Wheels Of Aure­lia PC, PS4, Xbox One

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Santa Ra­gione For­mat PC (tested), PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now


The beauty of the road movie has al­ways been its abil­ity to bot­tle the feel­ing of an era. Think of Easy Rider and its sober re­flec­tion on the fail­ure of ’60s counter-cul­ture, or Thelma & Louise and its story of fe­male em­pow­er­ment in the ’90s. Those were films that fo­cused on the rebels, the out­siders, the hell­rais­ers ush­er­ing in the new ideas at the ex­pense of the old. Wheels Of Aure­lia slots neatly into this con­tin­uum, evok­ing a cheer­ful, pas­tel-coloured ver­sion of ’70s Italy that be­lies the per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil bub­bling un­der the sur­face. But where those films put you in the pas­sen­ger seat as a viewer, Wheels Of Aure­lia asks you to as­sume the role of driver, and that’s where it stalls.

Driv­ing around the roads link­ing Rome, Siena and Brac­ciano is pleas­ing enough at first. There’s an au­topi­lot for the car that means fo­cus can the­o­ret­i­cally be placed on the con­ver­sa­tions of pro­tag­o­nists Lella, Olga, and the hitch­hik­ers you de­cide to pick up along the way. But you’ll quickly re­alise the au­topi­lot is prone to er­ror, crash­ing into the back of cars and slam­ming into road­side bar­ri­ers on par­tic­u­larly tight cor­ners. Those in­stances are ac­com­pa­nied by scrapes of metal and the dull thump of bumpers, and they dom­i­nate the game for that mo­ment. Yet no one – nei­ther Lella nor Olga, or any of their pas­sen­gers – passes com­ment on the brazenly reck­less driv­ing en­dan­ger­ing their lives.

It creates a dis­con­nect be­tween your in­put as the driver and the con­ver­sa­tions in which you en­gage. Those con­ver­sa­tions are, at their best, funny and touch­ing, but they’re not ro­bust enough to sup­port the mul­ti­ple playthroughs the game de­mands of you. With each jour­ney last­ing only 15 min­utes, re­play value comes from in­hab­it­ing the dif­fer­ent per­sonas of the char­ac­ters, teas­ing out the diver­gent branches of both the road and con­ver­sa­tions. But af­ter the fourth or fifth playthrough you’ll come across the same ques­tions and re­sponses, the frus­tra­tion in­creas­ing each time. Di­a­logue be­gins to take on a sense of au­to­ma­tion, dis­solv­ing the re­al­ism it con­jures dur­ing the first few jour­neys.

Wheels Of Aure­lia does, how­ever, click in its fi­nal mo­ments. Hav­ing guided Lella and Olga through a small por­tion of their jour­ney on the Via Aure­lia, you’re pre­sented with two frames of text set against an im­pres­sion­is­tic im­age of the land­scape. They’re writ­ten in a lit­er­ary style, in con­trast to the pulpy chat that con­sti­tutes the bulk of the game. Each of those frames out­lines how their lives were al­tered ir­re­vo­ca­bly by what you’ve just played, and the mean­ing of those de­ci­sions is made clear. Some are heart­warm­ing; some are tragic. It’s a shame the jour­ney it­self can’t match the poignancy of the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

Be pre­pared to play the game with a con­cise his­tory of Italy to hand.

Wheel­sOfAure­lia is dense with ref­er­ences that add depth while si­mul­ta­ne­ously alien­at­ing those un­fa­mil­iar with its pe­riod set­ting

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