First Impressions: When I first saw the trailer for this game in class, I was interested, even if it was mainly to listen to the Italian soundtrack. Even though the trailer was enough to pique my interest, it didn't do enough to explain the depth of the game.
The basic pitch of the game, as I understood it, is that you are driving through Italy, picking up hitchhikers and talking to them. You control the car, and, at the same time, choose what to say in your conversations with your passengers. It sounded like a bizarre concept for a game, more of a proof-of-concept or thought experiment than an actual game. Luckily, that pitch severely undersold the game. In just the first chapter (not counting the tutorial level), the conversation ranged from the struggle between Communists and Fascists in Italy, the politics of abortion, and whether non-London-based punks can truly call themselves punk.
Wheels of Aurelia digs in right from the start and offers more depth than I’m used to in a mobile game.
Going Further: Wheels of Aurelia is lots of fun to play and ends up being more complex than its simple mechanics would suggest. The game itself is short, but because of the variety of choices available (and different outcomes based on those choices), offers great replayability. I played fully through twice, and then started from different levels a few more times. It was only at that point that I repeated an ending.
Part of what I enjoyed about the game was its historical accuracy. I’m the type of person who falls down a wiki rabbit hole and ends up reading about post-WWII Italian political history, and WoA captures a particularly turbulent time in Italian politics. The difference is that WoA describes it from a woman-on-the-street perspective, while Wikipedia treats it in a sterile, historical, matter-of-fact way. Wikipedia might be good for understanding what happened, but WoAgives an impression of what it was like to live through it.
As for the actual gameplay, there were a variety of characters who didn't follow the same script every time they appeared. The first time I met “the Gorilla,” an ex-racecar driver, I don’t think I had much interaction with him. When I met him in a later playthrough, it was hinted that he may have just escaped from prison, and I ended up being his getaway driver for a bank robbery!
The only negative thing I can say about the game is that sometimes the conversations don’t sync with the gameplay. One example is the bank robbery: there is a discussion that cops may somewhere behind, but they never actually appear. I don’t think it would a police chase would have added anything to the game (it probably would have taken away from it), but it did serve to take away from the reality of the game. The other more noticeable non-sequitur between conversation and gameplay was one point where Olga (the primary companion on the road trip) is feeling sick due to her pregnancy and is imploring you to get her to a doctor/hospital immediately! then chipperly announces, “Look, there’s a hitchhiker, we should pick them up!” Out of all the different conversations I had, for only two of them to take me completely out of the reality of the game is quite an accomplishment.
For $2.99, Wheels of Aurelia is a great deal. It fulfills on the promise of a game whose consequences are determined by your choices, and, although it does deal with some serious topics, it captures some of the fun and excitement that I imagine a road trip through Italy in 1978 would offer.