App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Generally, games don’t have particularly creative premises, but Wheels of Aurelia definitely is an exception to this rule. Set in 1970s Italy, you play as a woman named Lella as she embarks on a road trip from Rome along the Via Aurelia. Although there is a driving component to the game, Wheels of Aurelia is much more about meeting people and learning about a specific time and place, which makes for an odd, but stylish and refreshing experience.
Wheels of Aurelia starts with your character picking up a woman named Olga after meeting her at a discotheque the night before. As you drive, you learn about Olga through dialogue sequences that you have to read and respond to all while driving on a winding road between Italian towns.
On your road trip, you control the action from an overhead view of your car. Your vehicle sticks to the road just fine on its own, but you can swipe to the right and left to change lanes, which allows you to pass slow cars and dodge oncoming traffic. All the while, the occupants of your car chatter away at the bottom of the screen, which you are also in charge of driving. You have to select Lella’s dialogue for just about everything by swiping up and down to choose what to say and confirming with a simple tap.
Much like a real road trip, Wheels of Aurelia also features a good amount of stops. In your journey on the Via Aurelia, there are towns for you to stop in to meet new characters and a good number of hitchhikers for you to pick up along the way if you so choose. Each of these characters has their own reasons for being on the road in 1970s Italy, and it’s fascinating to hear their stories and weigh in on them as you drive them along.
As you talk to these people and drive at the same time, the game’s mechanics end up doing a surprisingly good job of mimicking what it would really be like to drive on a winding road while engrossed in conversation. At several times when playing, I crashed because I was paying too much attention to what people were saying. Thankfully, the consequences for doing something like that in Wheels of Aurelia are pretty minor. There is no real way to get a game over in the game, and bumping into other cars merely slows you down temporarily.
By the time you reach your final destination in Wheels of Aurelia, not much time has passed. A single playthrough of the game can easily be done in 15 minutes or so, but playing the game once reveals that there’s much more to the game than that. In Wheels of Aurelia, you can travel to different towns, pick up different hitchhikers, ditch companions, and more, all of which change the game and its ending.
Some of these paths have you take a pretty leisurely trip along the Via Aurelia, while others may feature racing, tailing other cars, or even resisting arrest. While it is neat that all of these paths exist and can result in radically different experiences, figuring out how to get these endings can be a little difficult, which could leave you replaying sections and using trial-and-error to find a new ending, which doesn’t really play to Wheels of Aurelia’s strengths.
The bottom line
Wheels of Aurelia is a game that leans heavily on its style and setting to create a compelling experience. Its mechanics aren’t complicated, and its story mostly exists to paint a picture of Italy circa 1978, but the end result is a game that can still draw you into a world that is rarely—if ever—explored in games, and that's something worth celebrating.