Wheels of Auerlia has potential but squanders its opportunities to say something. The FingerGuns Review;
Wheels of Aurelia is a game that’s passed me by in recent years yet it always looked intriguing. It is certainly niche, and presumably appealed only to a very small audience which connected with its message and visual style. I’m a huge supporter of unique indie titles and with a generation of smaller development teams being able to focus on a vision and execute it to release, Wheels of Aurelia was a solid example of a developer sticking to their guns to release something unique and interesting. Has it transferred to the Switch intact?
Set in the 1970’s, Wheels of Aurelia lands in a picturesque Italy as you meet Lella, who has taken a road trip across the coast. It’s here the ‘interactive novel’ of it all comes into play, and you realise what the game is pretty quickly and it certainly isn’t going to be the most taxing of experiences. If you can imagine a TellTale game with zero interaction away from the dialogue, in a Three Fourths Home kind of way, you’re going to find yourself realising almost immediately if this game is for you or not. Interestingly, the games dialogue can delve into deep discussions which are welcome – politics, history, sexuality, equality, terrorism topics all rear their head, and its refreshing to see a game tackle issues that don’t feel forced into dialogue to provide shock value, and instead feels rather natural. We’ve all discussed such things on long drives so it’s nice to see that represented in this way. We delve into Lella’s past often, seeing how her perspective and outlook on life as a whole has shaped who she is when we meet her, and how her world view has come to be. You will find yourself falling into metaphorical traps and either siding or not over Lella’s opinions, and just as you find yourself wanting to keep the discussion moving…everything ends.
You see, Wheels of Aurelia’s secret is that it’s all over in about 15 minutes. Fortunately, there are 16 different endings that you can unlock as the game progresses, so replay value is certainly there, if not in abundance.
Wheels of Aurelia is based on its dialogue and Lella’s interaction with those she meets across the course of the game. You’ll meet womanisers, cliches and characters who are representative of the era. Like most interesting female protagonists in gaming, Lella is headstrong and modern (see Aloy, Mae in Night in the Woods), and her interactions with some of the people she meets along the way are humourous without being hilarious, controversial in places and referential to the time. It’s up to you to picking one of a few replies, or not at all and just watching the story move as you sit there and take it all in.
It’s here then that the issues start to creep into Auerlia. While Lella is an interesting character, perhaps the only reason why I say this is that I still feel like I don’t really know her. I know her opinions and I know how she deals with unwelcome advances, but near enough every story you participate in lacks depth and feels like it’s over before it really began. I refer again to Three Fourths Home, a game about a conversation between a daughter and a mother on a phone call which did have depth, particularly in its later stages, and Aurelia’s social commentary just doesn’t measure up to it. At the end of each drive there is a summary of Lella’s own story, which is a nice touch, but I would have liked to delved even deeper and learn more about Lella as a person rather than what could only be equated to conversations that you wouldn’t see out of place on Twitter, screaming into the void. Lella has the potential to be a full ranty Facebook post, but ends only as a 140 character Tweet angry about a headline.
The conversations have little substance, a few sentences her and there that don’t really have an awful lot to back up their sometimes rather unsettling opinions of rather serious subjects. The pacing is also way off, with stories jumping from one controversial topic to the next with little to bridge the gap and it feels like you can’t really gauge if a topic had ended before another began.
Presentation wise, Wheels of Aurelia looks and sounds rather nice. There is, amazingly, a rather dodgy framerate considering how straightforward the games visual style is. The isometric viewpoint of the game reveals locations which are colourful and appealing, though are a bizarre contrast to the wild conversations regarding society in Italy in the 70’s. True to life perhaps, the beauty of the Italian coast marred with the outdated opinions of its inhabitants. The audio is representative of the time and is the games standout highlight. The music is sprightly, a fun soundtrack to counterbalance the bleak subject matters of Lella’s conversations is welcome.
It’s fair to say there’s a myriad of other games similar to Wheels of Aurelia that present themselves in a similar way which can do a far better job of dealing with social interaction and controversial topics. It’s a shame that each story we hear never really goes anywhere, and instead the games intent on dealing with a variety of issues mean that none of them get the airing they deserve. These kind of discussions in gaming are welcome, but that they’re abandoned so quickly means they ultimately come to nothing before you’re pushed onto yet another discussion which will lead to the exact same place.
It won’t take you long to get through the game, and by the end you’ll wish you found something on the Switch with more substance. Wheels of Auerlia, whilst it can be engaging, this journey is over all too quickly and you’ll be left wondering if you’re ever going to reach a destination.
Wheels of Auerlia is available now on mobile, PS4, Xbox One, Switch (reviewed) and PC.
Developer: Santa Ragione
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.