Take away the spaceships, magic swords, and all portents of destiny, and the most epic of adventures boil down to getting from point A to point B. This hero’s journey has been long been reflected in video games from Final Fantasy to every Legend of Zelda title ever. You always start in one place, and your goal is always in another place far, far away. What’s different from game to game is what’s standing in your way.
So what if the obstacle in your way, is also your only means of transportation?
In Jalopy, developed by Minskworks and published by Excalibur Games, the challenge becomes making your journey with nothing but an old, beat up, and very temperamental Soviet-era compact car as your ride.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, you and your uncle set out to make a pilgrimage across the former Eastern Bloc, from Berlin to Turkey. Serving as your means of transportation is the Laika 601 motor vehicle. Or rather, the skeleton of a Laika, as your first task is to slap on a new door pilfered from the junk heap next to your garage, along with a secondhand engine, tires, and other parts that will help get your Laika moving.
From then on, gas will be low, tires will pop, and your engine will give up the ghost. That is, unless you keep on top of the plethora of problems the Laika will have as you cross each border towards Turkey.
Though the developer, Greg Pryjmachuk, previously worked on the Formula 1 titles, Jalopy is definitely not a racing title. Rather, Jalopy emphasizes endurance over top speed, with mindfulness over your Laika and patience of utmost importance. The moment you turn that key, the Laika will start to fall apart, and your job is to maintain you bucket of bolts as long as you can until you’re able to hit the next rest stop or oasis.
Keeping your Laika in tip-top shape is, to the title’s credit, almost Nintendo-esque in its simplicity. Broken down into its component parts, you have the engine block, carburetor, air filter, ignition coil, fuel tank, battery, water tank, and four tires to worry about. Each part can be quickly swapped in and out with replacements and upgrades you can either buy at specialty shops, or salvage from other abandoned Laikas you might find on the road.
Salvaging is a big part of Jalopy, as you’ll find boxes on the road containing cigarettes, wine, textiles, medicine, food, and coffee. All of these items can be sold at a nearby shop or held onto until you cross the next border for a potentially higher payout. Further complicating your decision to keep or sell items, each border checkpoint will display which items are considered contraband. To avoid a fine, you might have to sell something you’ve been holding on to at a closer shop for a lower price, or ditch certain items all together.
If things do go horribly wrong, and you get a flat with no repair kit, make a wrong turn that leaves you in the middle of nowhere, or have no money for gas, you have the option to be transported home, with all upgrades and supplies intact, to fix your car and try again. Most likely, you’ll be doing this several times before you finally reach the end. Because of this, Jalopy might come off as more of a novelty title, or something to play once as a joke. But I ended up coming back to complete my road trip again and again, feeling a strange zen while swapping out parts, mixing oil with fuel, and finding sellable refuse to keep my latest trek going a little longer.
Eventually, I got a feel for my Laika, I knew what to watch out for and had the needed parts to make any emergency repairs. Over time, I took pride in maintaining my peppy little buggy. I even splurged a bit on a new paint job and some simple decals.
At its most relaxing moments, Jalopy is a quiet, melancholy, almost introspective road trip simulator that’ll have you slowly putting around at 40 kph across the Eastern Bloc landscape, overcoming rain, snow, and dirt roads while your uncle waxes on about the changing times.
There’s nothing quite like the open road…
Jalopy is now available on Steam and GOG.