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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