Jalopy: A Meditative Yet Maddening Road Trip

Jalopy

How hard could it to be to drive from East Berlin to Turkey?

In theory, not very. The problem is that Jalopy, a game about a European road trip in a banger of a car, can be so wonderfully relaxing that you forget you’re supposed to be keeping a watchful eye on the important things like fuel, engine condition and whether you’re driving on the right side of the road. Here’s how things went when I took an Eastern European road-trip with this semi-realistic driving game.

Day 1: Starting out

It’s easy to be intimidated by Jalopy. The game’s tutorial has you assembling the car you’re going to use to take your uncle to Turkey, which seems a daunting task.

However, as I quickly discovered, this requires little actual precision. Shoving part of the engine into the general area is enough to make you a mechanic in Jalopy’s eyes. So after flinging empty petrol-cans all over the place, something that my virtual uncle doesn’t raise an eyebrow over, we hit the road. And, two minutes later, we hit another car.

Thankfully the boxy sixties-era automobile I’m driving takes the brunt of the damage, quickly teaching me that in certain parts of Europe, you drive on the right hand side of the road. A lesson I forget two minutes later when I end up driving in the overtaking lane and have two cars honking behind me. Either they’re intentionally stubborn or the game’s AI doesn’t extend to having them drive past and give me the finger. This is going to be a long trip.

Day 2: Muddy hell

Having finally made it to the nearest town and checked into a motel, I ready myself for the next leg of the journey. It’s near impossible to get lost in Jalopy, all but a few shortcut being conveniently blocked off with barriers. But Jalopy isn’t about exploration; it’s all about the journey and just driving along as the low-res scenery scrolls past, without a care in the world.

At least, that is, until you hit enough puddles to splatter mud all over your screen. I spend most of this leg inching forward, squinting through the one clear spot on my window.

Jalopy isn’t exactly forthcoming with information so I continue crawling along until I spot the windscreen wiper button. Glaring at my uncharacteristically mute uncle, I clear the windscreen just in time to slide into a massive mud bank. Five minutes of flailing at the car with a crowbar and it’s clear it’s not budging. Time to go back to the beige drawing board.

Day 3: Back in black

My next trip is more successful, especially now I’ve got the good sense to avoid any of the game’s mud roads. Better still, I stumble across not one but two abandoned automobiles on my journey. It’s entirely possible to purchase upgrades for your car, earning money by buying and trading goods, but picking clean the corpses of other cars is more my style. My bounty includes three packs of sausages, three bottles of wine, a new bigger fuel tank and a spare air filter. The car trying to make its way past me honks in protest, but I pay him no regard; he’ll be dead come the apocalypse.

Further shady shenanigans ensue when I get to the second motel and go around banging on doors. Much to my surprise, some of the inhabitants mistake me for the motel owner and slip money under the door. Thanks to their unintentional generosity I’m able to afford a can of spray paint and proceed to goth up my car, though the local store seems to be entirely out of bat-shaped air fresheners.

Day 4: The Road Worrier

The thing about a new, bigger fuel tank is that it only really works if it’s full. So entranced was I by my car’s new paint job that I failed to check the fuel gauge and, a third of the way into this next leg, the car splutters to a halt. Jalopy lets you push your car but it’s an unenviable task, especially when your uncle refuses to help and there’s a line of three vehicles behind you. Finally, my mind snaps and abandoning the car, I clamber onto the car behind me, gazing at the driver inside hoping he’ll at have the mercy to spare a little petrol. Sadly, he remains unmoved, even when I grab several packs of sausages from the boot and drop them on his windscreen. I can only conclude he’s a vegetarian.

Day 5: Back to swear one

Jalopy will actually let you go to the last visited motel, via the Save and Quit option. Though to me, that feels a little too much like cheating. And so, muttering more than few expletives, I take the blindingly stupid option of starting again. Turkey still awaits, but it’ll be a while till I get there.

Despite the hitches, many of which were due down to my lack of foresight, I’ll definitely be spending more time with Jalopy, It’s incredibly relaxing to play when things are going well and the more I’ve played, the more I’ve come to grips with the way the game works. Jalopy isn’t a game that leads you by the nose and given its slow pace it isn’t for everyone.

But if Euro Truck Simulator and its ilk appeal to you and you can handle the odd road bump then Jalopy could be right up your beige, mud-spattered street. And given that it’s currently half price in the Steam Summer Sale, now is a good time to take the wheel.