Capsule Review: Car Quest

A 3D collectathon platformer where the player character happens to be a car. The simple gameplay and story, vaporwave-like visuals, and relaxed soundtrack suggest the game is intended to be a chill experience, but lack of polish and backtracking-heavy design make it increasingly frustrating as the map opens up.

A car-based platformer is something I’ve wanted ever since Jim Sterling asked why 3D Sonic games didn’t use driving controls in 2011, but Car Quest doesn’t take full advantage of the premise. While some areas and challenges are built to make use of a car’s movement style (ramps that you must drive up to reach midair collectibles, a slalom that must be completed quickly) much of the game feels like a generic platformer (you can even swim for some reason) and challenges like pushing blocks don’t fit well with the car.

There are two types of collectibles. “Artifacts” control progression - generally you can only get to one artifact at a time, and collecting it modifies the map in some way to open a path to the next one (which usually requires backtracking to get to). “Batteries” are found everywhere in large numbers and must occasionally be spent to pass through a teleport gate to a separate area housing the next artifact. These gated areas are the game’s highlight, their disconnected nature allowing each one to act like a discrete themed level as opposed to the sprawling and somewhat homogeneous hub area.

If you need to collect more batteries to use a gate, this is unforunately not a matter of further exploration - batteries respawn quickly and the fastest way to get more is just to circle around an area with a lot of them. This feels like a kludge to account for the fact that you lose 25 batteries when you fall off the track, which could otherwise make progression impossible if you fall too many times. But this solution damages exploration, making it so you can’t use batteries as a guide of where you have and haven’t been and removing incentives to check out map areas that aren’t just on the way to the next artifact. It probably would have been better to drop both the respawn and the penalty for falling and make sure that full exploration always provides a few more batteries than you need to progress.

The game’s chilled-out visuals and music and a near-complete absence of threats and time limits suggest it’s aiming for a relaxed atmosphere, and it nearly delivers on this. There are a few too many interruptions by the game’s guide character telling you something obvious, though a post-launch patch allows you to disable this character. It’s also easy to get lost. Each time you collect an artifact and open the path to the next, you’re briefly shown the area where the change has occurred, but there’s no waypoint or arrow or column of light to help you find it. This is okay when you’re first starting out and there aren’t many places to go, but it gets worse. The hub area becomes larger and more complicated to navigate, artifacts tend to send you zig-zagging back and forth across the hub in what feels like blatant padding, and you never get a map or any other additional guidance. You can replay the animation showing where the change occurred, but only by visiting designated “hint stations” added in a post-launch patch. Beyond that, you just have to remember where the next goal is and how to get there or just wander around until you find it.

There’s a solid core here, but the game feels unfinished to me. More polish (there aren’t even any shadows), less backtracking, and a few tweaks (navigational aides, fixing the battery collectibles) would have helped, though this is still fundamentally a car-based platformer that doesn’t make good use of the car.

Updated April 3, 2019: A recent update made several significant changes including the ability to disable the guide character and the addition of “hint stations” to remind you where you’re supposed to go next. The review has been edited to reflect this.

I Stopped Playing When: After about two hours of relaxed play, the hub area’s size and complexity were becoming tedious with extended sequences of dull back-and-forth to collect artifacts. I was curious to see more gated levels, but not quite enough to put up with the time in the hub.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

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