Jalopy is an interesting prospect. Your uncle has come into possession of a Laika 601 Deluxe – a fictional motorcar named after one of the first animals in space – and he wants you to take a road trip with him to his faraway home; for “closure”.
When the game starts, you’re unceremoniously shuffled out of bed (it’s still dark outside) by the proud new car owner and dragged outside to start working on his titular vehicle. It’s lacking a door, wheels and, oh yeah, the engine but, fortunately, this isn’t Car Mechanic Simulator 2015, so the extent to which your mechanical knowledge be put is minimal: pick up a part, pop it into the ghosted version on the car and you’re away. Then, once you’ve fixed her up, you’re ready to get out on the open road.
“Procedural generation is, like in many recent games, the key to keeping things fresh in Jalopy“
Procedural generation is, like in many recent games, the key to keeping things fresh in Jalopy. You’ll find your map in the driver’s side door pocket and, from it, you can pick from several different routes, each with their own length and weather conditions. Your first trip is going to be from uncle’s garage in Berlin to the border town of Dresden, where you’ll stop over before attempting the border crossing the next morning.
Driving feels very Euro Truck Simulator – you’re in first person view so you’ve got all of the dials, switches, levers and buttons you could need, some unhelpfully partially obscured by the steering wheel or other levers. Just about everything in Jalopy is clickable and the game barely does anything for you – including taking the handbrake off. It’s not the tightest simulation – this is no Gran Turismo – but your car feels quite heavy, even more so in the wet, and about as responsive as you’d expect from a battered old Soviet motor.
In Jalopy, your car is all-important. Eventually, the parts will begin to fail and it’s up to you to fix them. Pull over somewhere safely and you can lift the bonnet (or hood, if you’d prefer), check out the damage and, if you’ve got a toolkit in the boot (trunk), fix her up – most important parts first (don’t do what I did and fix the water tank as opposed to the engine). If you’re out of repairs you’re going to have to trudge on – watching the smoke rise from the front of the car – to the nearest town or petrol station in the hopes that they’ll be able to help you out.
Money is a limited resource in Jalopy. Your uncle’s wallet only holds so much at the start of the game and you’ll want to spend sparingly. There are ways of making more money, though – pick up stray bits and bobs from boxes on the side of the road or dotted around town for a little return or try your hand at smuggling contraband across borders for greater gain.
“Jalopy has a distinct look – it’s choppy and blocky and the colours are all muted greens, browns and yellows; probably doing a good impression of what most people’s perception of Eastern Europe is”
Jalopy has a distinct look – it’s choppy and blocky and the colours are all muted greens, browns and yellows; probably doing a good impression of what most people’s perception of Eastern Europe is (it certainly felt right to me) – and, while it won’t be to some tastes, it’s not necessarily bad: probably the most bizarre aspect is your uncle’s jumper – probably inspired by the suit that Stan from the Monkey Island games wears, with its magic plaid. Currently, the audio is fairly standard but, hey, it’s not even in Early Access, yet, so there’s time to fix that, as well as the rest of Jalopy’s little issues.
Jalopy is still rather buggy but it’s safe to assume that developer Greg Pryjmachuk is still hard at work ironing out the bigger, game-breaking bugs before tidying up the smaller ones and bringing the game together as a whole. Unfortunately, one downside that worries me greatly is the fact that Jalopy feels, at the moment, quite lifeless. It’s all well and good being drip-fed information from your uncle from time-to-time but that’s really all of the interaction I’ve seen in the game so far. Sure, you can buy items from shopkeepers, get a world’s shortest spiel from the Laika dealership guy and share a less-than riveting conversation with the motel receptionist but, beyond that and the faceless drivers of other cars, there’s no one else in this world. Still, perhaps it’s a little unfair to bemoan the fact that there aren’t hundreds of AI people strolling around 1990’s Germany in a game developed by one guy. Especially not when the premise of the game is so incredibly clear: Jalopy is all about the car.
“This isn’t a game about human interaction, it’s not even really a game about driving; it’s a game where you build up a relationship with your Laika 601 Deluxe”
That’s the second time I’ve said that in this preview, but it needs repeating because that’s what you have to bear in mind throughout. This isn’t a game about human interaction, it’s not even really a game about driving (the roads I’ve seen have been fairly generic and incredibly unchallenging); it’s a game where you build up a relationship with your Laika 601 Deluxe. You’ll refuel it, you’ll repair it, you’ll replace its worn out parts and you’ll make it your own. Taking the time to get to know it, to become comfortable with it, to learn to love it is going to be the key to enjoying this game, until it, like the beloved simulators and time-sinks before it, becomes something more – an obsession. Perhaps you’ll need to resort to nefarious activities (only in-game, I hope) to fund your habit but you’ll do it, because every one of those puffs of smoke rising from the bonnet is another break in your petrol-headed heart.
You built this car and you’re going to take care of it and then, maybe, that old Jalopy will take care of you. But you’ve got to show it some love.