Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Wheels of Aurelia


There have been some unusual experiences to be had on the Nintendo Switch to this point but I’d say none of them have left me quite as baffled as Wheels of Aurelia. In principle it is a sort of interactive novel, where you’ll encounter some hitchhikers as your character makes her way through a 1970s Italy. Somewhat inexplicably while having conversations with the people you’ve met you’ll then often end up in a small road race of sorts whose outcome will then further influence the outcome of your roughly 20 minute vignette. Like I said, it’s simply very different.


You play the game as Lella, a character who you’d ideally gain some connection over your many playthroughs but who consistently remains sort of an enigma. There are hints of her background gleaned from the dialogue choices you’ll be given over the course of your play sessions but since there’s a tug of war between the choices the game will give you, typically only 2 in addition to simply not saying anything, and the choices you’ll choose to make it remains difficult to connect with who she really is and that ends up keeping you at a distance and never really forgetting this is just a game you’re playing.

The vehicle for teasing out aspects of who Lella is will come in the form of who you’ll interact with over the course of your play session. Starting with Olga, who at some point you’ll learn is pregnant, you’ll be able to explore feminism and abortion as a start, though since you only have so much control over the course of the conversations there is a certain degree of railroading to things rather than it being a full exploration of the topics. You’ll also encounter people you can pick up who’ll range from utterly odd to pious to even criminal and the conversations you’ll get into can, at times, get amusing with some of her more flippant dialogue choices. But I’m leaving out another component to the game that you won’t be able to miss, the driving and trying to hold a conversation while you’re either in a race of some sort or simply trying not to plow into other drivers.


While obviously driving is tied to the game’s name, how you are encountering other people in the first place, and events that will affect the direction of how a given storyline will play out it is, at best, half-baked. You’ll only be able to press a button to make the car go (slightly) faster, roughly steer, and that’s about it. The good news is that there are no concerns with driving poorly and getting into a crash, you’ll merely bump into other cars and lose a little momentum but that’s about it. The bad news is that not only will you typically be put into a situation where you’ll want to take over for the game’s automatic slow driving, whether in a race, staying on the tail of a fascist jackhole, or somehow assisting in a getaway, you’ll have to try to fight with the control of your car while also holding a conversation. It’s times like these that the awkwardness of the control schemes are revealed and it is difficult to tell if this is on purpose in a sort of “texting while driving” commentary sort of way or it’s just simply where things landed.

Ultimately Wheels of Aurelia plays out as a hodge podge of ideas put together in a package that is hard to define a target audience for. It most certainly isn’t a racing game, its commentary on politics and some social issues specific to the time and region may not be able appeal or speak to everyone, and the relatively short play times per session rob you of getting any insight into Lella or the people she’s happens to meet along the way. It mostly then just ends up being a somewhat curious and sometimes amusing conversation simulator where you can explore your options to see where they take you, just don’t expect to go far.


Score: 4.5

Pros:
  • I can easily say there’s nothing like it on the platform
  • Could be instructive as a commentary on the social and political issues in 1970s Italy
  • Short play sessions could potentially be appealing to some


Cons:
  • The short play sessions ultimately rob you of getting to know Lella or the people she encounters past a very superficial level
  • The less said about the wonky driving controls and situation the better
  • It’s very difficult to clearly identify who this game is meant for to try to recommend it to them


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