them put to some kind of a forefront – as in, would be cool if some handily capable developers took notice and wanted to take a crack at the idea, right..? After seeing RPS pretty much singlehandedly champion the dramatic price-dropping of overpriced, prehistoric, niche wargame sims which simply needed their prices to be dropped, frankly I believe they can do anything, those wizards..! That time they represented an unseen but nonetheless broad population of folks who shared the same opinions, and I think this case isn’t much different… exceeeept that making a whole new game is way harder than dropping the price on some of your old ones you made already… but in principle..! *raises finger in the air, it wilts*

  2. MOONRGR says:

    I like all your ideas, except the last one: a perfect road trip turned into a painstaking task of constantly checking the fuel level (at least for OCDs like myself).

  3. Kollega says:

    All of those suggestions are fair (except for turning the game into horror if you get stranded who-knows-where… though a roadtrip game crossed with Courage the Cowardly Dog-style surreal backwater horror sounds like a great idea in and of itself) – but what I would add to the list is The Crew/FUEL-style huge (as in, legitimately huge) open world with no necessity to stick to the roads, and a reason to carry out road trips repeatedly, like for example the planetborne equivalent to the space trading gameplay from the likes of Elite, Freelancer, and the X series.

  4. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    Of course the GTA-Games are great for road trips. I drove the hell out of both San Andreas and Liberty City. They are amongst the most “populated” and non-repetitive open worlds.

    Also, I want to mention FUEL (again). If anyone hasn’t read it, you should read Jim’s Route across its beautiful post-Trump North America.

  5. brulleks says:

    Essentially, you want 80 Days Around The World in a contemporary-set first-person game. And so do I.

  6. Abacus says:

    “The shadow of Euro Truck Simulator and its Americanised cousin will hang over every driving game”

    This is so true. I recently drove with a convoy in Euro Truck Simulator 2 Multiplayer Mod and I can’t really describe having felt that kind of experience in any other driving game. I heard The Crew was good for long drives?

  7. PcKaffe says:

    I love to just drive in games. I loved The Crew for that reason, I got bored with the story and multiplayer stuff almost immidietly but I have clocked like 30+ hours in the freedrive challenge alone. Just putting on some great music and going really fast in a nice car. I did the Ferrari F40 with some synthwave music a few times, felt just like a new Outrun… Fuck I want a new Outrun.

  8. Spinkick says:

    Anyone remember some of the car wars novels? Youd have a mission or have to travel from one place to the other and have various encounters in a much more violent future.

  9. Unsheep says:

    Jalopy seems great so far, I hope it comes to GOG eventually so I can actually play it for myself.

    Some other good road-trip games ?

    Interstate ’76 and ’82 would reserve the top spots for me when it comes to this theme. A cool combination of vehicular combat and [mostly] open road journeys.

    The Test Drive Unlimited games were also good for that, they had huge maps that took over an hour to completely drive around. Just pick a car from your glorious collection and drive around the pretty landscapes.

    The Forza Horizon games are good road-trip games, apart from the constant reminders from your “handler” to ‘do this’ and ‘don’t forget to do that’. Still, you get day-night transitions and weather effects, which add to the atmosphere of the games.

    GTA V was a surprisingly fun road-trip game, and you had many different ways to traverse the game-world: vehicle, boat, and airplane/helicopter. Not to mention running, biking and so on. It’s a shame the developers did not take full advantage of the game-world when creating the core game, most notably in single-player content.

    NFS The Run had a great concept but fell a bit short when it came to the length of the game; an epic race across the US should not be over in just a few hours. The Crew actually became what I hoped The Run would be. Still, NFS The Run is a good game if you want to experience a wide range of settings and environments, from snow and desert to fields and city landscapes.

    Red Dead Redemption, while not driving per se, is still a really good road-trip type game, with plenty of random events happening as you make your journey across the map.