Wheels of Aurelia is a narrative road trip game brought to you by Santa Ragione. Set in the Italian 70’s, this racing game/interactive fiction tells the story of Lella, a fed up woman who decides to run away from mummy and daddy’s money and take a road trip along the coastal roads of Western Italy, the famous Via Aurelia. Quite a fitting title.
This game plays like an old-school arcade racer, except instead of only trying to burn rubber to the finish line, you have to chat to your passengers, which include a whole bunch of strange and wonderful characters. Italy at the end of the 70’s was a time of terrorism, kidnappings and political turmoil and you’re introduced to that world through the individual characters’ stories and you’ll discover their motivations for driving miles away from home.
Your dialogue decisions and the places you visit (there are very limited junctions along the way) will find you entering illegal street races, car chases and rather odd debates that will make you wonder why the hell you’re letting these people into your vehicle.
When I first pressed start on this game, the first thing I noticed was the soundtrack, which has all seven tracks created just for Wheels of Aurelia and is actually pretty damn good. Its Italian jazz/rock/70’s synth vibes will have you head bopping and learning Italian just so you can sing along.
Then there’s the look, as I mentioned earlier. Its old-school arcade visuals make it seem quite dated but in a modern way – I never said I was going to make sense in my reviews. But once you start playing, it becomes apparent that “making sense” isn’t really the main focus of this game.
The story begins with Lella wanting to get out of town, so she sets off in the middle of the night and picks up a stranger down at the local disco. From there, the plot goes from exciting to Lindsay Lohan on a Friday Night. It’s weird.
As you drive along the roads with your new companion, you learn a little bit about the characters, and each time you chat, you get to pick which piece of dialogue you want the character to say – every decision may or may not affect how the storyline unfolds, so choose wisely – or just press a button before the timer runs out or you’ll sit in silence for the whole journey.
Not only are you choosing how the conversation maps out, you also have to keep an eye on the road. For the most part, the car will steer itself around corners and you’ll continue at a nice steady pace. However, the rest of the Italian drivers (or most likely British tourists who don’t know which side of the road they should be on) have decided it’s a Sunday, and we all love Sunday drivers, right? You can hold the X button to speed up a little and the left stick will steer you around other cars. Simple. Except, it’s not – the pavements along the Via Aurelia must have magnets in them because I seemed drawn to them 90% of the time.
Even with all of the aforementioned excitement happening, you then also get to pick up hitchhikers (the car will pull over automatically as long as you’re not holding X) and sometimes you’ll be challenged to a race or be told to chase down the group of terrorists in the car in front. What has poor Lella got herself into? Don’t worry, she seems like she can handle herself – or at least speak her mind and show off her stubborn feministic views. I have nothing against feminists and I’m all for Girl Power (The Spice Girls definitely begun a revolution back in the 90’s) but Lella just seems like an angry, two-dimensional character who hates any male passenger she picks up, and for a game which is almost about driving and almost about character development/storyline, she doesn’t do a great job of holding the title of Leading Lady. Then again, from what I learnt of her past, she has her reasons to be a bit of an odd ball.
Wheels of Aurelia is, for the most part, a very simple to play game, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy ride (see what I did there?). Failing any of the “missions” along the way will cut the story short and you’ll be given one of the sixteen endings, which is a short couple of paragraphs about how your failure to capture terrorists resulted in destruction and chaos at the centre of Italian Politics. Who knows, maybe if she spent less time sulking about, she could’ve saved the whole world from the rise of terrorism by now?
Overall, I have to say that this game is not for me. I did enjoy the time I spent racing along the roads and checking out the colourful towns and scenery along the way, but it all felt a little flat. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend this game to others – the soundtrack alone is enough to make me a fan and as I said, when the storyline got going a little, it did intrigue me enough to keep playing and find out what the hell was going on. At one point, I was expecting Aliens to bring Elvis back to earth (spoiler alert: they don’t). The racing/car chases were quite exciting (if you can get away from those pesky paving magnets) and the concept is quite therapeutic as you travel your way through a cartoon-like Italy. This is definitely the type of game I’m afraid you’ll have to decide on your own whether or not you want to play; it has its good parts and it’s not so good parts. You may just love it and rev your engines all the way through all sixteen scenarios. Don’t let me stop you.
Karl Rating 6/10
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