When you mention the name ‘Jalopy’ for a PC gamer, there’s high probability he will know what you’re talking about. Developed by the UK indie studio MinksWorks and published by Excalibur Games, Jalopy is a road trip car driving simulator game (for real!) released on Steam in 2018 that has just been ported to consoles, trying to repeat the good performance it had on Valve’s platform.
For those of you who have never heard about the game (like me, before doing this review), in this adventure that mix a walking simulator and point and click vibe with exploration and survival, we will take our dear Uncle Lütfi for a round trip throughout the Eastern Bloc in the period after the fall of the Berlin Wall in a fancy Laika 601 Deluxe – or what’s left of one. Keep close attention to your car conditions, doing all the necessary maintenance to keep it up and running. With no more delays, let’s start our journey! We’ve got a long way ahead.
What do you do? Jalopy is a driving simulator that won’t require any driving skills: instead it will need a lot of strategy regarding resources management: your car’s fuel, oil, tires and motor components durability must all be taken in consideration when hitting the road or you will soon be hiking through the country roads of Germany, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungry, Czech and Slovak Federative Republic and Turkey while listening to the memories of your uncle (a true history lesson). In every stop you will need to buy supplies, upgrade your car so it can endure this trip and make some money by selling goods you find on the road – because, as your uncle says, the road will provide.
What we liked!
- Undoubtedly original: If there’s something this game will be remembered by is the originality of its concept. Who would ever think about having the player in a round-trip through countries of eastern Europe while driving a car with your uncle – a car that will constantly need to be fixed, by the way? Absolutely no one! Well, actually the developer had. And I raise my glass as a compliment for delivering such an uncommon game. Cheers!
- Exploring the world: Each part of this long journey starts with you selecting one of three routes available that will take you to the next country on this trip. The procedurally generated routes vary in weather and terrain conditions as much as the distance and features available. For instance, on longer roads you may find gas stops (that will save you from running out of fuel between one city and another!). In others, you can find abandoned cars with spare parts you can… errr… borrow and install on your own. By getting to each city, you can sleep on a motel (what works as a save point – although the game doesn’t tell you about it), go to a Laika’s dealer to buy parts and upgrades for your vehicle or to a gas station to buy oil, water, new tires and repair kits for your vehicle. As keeping your car up and running will take a lot of money, there you can also sell goods found on the road (or brought from your last city). Lastly, you will find the border to the next country, with guard who will check your papers and examine your car to see if you aren’t in possession of anything illegal in that country. ‘Illegal’, you ask? Yes, illegal. At each motel you stop, you find newspapers that inform you if there are forbidden products in other countries like, for instance, alcohol or tobacco. But what happens when you try to take a forbidden item into a country? Or you will end up paying fines or acting as a smuggler. For real: the game becomes a smuggling simulator – and I doubt you have seen that coming.
- Long journey with little value: Something I didn’t enjoy (but that’s my case because I don’t like walking simulators) is the lack of things to do in this game. Driving isn’t any pleasant as much as opening boxes to pick up goods to store them in your trunk than taking it to the closest store. The mechanic part is somewhat enjoyable, but still very simple. You pick motor components (there are only seven: the engine, carburetor, fuel tank, battery, ignition coil, a water tank and an air filter – which is optional) and install them in your car. If broken, you use a repair kit to fix it (or throw them away and install a new one). Repairing your flat tires requires you to jack your car, remove the flat tire with the appropriate tool and then install the new one (or repair it with a repair kit). Too toilsome for something that shouldn’t be. But here lies the simulating part of the game, so maybe you will enjoy it.
- The invisible man: It’s relatively common not to see your character in walking simulators. But as in Jalopy you’re driving a car, I’d expect, at least, to see my character’s body – what doesn’t happen. If there were people on the streets seeing me while driving this car, they would have thought this was Stephen King’s Christine.
What we disliked
- Visuals: I don’t usually say bad things about the visual of a game, enjoying most of the art styles used out there. But today, I’m doing an exception for Jalopy. The overall visuals of the game are very minimalist, with no textures or details and pale colors wherever you look. Well, there are a few details inside your car so you can see the speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge. But that’s all. It becomes even more frustrating inside buildings: you can barely see what’s inside the bathroom of each room. No, you dirty mind: I mean the sink and toilet. Reading traffic plates is difficult but reading the upgrade shop catalog is IMPOSSIBLE. The procedurally generated routes aren’t all that different from each other (except when there’s some change in the terrain). And the animations (by animations I mean your uncle walking or lying in bed to sleep or the border guard and shopkeepers extending their arms – that’s all) aren’t any better. The visuals of the game feel unfinished and unpolished.
- Sound: This trip of yours is going to be a very silent one. Except for your mumbling uncle and the sound of the motor, there’s nothing out there to hear. You can turn on the radio to listen to some music from German radio, but that’s all. And as they aren’t very numerous, you will end up turning your radio off in no time. The absence of music here just makes the already long journeys even longer…
- Bugs, glitches, et cetera: Unfortunately, Jalopy isn’t free of bugs. And what’s worse, there is many game-breaking bugs. My time reviewing this title has been cut short due to the many bugs that prevented me from advancing. I’ve seen some visual bugs, translation issues, problems with collision detection, my Uncle getting stuck behind the car (with one the dumbest AI I’ve seen this year). But the worst part – by miles – were having items placed on the ground disappear, getting stuck due to the clickable elements (like the door of my car) that stooped working, preventing me from leaving the car or the hotel room, and even the game crashing and going back to Xbox menu. It’s hard to say what happened here: a bad port, an unfinished build or not testing the game enough… I really don’t know what went wrong.
Jalopy had an interesting concept but, unfortunately, falls short on the delivery. I was quite interested to know all the memories of uncle Lütfi, to learn more about the countries of the Eastern Bloc and how this journey would end. But I couldn’t. There are many bugs and glitches that prevented me from advancing in the story. Therefore, it’s hard to recommend the game as is to anyone, even though you are a fanatic for walking simulators. Maybe it’d be better to wait for some patches to correct all or at least some of its many problems
With a history of gaming that goes from his old man’s Atari 2600 to his Xbox One, Rafael or RAF687, our Brazilian editor, has a love for games as old as he can remember. He has already spent countless hours in many consoles (Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360) and is always ready for more (as long as his wife is asleep). Raf has been writing for LifeisXbox since 2017, with a passion for games of almost all genres – though we know he has a special place in his heart for RPGs, racing games and anything that includes pixel art. Writing about games has always been a childhood dream to Raf, dream that he has fulfilled reviewing games for you here. You can drop him a message at Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Live at any time.