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 missing navigational aides 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 may require backtracking to get to). “Batteries” are far more common, 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 don’t have enough batteries for the gate, you’ll need to collect more to progress, but this isn’t a matter of exploration - batteries respawn quickly, so the fastest way to get more is just to circle around an area with a lot of them.

The respawning 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 from the game’s guide character, Lord Blockstar, generally to tell you something obvious such as that you’d opened a door – immediately after the game showed you the opening door. Worse, there are no navigational aids pointing you to the next goal. 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 as you open more paths the hub area becomes larger and more complicated to navigate and you never get a map or any other additional guidance. You have to remember where the next goal is and how to get there or just wander around until you find it - which is particularly bad if you’ve put the game down for a while.

There’s a solid core here, but the game feels unfinished to me. More polish (there aren’t even any shadows) and a few relatively simple tweaks (navigational aides, fixing the battery collectibles) would have gone a long way.

I Stopped Playing When: After about two hours of relaxed play, I realized the hub area’s size and complexity were going to become unmanageable well before I finished the eight-to-ten hours of content. Knowing that I’d have to find stopping points where the next artifact was easy to locate if I wanted to be able to spend the next play session doing anything other than searching aimlessly made it difficult to want to start play sessions and I abandoned the game.

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.

You can get it or learn more here.