Review copy of this game provided by its developer, Santa Ragione.
Wheels of Aurelia is described by its developer, Santa Ragione, as a narrative road trip game. It is probably the most accurate way to describe the game overall.
In Wheels of Aurelia, you take control of Lella, a woman on a road trip towards France in 1970’s Italy. Initially, she will have one companion with whom she can talk, but the narrative can lead to Lella picking up hitchhikers or otherwise switching (or adding) passengers on her way. Each playthrough takes around 15-20 minutes, with 16 different endings to achieve.
The gameplay consists of two distinct parts: driving whichever of the game’s cars you choose at the start of the game, and making conversation (or not) with whomever you happen to be driving with. The choices you make – both in terms of conversation as well as where to drive – shape the story around you. Most of the time, the driving takes a back seat to the conversations, which require you to make your choice on a timer. Much like in a TellTale game, your options depend on a certain speed to choose your words – albeit with a much more forgiving time frame to choose than in a TellTale game.
The setting for the game feels new as well, while at the same time still managing to feel relevant to a current audience. Lella can have many interactions, ranging from the banal with hitchhikers, to deeper (well, relatively) discussions about women’s rights, or even the topic of political unrest. The fact that the game draws from the actual political and societal climate of 1970s Italy makes the game a really interesting experience.
The graphics are divided into a neat, mostly sunny, isometric view of the Via Aurelia on which Lella and her companion(s) are travelling. The graphics are simple, while still managing to be nice to look at. Added to that are more detailed character models which really adds a lot of, well…Character to the characters. In fact, the design is so nice that I had not even noticed that the character models lack arms before someone pointed it out to me.
The game’s soundtrack fits well with the aesthetic, and really shows a vision for how the game and its stories should be presented.
That is not to say that the game is without its flaws. I generally appreciate when games take a more narrative approach to the experience, but your mileage may vary. I am a proponent of games as art, and Wheels of Aurelia definitely feels like the indie arthouse project it is.
The actual gameplay part of the game is simple, with only small frustrations such almost-too-perfect-to-beat enemy drivers in a few races. The stories are neat, but I would sometimes hit conversation parts that felt abrupt, with some of my choices (which are at most times limited to two choices to speak, and being silent) referring back to things a character had said to Lella a while back. It would also in hindsight have been nice to see the character models not have their arms cut off, and perhaps even with a bit of animation to really drive out the character they add to the game.
When all that is said and done, there are only a few roadbumps in the way for Wheels of Aurelia. It is a neat set of experiences, with an original setting. If you’re not a fan of games where narrative takes the wheel in favor of gameplay, this might not be for you. If you’re interested in good storytelling, and a setting that hasn’t been covered much in games in the past – get in.
We’re going on a road trip.