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Game Info:

Jalopy
Developed by: Minskworks
Published by: Excalibur Games
Release date: March 28, 2018
Available on: Windows
Genre: Driving Simulation
Number of players: Single player
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Price: $14.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you, Excalibur Games, for sending us a review key!

In the early days of the automobile, families fortunate enough to own a car might have taken it out on an afternoon trip, enjoying the pleasantness of the countryside and the drive for their own sake. This charmed time was unimpeded by traffic jams, stoplights, speed limits, turn signals - all unavoidable traits of a modern drive that prevent it from having the same charm. The zen effect of a modern solo road trip is instead characterized by constant attention to repetitive tasks, a fine and soothing experience in its own right despite the consequences of neglecting those tasks. By centering on a Soviet-era rustbucket, Jalopy and its titular Laika 601 Deluxe reproduce that feeling of a long, lonely modern road trip with tasks unique to a broken car. While driving across the European countryside, the Laika must be washed, maintained, and kept full of gas manually mixed with oil. It is easy to get stranded and easy to get going again. With no pressure to be anywhere quickly and little penalty for restarting, the player is welcome to relax and enjoy the ride. It’s a pity the ride is glitchy, ugly, and paradoxically easy yet frustrating.

Jalopy opens with the player character awoken by the alarm clock. Like so many things in this game, the annoyance of the alarm clock can be intuitively silenced by hitting a small button, or you can ignore it and go about your business. This tradeoff between annoyance via persistent problem and annoyance via small, fiddly task pervades the game. The player must gather and install all the parts and tools of the car to start the journey, but then issues from a bad air filter to a whining passenger can be ignored if you can accept the consequences. Your only task is to get that car to Istanbul. While the central gameplay is finding discarded goods on the side of the road to hock in exchange for parts and supplies, the game cares very little about your ability or desire to do so. Don’t want to take up space in the trunk for a spare fuel tank? You can get out of the car and literally push it hundreds of kilometers at any time. It’s empowering, in a melancholy and realistic way.

Jalopy
Highlights:

Strong Points: Soothing; littered with clever, intuitive mechanics
Weak Points: Littered with unexplained, random mechanics; buggy; short with no motivation to master the essential mechanics of the game
Moral Warnings: Tobacco and wine portrayed; goods can be smuggled and sold over borders

Walking and driving use arrow keys/WASD or a gamepad, and driving supports a wheel controller (though I did not confirm a wheel's functionality myself). Most interactions with the world involve clicking on items to pick them up and put them down. Changing a tire calls for opening the trunk, retrieving the jack (which you hopefully didn’t sell for gasoline), propping up the car, unscrewing the tire, replacing it, screwing on the new tire, and letting the car down. Repeat as necessary. This is not meant as a negative point; the simple and necessary act of changing the Laika’s tires filled me with an inexplicable satisfaction usually reserved for those with the will to make their bed in the morning. The mouse mechanics are wonderfully consistent. If you get out of the car and realize the headlights or windshield wipers are on, you can reach inside to shut them off without getting back into the car. Washing the car requires wetting a sponge and cleaning it off periodically; alternatively, you can deal with the dirty windows. The player’s wallet must be manually taken into each motel and gas station and given to each clerk. I was delighted to discover that the radio correctly simulates stereo sound, playing out of my physical left and right speakers as I turned my avatar’s head to check for oncoming traffic. You likely recognize this as what happens in the physical world. Not often does an indie game seek to simulate life quite this mundane.

After spending the night in a motel, a procedurally-generated but straightforward route to the next city is selected from a map. Each route might have rain, a supply stop, potholes, and other environmental conditions. Sometimes a route will unexpectedly have a bridge out, requiring a detour along train tracks. Toward the end of my playthrough the Laika dutifully forded an overflowing riverbed. Every route, hopefully, will have boxes along the road that can be searched for commodities to sell. If you’re lucky, you might come across abandoned cars from which to restock and loot parts. Just remember to turn the hazards on then off when leaving and entering the car, or the passenger, your uncle, will complain.

The uncle is one of the more irritating aspects of the game and, for that reason, felt very necessary to the experience despite the ability to leave him at the starting point. Drive too fast and he’ll tell you to slow down. Choose to drive in the rain without the wipers and he’ll remind you where to find them. Start driving with the hazard lights on and he’ll passive-aggressively mutter, “Have mercy.” He tells you that if you turn the radio on he’ll get the hint and stop talking. I did, and he didn’t. Charitably I would attribute this to the game’s realistic portrayal of the man’s old age. Old age is, after all, how I have chosen to explain the disaster of stepping out of the car, falling into a ditch in the level geometry, and failing to reach back up to the road. My uncle, you see, was too frail to help me. Fortunately, you can reset your location to the start at any time, and your car keeps its upgrades.

Jalopy
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 54%
Gameplay - 12/20
Graphics - 4/10
Sound - 5/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 3/5

Morality Score - 96%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

More realistically, I have to attribute the event to the game’s lack of polish. The graphics are crude, and cracks between entities in the environment are many. The in-game radio is bland. Jalopy is stable enough to handle repeated tabs in and out of the game (which many higher-budget games fail to accomplish). Keeping Spotify or a podcast on in the background makes good lemonade out of the lemon of Jalopy’s sound design. Event flags fail to trigger, sometimes leaving the uncle stranded outside of the car, refusing to come into the motel. The end of the game was not properly triggered until I quit and resumed. Items will jam in unreachable places on occasion, wasting your precious money. Worse than the glitches is the thorough lack of explanation of the car’s upgrades. Once you buy a new ignition coil you can see the stats, but all upgrade purchases are blind, with only the name and price to go by.

The main virtue of the upgrades is that they don’t break down as quickly as the stock parts. The game was not hard to finish once I upgraded the car with some extra inventory space and random new parts. Only one long stretch of road between cities gave me any difficulty. My third time reaching that point, I coasted through and on to Istanbul. Again the game shows its indifference; there is no reason to take great care of the car or to learn which parts are valuable.

There are few moral issues in the game. Wine and tobacco are valuable trade goods which are never consumed. Countries will ban the transport of certain items, so smuggling banned goods is a lucrative way to pay your way. The punishment for being caught smuggling is a fine at the border.

It is difficult to recommend Jalopy. The game is buggy, limited, ugly, and short. It is not fun. My best times with the game came from having Spotify running in the background as I drove along the coast, speeding along without a care in the sunny weather. That did not happen often, punctuated as the game is by dangerous bugs. The pleasurable moments Jalopy gave me didn’t overcome the sense that there was something more engaging, more fun, more enhancing, or even more restful I’d rather be doing.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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