Dead Static Drive

A road trip where run­ning out of gas is the least of your prob­lems



As if the giant worms out­side weren’t enough, poor old Axel, who sim­ply wanted to sit down with a cup of joe in his favourite diner, now has a ma­chetewield­ing psy­cho to worry about. The psy­cho in ques­tion, by the way, is us: our planned back­door es­cape from the Tremors-like mon­sters out front goes hor­ri­bly wrong when we swing our blade at the chain-link fence in our way and con­nect with Axel in­stead. He sprints around the side, ev­i­dently hap­pier to take his chances with the worms.

Mike Black­ney pitches his Rogue­like road trip as Grand Theft Cthulhu, a pithy sum­mary that might be mis­lead­ing de­pend­ing on what you ex­pect from a GTA game. It’s like Rock­star’s se­ries in the sense that you can steal cars, but mostly be­cause it of­fers a re­ac­tive sand­box that can pro­duce mo­ments of sur­prise in the ways its var­i­ous sys­tems col­lide. And yes, there are plenty of mo­ments of emer­gent phys­i­cal com­edy. Be­fore the ma­chete episode, we find a big rig, and park up care­fully next to a po­lice car. The sec­ond we climb out, a worm sud­denly bur­rows up, flip­ping the truck en­tirely. We just about es­cape into the diner, where we meet Axel, whose bad day is about to get much worse.

Black­ney is not, it’s fair to say, en­tirely sym­pa­thetic to our tale of woe. “Oh no!” he gasps, laugh­ing long and loud. “That’s great,” he says. “I love friendly fire. I want to make sure it’s still fair, so you don’t get pun­ished im­me­di­ately. I hate insta-killing play­ers, I hate ru­in­ing their game im­me­di­ately. Like when you know you’ve killed an NPC that was valu­able and you might as well restart? But yeah, I love games where you have that as an ef­fect.”

Fair­ness is clearly im­por­tant to Black­ney. This is a game that presents sev­eral threats be­yond the worms, with very dif­fer­ent mon­sters await­ing in later towns. But the de­signer wants to give his play­ers room to ex­per­i­ment, to dis­cover the func­tions of the myr­iad items you can stuff into your pock­ets – and your car’s trunk – and to try dif­fer­ent tac­tics to de­feat those crea­tures. Some items have mul­ti­ple uses: a ham­mer can be used as a weapon, or as a tool to board up a door, for ex­am­ple. It’s point­less to do so in this in­stance, since the worms can’t come in­side. How­ever, Black­ney says, “There are crea­tures that are made out of leaves. They’re hu­man­shaped, but they can just dis­si­pate into leaves and then pass through any­thing that’s got a gap. So if you barricade a door or a win­dow, they can just pass right through it. But if you light parts of the place on fire...” Much of the game will be about learn­ing those tricks, he says: some will fol­low real-world logic, and oth­ers will be a mat­ter of play­ing around with dif­fer­ent vari­ables and stum­bling across un­ortho­dox so­lu­tions. Pun­ish­ments for fail­ure won’t be too harsh: this may be a Rogue­like of sorts, but your char­ac­ter is es­sen­tially in­vin­ci­ble. “If you die, you’ll wake up and there’ll be peo­ple around you,” Black­ney ex­plains. “They’ll say, ‘We’ve patched you up as best we could, but you’ve got to watch your­self out there’.” And if we’ve wounded or killed any of the lo­cals? “Then you’ll just wake up in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion per town, but it’ll be an al­ley, or a seedy old mo­tel that’s shut down – some kind of dodgy place. And you won’t heal as quickly. In­stead of six hours, it might take you 12 to re­cu­per­ate.”

The time penalty is cru­cial, since the game will fin­ish af­ter 30 days, your end­ing de­ter­mined by how far you’ve man­aged to get in that time. “What­ever end­ing you get at that stage, that’s your lot. And then you can re­play it,” Black­ney says. It’s hard to imag­ine many play­ers turn­ing down the in­vi­ta­tion to head back out on the road again. We just won’t in­vite Axel to ride shot­gun this time.

This may be a Rogue­like of sorts, but your char­ac­ter is es­sen­tially in­vin­ci­ble

De­vel­oper/ pub­lisher Kurtrussell­fan­club For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Aus­tralia Re­lease 2019

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