If the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that – for many – family is likely more important than ever. Therefore, it seems only apt that Road to Guangdong, a dialogue-heavy resource management game developed by Just Add Oil Games, adopts the concept of family as the core tenet of its narrative.https://www.youtube.com/embed/WlMEplxLwoI?feature=oembed
Road to Guangdong drops you into the shoes of Sunny, an art student living in Hong Kong, who returns to her hometown of Guangzhou following the sudden death of both of her parents. Upon arrival, she discovers that her Ba Ba (father) has left her the family restaurant in his will.
As the game begins, the only one there to support her is her Guu Ma (grandmother), Grace, who joins her on a road trip across the coastal Chinese province of Guangdong as she seeks to reconnect with various members of the family and gather some recipes for the restaurant’s new menu.
This road trip takes place in Sandy, the pet name given to a rickety old four-door car, which requires constant upkeep just to make sure it can get from one garage to the next, let alone each leg of your epic province-wide journey.
And this upkeep is what forms the bulk of Road to Guangdong’s gameplay, as you drive from point to point on the map, keeping Sandy’s petrol and oil topped up, while ensuring that various car components – engine, filters, fan belt and tyres – don’t break down and leave you stranded (thus triggering a Game Over). This is also all taking place while you’re attempting to ensure your limited budget for refuelling and replacing bits stretches as far as possible (pro-tip: pick up any remotely decent engine from the game’s randomly generated scrap piles and get them sold at a garage).
The driving itself is clunky, yet functional. With an in-car camera, you have immediate visual access to meters for speed, oil, petrol and engine temperature, giving the gameplay a feel of keeping a series of spinning plates in the air. You also have to physically stop the car from time to time, not just to replace fuel and oil, but to check on the condition of the car’s other physical components. Whilst this is a simple enough concept to grasp, I did often find myself meter-watching, rather than keeping an eye on the road itself.
It also somewhat limits your ability to open the engine up and floor the accelerator. Whilst the speedometer somewhat optimistically tops out at 160, the fragility of the various components of this very old car means that you’ll rarely be able to go about 40, which has the unfortunate side effect of making already fairly lengthy journeys last that much longer. This, in turn, exacerbates the other issue with the journeys – namely that they quickly become monotonous and repetitive.
Dialogue during drives are extremely limited in nature, often amounting to two or three sentences, and the in-car radio features just two channels and two songs on each channel. Don’t get me wrong, the music is actually very pleasant, but there’s just not enough of it to stop journeys from becoming nigh-on identical within a short space of time. Give me another four or five tracks, and this would have been much less of an issue
However, it’s not all doom and gloom, and the one thing that does add a little diversity to each journey is the range of locales you drive through. Despite the game’s look being deliberately lo-fi for the most part, with animation and detail being sacrificed in favour of bold colour and geometric, almost papercraft-esque design, some nice little lighting touches add some much needed character along the way – the diffused effect added to neon shop signs at night being a particular lovely touch.
Of course, the journey is only half the story – journeys ultimately lead you to destinations, after all. Upon reaching each of your destinations, you then enter into lengthy dialogue sessions in which you are introduced to the various members of your family.
Much of the narrative is difficult to talk about in broad strokes, given the personal and familial nature of the overarching story, but there’s actually little for you to do in terms of shaping the conversations that take place, with the dialogue very much tailored to allow you to learn a bit more about the lives of Sunny’s relatives and their feelings in the wake of her parents’ deaths.
The dialogue itself is a mixed bag. At times, it has a slightly forced and unnatural feel, where the flow doesn’t feel as conversational as it should. There are also some very brief moments, where some of the dialogue suggests assumed knowledge, which left me occasionally unsure of the context for certain words or phrases (although I am absolutely willing to accept that this may just be down to ignorance on my part!).
However, there are also plenty of little moments that inspired genuine reactions from me, be it a quick chuckle at some sharp put-down from the curmudgeonly Guu Ma or a gentle sigh of recognition at some of the discussions around the passing of Sunny’s parents – for context, I lost my own mother some five years ago and a lot of the mixed emotions hinted at here still resonate. Just don’t expect Mass Effect or Stanley Parable levels of branching, as it is very much telling the story it wants to tell.
While I have serious issues with the pacing issues presented by the driving and resource management aspects, and the narrative sections can sometimes just feel like you’re pressing a button with little thought to advance, Road to Guangdong remains a game with enough charm to garner a qualified recommendation with me – if you can avoid triggering a Game Over, it’ll take up no more than 3-4 hours of your time and, for what’s there, that’s a more than fair investment.
A game of two halves, there’s just about enough in one half to make up for the frustrations of the other. Easily an afternoon’s enjoyment in there.
Road to Guangdong is launching on Xbox One (review platform), PS4 and Nintendo Switch on August 28th, 2020. The game is already available on PC via Steam.
Developer: Just Add Oil Games
Publisher: Excalibur Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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