Never before has a game so janky held our attention so unwaveringly.
Following its release on PC last year, Gas Station Simulator is now available on console, and we’ve spent the last week or so unable to drag ourselves from the PS4 version. It seems developer Drago Entertainment has made no real effort to fix the myriad of issues that plagued the PC version, and so your time with the game will be mired by god-awful character animations, random bugs and characters getting stuck in your store. But does it matter? Absolutely not.
We can’t quite pinpoint why Gas Station Simulator is so enjoyable and attention-holding. It’s a mixture of things: there’s the freedom to be your own boss, where keeping on top of daily tasks falls solely on your shoulders. And there’s also the joy of seeing your run-down gas station slowly but surely take shape. You’ll go from a shambling shack with one pump outside to, eventually, a freshly painted store brimming with shelves, stock and activity.
To get there, though, you’ll have to play through Gas Station Simulator‘s story which sees your uncle bark commands at you via a phone box. It’s a shame there’s no free-play mode where you can completely do your own thing, but the story keeps a nice pace, steadily introducing you to new features and upgrades. Over time, you can add decorations to the inside and outside of your store, upgrade your warehouse, upgrade your garage, add more pumps, hire staff and more.
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When it truly gets going, there are a lot of plates to keep spinning: not only do you need to manually pump gas in every customer’s car, but you also need to serve them on the checkout, fix cars in the garage, keep an eye on stock levels and, occasionally, chase away a pesky kid who likes to graffiti on the side of your building. And, if you care about aesthetics, you’ll need to do all that while picking up trash, sweeping the floor and applying fresh coats of paint every so often. There’s a lot to keep on top of.
Eventually, you’ll be able to hire some staff members to help you out. You can assign them to cleaning, pumping gas, manning the cash register or fixing up cars in the garage, which takes some of the weight off of you. They might not be that great at the job to begin with, though. Gas Station Simulator gives you a running total of how many items have been successfully sold in your store. Our total? An unwavering 100%, not a single item missed. However, after letting an employee run a shift for a couple of hours, we’d lost approximately 20 items of stock. Not ideal, particularly when money’s tight and your inventory is shrinking.
That’s something else you need to keep on top of: ordering new stock for your store – drinks, snacks, tobacco and alcohol, and later, fashion accessories, car cleaning kits and more – and new parts for your garage. The garage typically involves fixing tyres, replacing broken wing mirrors, buffing out scratches and checking oil levels, but the parts here are expensive, and so keeping a healthy stock can be difficult. It’s perhaps the most tedious part of the game, but it’s also an area where you stand to make the most profit, so keeping your garage customers happy is worthwhile. Thankfully, every car that passes through has the same size tyre and the same shape wingmirror, so your job is made a whole lot easier.
But we need to talk about Gas Station Simulator‘s one major problem: how very buggy it is. This is a game that knows it has issues, thanks to the big, giant button you can press within the game to reset all customers and cars. But you’ll encounter other problems too. We ordered stock that never arrived (even though we got charged for it). And the overall presentation will leave you wanting. Sometimes your customers will walk, sure. But more often than not you’ll simply see them glide through the world, as if possessed by some dark entity. And turn the camera around as you’re pumping gas and you might just see a car rapidly sway from side-to-side, as if you’ve knocked it with inhuman strength.
The presentation issues will, let’s face it, make you laugh more than anything. They aren’t enough to ruin the experience, simply adding to the absurdity of it all. But those game-breaking bugs, of not getting stock and the like, can be frustrating as they can damage your progress with the game.
Gas Station Simulator is a tough game to score. It’s deeply flawed, but it’s oh-so fun. The jankiness is part-and-parcel with the experience, but some progress-halting bugs will really sour you. Still, the act of manning your own gas station, getting stuck into the nitty-gritty and seeing your business flourish over time is incredibly satisfying. And those issues just aren’t enough to drag us away from the joy of serving our customers.