I went into this game not really knowing what to expect. Wheels of Aurelia describes itself as a “narrative road trip” and an “interactive fiction” game, and while I’ve never played any road trip games, let alone narrative focused, ones I am an avid lover of old-school interactive fiction, so I gave it a go.
The music was pretty groovy, and the instructions before play were brief and simple. It’s quick to get into the game and begin my trip. I had fun for the first few minutes dodging in and out of traffic, and I started to get a feel for where the story was going. The characters had promise, and I was pretty excited to see where this would take me. And then, seemingly before I had even gotten that far, it was over.
In all my play-throughs, I had almost the same experience: I was enjoying the story and wanted to keep going, but then it just ended. The game boasts many different endings to make up for that, but each one I found left me somewhat dissatisfied and wanting more.
The gameplay is sparse, but compared to other narrative experiments, the driving mechanic was quite a pleasant addition to spice up the rather regular branching conversation structure. My largest complaint in this might actually be that these game elements were a bit too forgiving?
As an example, a few minutes in I started to wonder what would happen if I hit another car and got into a wreck. The answer? Absolutely nothing. I would have liked to see the driving take a little more of a direct influence in the story and ground the setting in reality.
While the branching narratives are fairly straightforward, the stories they tell in that structure are pretty cool. The main character Lella and the various passengers you pick up are intriguing and unique, and their interactions together show a lot of forethought on the part of the writers.
Perhaps one issue I had with the story was that the choices I was presented with seemed very arbitrary. Perhaps this was intended as some metaphor for not knowing where life will take you, but not knowing whether turning left or right at a fork in the road will affect the story or not is very frustrating, especially in a narrative-heavy game. As a result of this trying to find each ending was a bit difficult for me. I couldn’t definitively remember which options I had tried and which I hadn’t. I ended up finding the same ending multiple times, and there are still some I don’t have a clue how to get to.
Another small gripe I have about how you make decisions in this game is that the text selection feels very . . . slow. Every time you touch your joystick or buttons to change your selection it resets the countdown to the maximum value. This means that if you change your mind last minute, you have to wait for four or five seconds while that ticks down before your dialogue choice actually takes effect. This makes the conversation feel incredibly clunky. It almost feels like a punishment for having taken the time to read all the options. A simple button to confirm your choice would have solved it.
Music and Visuals
The music was okay. At the intro screen and as you start the game, it’s upbeat and groovy; however, through most of the game, it takes a bit of a backseat which is definitely desirable in a narrative focused game. With that said, the music did help contribute to the style and feel of the game. Its tone felt consistent throughout my time playing. There never was any part of the experience that really felt out of place. All together it makes for a unique and somewhat impactful experience.
Wheels of Aurelia is a fun little experiment, but it definitely feels more like an experiment than a made-for-market game. It’s got a unique style and a novel way of presenting a story. But, perhaps some of the novelty could use some polishing before it’s as fit for the average consumer. I don’t think that all of its ideas were executed perfectly. At times the conversation tone doesn’t quite hit its mark. But despite all that, I found myself growing fond of the characters and I definitely enjoyed myself while playing it. Games like this are part of what expands gaming as a genre and as an art form, so I’m definitely glad to have Wheels of Aurelia in my library.