Wheels of Aurelia
Gameplay 6
Graphics 7
Sound 8

Wheels of Aurelia is a narrative road trip game that takes players along the winding roads of Italy during the seventies. The focus is on the conversations you have with the people you run into on the road and the choices you make can lead to one of sixteen different endings. Each playthrough only lasts about fifteen minutes, but the stories are quite enough and things can go very differently depending on your choices. The game is a little rough around the edges and won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s certainly not without charm.

Gameplay: Very simple, but with plenty of replay value.

Graphics: Not exactly dazzling, but quite stylish.

Sound: No speech, unfortunately, but the soundtrack is good

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Wheels of Aurelia

Developer: Santa Ragione | Publisher: Santa Ragione | Release Date: 2016 | Genre: Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

We can’t think of many other games set in 1970s Italy, which makes Wheels of Aurelia unique right off the bat. The protagonist, a restless young woman named Lella, seems to be determined to get out of Italy and head to France – a journey that takes her along the Via Aurelia. It’s along the winding roads of the Western coast of Italy that Lella encounters all manner of characters and hitchhikers who join her and influence her story in some way.

Lella begins her journey with a passenger named Olga who she met in a nightclub. Depending on the choices you make during the trip Olga might stick with you right until the end or end up stealing your car. You could even ditch Olga and go on a crime spree with a washed-out race driver or lose your car in a race. These stories and many others are spread across the sixteen different endings that can be discovered in Wheels of Aurelia. Each playthrough only takes about fifteen or so minutes but involves a lot of repetition. All in all, it took us about six hours to get all 24 achievements in the game and what a journey it is.

It has to be said that Wheels of Aurelia is not a game that will appeal to everyone, but players will know very quickly whether they love it or not. It’s a narrative road trip game, so the focus is very much on the conversations between characters and not the actual driving. In fact, the car drives itself on autopilot if you leave the controls, which frees players up to focus on the dialog. Unfortunately, the autopilot is not very good, so the car tends to hit a lot of things if you don’t take control. This isn’t much of an issue most of the time as there are no consequences for hitting anything and your car is seemingly indestructible. However, there are also certain parts where the story requires you to drive carefully or you have to take part in races, which is where the autopilot is completely useless.

Even when you do take control of your car you’ll find that your interactions are limited to moving it left or right and holding down a button to speed up. Braking is noticeably absent, which can be challenging when trying to overtake other cars on the road without rear-ending them or crashing into oncoming traffic. For the most part, players can ignore the actual driving and concentrate on the conversations instead, which covers topics not often seen in games. From politics and religion to abortions, sexuality, and feminism, there is very little that Wheels of Aurelia shies away from. Players are usually presented with two or three dialog options to choose from although remaining silent is always an option too. A lot of the topics are focused on issues faced by Italy at the time, which will probably be lost on anyone not from Italy or who are not familiar with its history. The developers have made an effort to address this by including a “Wheelspedia” in the game, which unlocks Wikipedia entries about topics that are mentioned. It’s an interesting approach and contributes to the unique feel of the game.

Visually, Wheels of Aurelia is viewed from an isometric perspective and makes use of very basic, pastel-colored landscapes. The journey takes players through scenic locations like Piombino, Siena, and Bracciano, but the emphasis was obviously not on realism. While the buildings look nice enough, the trees look like cardboard cutouts of kids’ drawings. All the characters you encounter are represented by 2D sprites, which further adds to the visual novel style of the game. The game doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to the visuals, but the resolution and quality can be changed. It also has a couple of extras, such as the option to play the game in black and white, with fuzzy “1978” style visuals or in “scenic” mode, which allows players to move the camera around while driving.

It’s a pity that Wheels of Aurelia does not have any speech, which forces players to read all the conversations as they appear in comic book style bubbles. These speech bubbles also tend to obscure the road and surroundings, which can be annoying during the racing sections. It looks nice in screenshots, but speech would have been more atmospheric and authentic in-game. Of course, Wheels of Aurelia is an indie game, so voice acting was probably not possible for the budget they had, especially as the game features multiple language options. At least the lack of speech makes the soundtrack more noticeable. All of the tracks have this unique Italian pop and rock style, which is something that we’ve never heard before in a game. The tracks are all very unique and definitely have that road-trip feel to them. As we mentioned earlier, the controls are very basic, to the point where it is actually possible to beat the entire game and see an ending without ever touching the keyboard or controller. On the other hand, the requirements for some of the endings are very specific and we had to look at a guide to unlock the last few. Along the way, we also unlocked a few new cars, for a total of 13, but the only difference between them is the way they look and their speed.

There’s no denying that Wheels of Aurelia is a unique game with lots of replay value, but according to Steam, less than 3% of all players have unlocked all the endings. It seems that most players lost interest after only two or three playthroughs, which is a pity as some paths you can take are quite interesting. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that you cannot save the game, which means having to restart from scratch each time. The game does however allow you to pick your starting point, which makes it easier to aim for specific endings. At the end of the day, we enjoyed our time with Wheels of Aurelia, but its flaws and shortcomings were quite obvious. It’s definitely not something for players who like to play it safe and stick to established genres, but anyone looking for something new and different might enjoy it despite the rough edges.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP SP3 +
  • Processor: 2.0GHz CPU
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: 512MB graphics card
  • Storage: 500 MB available space
  • OS: Mac OS X 10.6.8
  • Processor: 2.0GHz CPU
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: 512MB graphics card
  • Storage: 500 MB available space
  • OS: Ubuntu 12
  • Processor: 2.0GHz CPU
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: 512MB graphics card
  • Storage: 500 MB available space

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