As someone who cannot drive (I have depth-perception issues, which as you would imagine is a bad thing when operating several hundred pounds of metal at any speed), packing up one day and taking myself on a road trip is something is something I just can’t do, despite the appeal. I’ve often tried to use video games as a surrogate for that urge, but most of the time I’m misusing a game for that purpose. For example, Grand Theft Auto 5 has believably rural areas north of down to drive through to simulate going out on a trip, but sooner or later I’m going to find someone with a nicer car, and the urge to jack their ride takes over and suddenly I’m just playing GTA again. Jalopy promises something different, a driving game that’s about the trip as much as the destination.
Before the destination or even the trip, I have to fix up the titular jalopy. From first glace I notice that it has no wheels and is missing a door. The door is an easy fix seeing as how we’re sitting in what looks like an auto junkyard, so I grab the nearest door and shove it on the car. Who cares if it matches, or even fits – it’s a door. A dude in a distressingly flickering plaid yellow jacket tells me to pop open the hood and take a look inside. So I do.There’s nothing, and I mean nothing in this engine compartment. I briefly consider what I can get for this wreck in scrap until Yellow Jacket Man tells me he just happens to have the engine and all its constituent parts sitting around – they’re just not in the car. I put the engine together, gas it up, throw on some wheels, add some water to the water-tank-thingy (again, not a car person here) and get ready to drive off on that long dreamt-of road trip. Before I leave, I toss my tools as well as the left-over gas, water and oil in the trunk, as much to get them out from in front of the car as to take them with me. Who knows? They could come in handy down the line. We pull out of the garage area and I immediately wish we’d left at a different time or on a different day. I seriously cannot see where I’m going. The short, foggy draw distance combined with dim lighting and dingy, low-res graphics means that I’m basically driving into what feels like an eternal dust storm. Well, you can’t always have great weather for a road trip so Yellow Jacket Man and I press on. Reveling in the control I have over my car, I open my window and turn on the radio for some tunes. I immediately regret the latter decision and turn the radio back off. We make it a good way down the road, through a tunnel and past a round-about when I hit something on the side of the road while going up a hill. This kills my momentum and no matter what I try I can’t get the car going forward again. I save and quit, hoping a reload will fix the issue but I log back in at the garage again. Well, at least the car’s already in one piece this time. Let’s try this again!
We pass through the tunnel again, go around the round-about again, and make it over the hill, but the car is starting to smoke and it’s not driving very well when Yellow Jacket Man suggests we stop and spend the night in an upcoming town before crossing the border. Sure, sounds like a good idea but the sun just came up. At least, I think it did. It’s pretty hard to tell the time of day in Jalopy. I drag our smoking, clunking car into a hotel, grab my wallet and go inside to rent a room. This is actually pretty fun; I get to walk up to the front desk, get my room keys, walk to my room upstairs, use my keys to get in, and then finally leave the keys on the outside of the door when I go in for the night, insuring that I am not safe at all and anyone can either rob me, kill me in my sleep, or steal the keys at any time. Well, that last part isn’t so much fun.
Thankfully this is a nice, peaceful town so after I get my sleep, I go downstairs to find that Yellow Jacket Man apparently slept in the car all night. I sure hope I didn’t pay for a room for two people! We begin to pull out towards the nearby border crossing station, but I make a quick (relatively, that is) turn back across town to what looked like a car shop, hoping for repairs and some gas. I park next to the gas pump and walk in to the store. No one inside seems to want to help so I buy two more repair kits (I’d used up the one I had already) and went back out to fix my clunker. I ended up accidentally disassembling the car in the process of trying to fix it, but fix it I did. Confident that I didn’t forget anything, we head to the border crossing station for an uneventful passage. The only drama was me spending a few minutes figuring out why I couldn’t hand my papers to the person in the window, only to realize that I needed to roll my window down first. Sometimes I’m not too bright.As we drive into the night (again) we hit a dirt road that proceeds to kick mud all over my new (but not really) car, forcing me to learn where the windshield wiper switch was. Oh, and then how to use the squirty water (that’s a technical term, right?) to actually clean off the mud instead of just brushing it around gently. This goes road on for quite some time, and the whole time Yellow Jacket Man is expositing about a bridge we were approaching. Something about who it was named after, and how much they loved the bridge… I honestly wasn’t paying attention because he talks in dialog balloons and between the mud, the darkness and the winding road, I had enough trouble without also trying to read his diatribe.
We finally come out off of the dirt road and hit asphalt, so I give the wipers one more go with the squirty-water when suddenly the car shuts down and puts itself into park. I try to start it, but no dice. I grab my remaining repair kits and try to fix the car, but surprisingly nothing is too badly damaged. I get back in and try to start the car again when I remember that I did forget something back at that shop – I didn’t buy any gas. I had parked right next to the gas pump for that very reason, and I forgot to buy any, and now we were stranded. No gas, no cell phones, no hope of reaching our destination.I check my map, hoping to find a near-ish gas station, but instead I found a button to return home. I assume that means that we got a tow, because when I hit it I was transported back to my bed with the car safely outside of our garage. I come out, look at my beat-up jalopy, sigh… and then grab a nearby bucket and sponge to clean off the mud. Hey, it may be a junker, but it’s my junker now, and dammit, I’m going to take care of it.
Jalopy is available in Early Access on Steam, and it’s definitely an interesting experience. There are some serious rough edges to round off, like the car going really fast in reverse and the visibility issues, but I had fun with it. Of course, I went into it expecting pretty much what I got out of it – a unique but unfinished and unpolished driving experience. With some more time under the hood, Jalopy could be pretty fun, especially if you play with a co-pilot sitting next to you, sharing the experience. After all, Yellow Jacket Man isn’t much for conversation.