Saturday, October 22, 2016

Road Trip

One of the big selling points of Final Fantasy XV is its concept of the road trip.  Four dudes, dressed up like an emo rock band, are cruising around the countryside getting in to all kinds of adventures.  It's not bad idea, but it isn't a terribly original one either.  In fact the road trip, as a core component of the gameplay, has seen a lot of use in recent years.

Take Oregon Trail for example.  No...not that old educational game where you're in an enclosed ox-driven wagon.  I'm talking about the reinterpretation featuring a family of survivors traveling across the USA in a station wagon.  It borrows a page from the novel "World War Z" by Max Brooks in that what remains of humanity, after a zombie apocalypse, has taken refuge along the western seaboard.  In large part this is due to the Sierra Nevadas providing an excellent natural barrier against the wandering hordes of undead.  It's a free flash game, but there's also a paid directors cut that breaks with the one-to-one emulated design of the original and instead adds some new features like boss battles and assorted mini-games.

While still in early access, Jalopy puts players in the driver's seat of an automobile called the "Laika," apparently a real life nickname for the "Lada Riva."  Regardless, it is definitely the people's car, and roughly analogous to the Volkswagen "Bug" in terms of ubiquity and reliability...or perhaps I should say unreliability.  The goal of the game is to limp, nurse and cajole this hunk of scrap metal across several countries in Eastern Europe shortly after the fall of the USSR.  Despite being a major eyesore the Laika is quite customizable.  Parts can be salvaged off wrecks abandoned along roadsides, or else purchased at shops with spare cash made from the sale of "contraband" (cigarettes, booze, medicine, etc.) also found over the course of the journey.

The world of Mad Max might be a place of fire and blood, but it also has a pretty big map.  So much so, getting from one end of it to the other can be an adventure unto itself.  Players don't have to worry about repairs or maintenance thanks to "Chumbucket," a deformed side-kick mechanic who reminds me of the character Ephailtes from the movie "300."  However, the player still needs to manage the gas gauge and upgrades, plus the car can still get smashed up by marauders requiring a pull over.  There's plenty to run into as well, including roving warbands, enemy enchantments, world-ending dust storms, or just some poor wanderers trying to find a little water to drink.  Needless to say, it's a wasteland full of adventure.

Now granted, none of the games I just mentioned have the exotic monsters  found in Final Fantasy XV, but some do have RPG elements baked into their design.  What's more Max wears black, albeit less stylized than most J-Pop fashion trends.  Also like Mad Max, there's a car mechanic in FFXV (a "she" instead of a "he") though still deformed...just in different ways.  So while the road trip idea could work for Square-Enix, their recent track record is such an abysmal mess of poorly made video games I wouldn't be at all surprised if players find themselves squarely in the center of Big Nothing...New, that is.

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