Note: This review is of the main game (version 1.4.2) and the Mazda, Dodge, and Jeep DLCs.
One enduring image from my childhood is that of my dad and uncles in the garage, tinkering under the hoods of their cars and fine tuning their motorbikes. They would do simple maintenance tasks like oil checks and filter changes and spot any bigger problems for the local mechanics to look at. Fast forward a couple of decades and clauses in loan and insurance agreements mean I only ever refuel and leave even minor jobs to the professionals. That is where Car Mechanic Simulator comes in – a virtual way to roll your sleeves up and get your invisible hands dirty. Is it an engrossing simulation or just a series of repetitive tyre changes? Read on and find out.
The game, Red Dot Games’ third offering in the series, does exactly what it says on the tin – you are a mechanic who takes on orders to fix cars. These can range from oil and filter changes to replacing rims and fixing suspension problems. The customer drops their vehicle off at your garage and away you go.
The first thing that struck me about the work area in Car Mechanic Simulator 2018 was the visuals. The aesthetic of the mechanic’s workshop is spot on from the dim, grimy concrete floor to the worn workstations and out-dated radio. Papers lie scattered over the tables and pinned to noticeboards and equipment fills up the dark corners. The only thing missing is a pin-up calendar on the wall!
The graphics are impressive too. The level of detail on the cars, especially as you zoom in close to the various parts, shows a great attention to detail and the lighting and shadows around the garage are eye-catching. Sound effects are simple but realistic as you remove wheels, nuts, and bolts or put the car through a path test.
This all helps create an immersive effect, but this is not maintained throughout the game. While there is specialist equipment in your garage, such as a car lift, a wheel balancing machine and an oil changer, there are no visible hand tools (or even hands!) when you are removing and mounting small parts. The generic cars in the game often have the same parts as well. You will constantly end up replacing a singular model of brake pads, for example. Also, the ordering or parts, done through the garage computer, happens instantly – while that allows the gameplay to keep flowing, anyone who has been told ‘it will take a few days to get the parts’ will know that is definitely not realistic!
Having said that, the game does offer more than 40 vehicles to look at from old rusted up bangers to modern small vehicles. The DLC also adds extra options to the game with detailed recreations of rela-life Jeep, Mazda, and Dodge models, as well as unique parts. Although the exact specifications of different engines and suspension systems are not entirely reproduced, there is enough variety (and at times complexity) from one job to the next to avoid boredom through repetition.
In terms of the jobs you take on, there are pre-generated ‘story orders’ and random generated orders to look at (thus combining how jobs were presented in the 2014 and 2015 editions of the game). The generated orders often come to you with a list of parts that need to be checked, repaired, and/or replaced and are a good way to earn XP and dollars while also learning the ropes. The story orders usually come with a description of a generic problem and you have to put your skills to the test to find out exactly what and where the issue is being caused. In the early stages of the game, this involves some trial and error but with a combination of extra equipment you can unlock and experience, fixing the cars becomes more about using your know-how to get the job done. You need to be a specific level for each story order, which encourages the player to mix things up between the two job types.
As you level-up and earn more cash, you can expand your garage to include more equipment for accurate analysis of vehicle performance issues and specialist repairs. You can also unlock a paint shop, parts warehouse, and extra space to work on multiple orders. There are also options to improve your skills such as faster removal and placement of parts, or a higher chance of successfully repairing old parts.
In addition to orders, you can also buy cars through auctions or showrooms. There are also ‘barn finds’ and junkyards where you can discover run down and abandoned vehicles. You can then either strip these cars for parts, or embark on a restoration project to either sell for a handsome profit or add to your personal collection. These cars can be stored in a multi-storey car park with extra levels unlockable as your restoration business grows. There is also the option to take these cars out to a track or take your Jeep off-road to test performance or just have some fun.
This is one of the games, like Euro Truck Simulator or Jalopy, that sounds in essence boring but actually turns out to be engaging and relaxing. After a long day at work, I welcome the chance to strip the suspension system off a bar and rebuild it or take a classic motor to the test track for a few laps. It certainly ticks the boxes as a fun experience.
I have only three minor improvements I would like to see in the game to complete the laid-back experience. First up, the controls and camera system – while clicking on the parts and holding down the mouse to work on them is straightforward enough, I often found myself selecting a part of the car only for the game to zoom in on another piece. At other times, I might be working on one engine part only to find the camera angle could not be adjusted to remove the next piece. I would then have to zoom out completely and find it again. Better optimized controls would help maintain the immersion.
The second frustration came with some parts being hard to find. On one story order, the overview list kept telling me there was one more unidentified part to repair but I could not find it. I eventually relented and looked up a guide online but even once I knew it was the fuel pump, finding it took ages of painstakingly clicking on every part of the car with the under-vehicle camera not easy to manage.
Finally, there is the music. Even though the radio has a few channels, the music quickly becomes repetitive (especially if you only like the offerings on the rock station like me). It would be great if, like Euro Truck Simulator 2, there was the option to make a playlist from our own files or even listen to a podcast or two.
These are only minor issues based on my preferences, however. Overall, Car Mechanic Simulator 2018 is an enjoyable game which offers plenty of scope for extended play as you work through the story orders, add some variety with generated jobs, and embark on restoration projects and building up a car collection. It is a great way to wind down at the end of the day and while you are unlikely to learn how to do DIY repairs on your own car from playing it, you are likely to find it an enjoyable and engaging experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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