In Italy, there’s a road called the Via Aurelia. Started in 241 BC, the road was originally built by the Romans – but now serves the Italian coast. It’s on this historical road that Wheels of Aurelia takes place, the scene being the 1970’s and the subject being a woman with a past called Lella. You’ll take control of Lella and her car, driving along the historic road and meeting some people along the way. There’s a lot that can happen on the Via Aurelia, so be careful or it’ll pass you by.
Starting the game, you’ll be introduced to the many systems quite gingerly. You’ll realize in the intro bits that you can speed up the car, steer, choose from groups of responses and/or lines for Lella (usually in groups of three), and pick up hitchhikers. All these things help to determine what ending you’ll get, and how things play out along the way.
While a play-through only lasts about twenty minutes, there are sixteen endings to find – meaning this is a game that should take you at least a few hours to conquer completely. Play-throughs differ by taking into account your driving, the car you’ve chosen, the text responses you’ve chosen for Lella, and who you’ve interacted with (along with how), so it’s important to try and do things differently if you want to experience a different ending.
Speaking of which, endings are offered up as two short paragraphs or so describing what happens next. They tell about Lella and whoever she was with at the end of the line, giving you a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the rest of the story from whatever characters you’ve brought with you. The game is more about the journey to me though, and I enjoyed finding all the different routes and meeting all the different people – sometimes pushing them to weird places. Though not overly complex, the interactions here are interesting to say the least.
In the looks department, Wheels of Aurelia is somewhat simplistic but full of personality. The art style evokes the locale in the time period they’re trying to portray (the 70s), and the isometric view point is perfect for the driving portions of the game – given how they’ve been executed. The visuals are also fairly clean and smooth, offering an experience that isn’t likely marred by things like power constraints or code quality.
The audio portion of the game is also quite spot on, offering music that is reminiscent of the times. Aside from the title track (which feels more modern to me), the songs are presented as radio tracks and you won’t be touching on many per run – though they do start to get repetitive before you close out all the routes. When played here and there however, I think they’d do just fine.
Moving towards the verdict portion of the review, I’d first like to mention that I had almost expected not to like the game – but that ultimately I ended up interested in finding all the destinations that Lella would ultimately reach. The nuances of the lines you get to choose for her give you a window into her personality, and I felt myself wanting her more and more to find good endings instead of bad ones.
It’s because of this empathy and interest in Lella that Wheels of Aurelia was ultimately a good experience for me, and I think it’s really in the nuances of the story telling that this game really shines. The turmoil that was the 1970s in Italy seems to come across quite as the developers wanted it to, as I was sometimes dreading the meetings of certain individuals I knew would lead Lella to ruin. This made finding the good endings that much more satisfying, and the bad ones that much more dreadful.
That said, this game is certainly not for everyone, and left a lot to be desired in some key areas. Some of the exchanges between Lella and other characters were shallow or included choices that seemed out of place, and most of the characters other than Lella seemed pretty one-dimensional. Only very few stood out, and usually it was because they spent a lot of time in a car with our protagonist.
As such, I’d only recommend this game to those who know what they’re getting into. This is a historically-influenced title that’s set in the past and in a very specific climate. It includes discussion and mention of sensitive topics, and is not a “fun” game as much as a “feeling” game. In that however, it succeeds – just don’t expect your typical visual novel or driving simulation fare.