PUBLISHER: Excalibur Games
RELEASED: April 22nd, 2016
Disclaimer: A Steam code was provided by the developer for review purposes on PC.
I’ve been a fan of driving games ever since I was little, primarily racers. While it’s always exhilarating to play a game with lots of speed, sometimes it’s just nice to ease off the gas and take a nice atmospheric ‘Sunday drive’ to unwind. That’s essentially the feeling you’ll get when you play Jalopy: driving in the slow lane.
Unlike your typical driving game, Jalopy has a narrative. It’s no wonder why the developer describes it as being a ‘carPG’. In this first-person adventure, you play as a dialogue-less character named Spalt who lives in Germany with your old Uncle Lüfti. Your journey starts bright and early one morning when Uncle wakes you up before dawn to begin a road trip from East Germany all the way to Turkey. What’s your vessel for this voyage? A jalopy. Get it? It means ‘an old, dilapidated car’. Let me tell you, the game definitely lives up to its name.
Indeed, the car that you’ll be driving is most certainly a jalopy. To be exact, it’s a Laika Deluxe 601 which is a fictional car based on the real-world VEB Trabant; a German car that first began production back in 1957. This retro car fits the whole theme of the game, as the timeline is set in the middle of the early Cold War era. This is indicated throughout the game with little bits and pieces scattered throughout the journey. While you nor Uncle is participating in the real war, you both have to face a battle of your own: surviving the road trip in this old wreck of a car.
Upon beginning the game, you’ll actually have to assemble just about every component of the Laika minus the car’s frame. Get used to this, because you’ll be doing it quite often. Jalopy isn’t simply just about driving. Rather, it’s a mixture of driving along with being an amateur mechanic. I must say, this makes the experience quite interesting.
Jalopy isn’t just about driving — it’s about making sure your car survives the ride.
The main objective of the game is to get from East Germany to Turkey while keeping the Laika running. Since the Laika is in such a rundown condition, you’ll have to be very careful with how you drive it. Not only does it take forever to get up to speed, but the various engine parts will constantly have to be fixed and replaced, along with the four tires. Each component has a durability meter, and when it runs out, that’s when the trouble starts. So, make sure you don’t hit anything. You’ll even have to regularly fill up the car with gas and oil. The Laika’s various components can be upgraded by purchasing new parts from a dealership, but the way you earn money in Jalopy is also a lot different than a traditional driving game.
If you keep a lookout on the roadside, you’ll spot cardboard boxes, locked crates and abandoned Laikas every so often. Inside these containers and old cars are items that can be sold at a gas station in exchange for money (you can also use old parts from the abandoned cars to replace broken ones in your own). Some items are more valuable than others: for example, fabric is worth about $2, while wine can go for up to $30 per bottle or more.
Finding items is essential to keeping your journey running ‘smoothly’ as you’ll regularly be spending money to maintain the Laika. Money will also have to be spent at the end of every in-game day to stay at a motel when you arrive in a new city (there 5 in all). So in addition to maintaining the Laika, you also have to make sure your wallet doesn’t hit rock bottom either. But it doesn’t even stop there! To raise the stakes even higher, you have to deal with the Laika’s puny trunk size. This means you have to decide which items you’ll take and which ones must be left behind. Since it’s certainly wise to keep a car jack, an extra gas canister and some engine and tire repair kits on hand, the amount of space that’s left for anything items you find is depressingly tiny.
Keeping track of your funds is very important. Buying and selling items and car parts is essential to completing the journey.
As you can see, Jalopy is not your typical driving game. It can pretty much be classified as an adventure/survival game with driving being the main game mechanic. To an extent, you can almost say that the Laika really is the main character, and having to maintain it is pretty much where the survival elements come in. On my first playthrough, I found myself barely a decent way into the journey and my car was already stuck on the side of the road with an empty gas tank. I had to actually walk all the way to the gas station on foot (which takes forever since you can’t sprint) with an empty canister in hand. In another instance, I made it to one of the towns with almost all of my engine parts and tires at 0 durability with a nearly empty wallet. So, I had to sell essential items like a spare tire, engine repair kit, and my car jack just to get enough funds to pay for the motel room so I could continue the game. Going through these mini-trials made me realize just how realistic this game is. It may be an indie title with a simple art style, but Jalopy certainly has some depth to it.
While Jalopy may sound frustrating (it really is), at least its presentation has some warm charm. The simplistic, polygonal 3D art style isn’t anything new, but it really fits the game’s old-timey aesthetic. Not to mention it makes even the direst of situations a little easier to deal with simply because the visuals just have a calming nature to them. The game’s soundtrack is tiny, but it does sound authentic as if the songs really came from the 50s-60s era that the story is set in. While there is character dialogue, none of it is voice-acted. Even so, the mumbles and grunts that the characters make are actually appealing and continue to fit the aesthetic. Overall, Jalopy’s presentation compliments the rest of the experience quite nicely.
For all the charm that Jalopy has, it must be noted that it’s still an Early Access title. As a result, there are some bugs and hiccups that do muddy the experience just a bit. As the game continues to be updated, these problems will gradually be taken care of. But in the meantime, just be mindful of the fact that there may be times where you have to restart your journey because of a game-breaking glitch.
— THE BOTTOM LINE —
Like spending time with an elder relative, Jalopy is a laidback and charming experience.
The time I spent with Jalopy was filled with an interesting mixture of happiness, bliss and total frustration. It’s certainly one of the most unique driving games I’ve ever played. While the game basically forces you to take things slow and steady, it’s actually not a bad change of pace.
Having to keep an eye on every component of my beaten-up Laika was definitely not something I was used to, but I actually began to enjoy doing it once I got the hang of the game’s mechanics. Stopping on the side of the road to change a flat tire in the rain somehow ended up becoming a soothing experience after doing it enough times. Even reading the mini history lessons Uncle would give as we drove through the various European countries was rather interesting. The simplistic and warm presentation was the icing on the cake. Once the glitches and bugs are taken care of, then the game will really feel like a solid package.
While I did enjoy Jalopy from beginning to end, I must say it’s definitely not for everyone. If you’re into speed, this is not the type of driving game you’ll enjoy. If you don’t mind merging into the slow lane and being a bit more careful, then Jalopy is sure to deliver a charming experience.