The world these days moves at such a fast-pace, that we can all be guilty of rushing around and ignoring the little things. Family time gets pushed to the background as other priorities in life take over. The moment you realise that you are taking things for granted, and not appreciating the gift you have been given, is the moment that you stop and want to make changes. Road to Guangdong is a game that embodies all these emotions and thoughts into its gameplay and characters. On the surface, it is a driving simulator similar to Jalopy. You must take an elderly relative on a journey, listening to their words of wisdom, and bettering yourself. But at its core, the gameplay goes much deeper. It’s about love, family, and taking time for all the small things that we may take for granted.
Road to Guangdong has been developed by Just Add Oil Games and published by Excalibur Games. It’s set in the 1990s in Guangdong, where you control the young female protagonist called Sunny. She has dreams of a life in the art world and has moved away from home to study at university. She returns when tragedy strikes, and both her parents are killed. Without a parental figure in her life, her Aunty Guu Ma steps into this role, and offers guidance as the pair take a road trip to invite family members to a traditional meal. Everyone loves a good road trip, you are well prepared, your car is sturdy and designed for the job, and you plan for every eventuality. This road trip is different, as Guu Ma insists that you take your trip in her beloved car Sandy. This is a poignant moment, as this vehicle is the last connection that Sunny has with her parents, so though it’s not the best choice, it’s the one that is right to help reunite the Tong family.
Sunny is a typical young woman who knows her own mind, when she hears that she has inherited the family business, she wants to distance herself from the responsibility. This wasn’t how she saw her life, but with the help of Guu Ma, and her family, she can reinvent the restaurant, and keep the tradition alive. As you complete each part of the journey, you will meet different relatives, and will have to build bridges, and bond with them. During the conversations you are given the chance to direct the tone of the questions. If you build a good rapport, each person will offer you their secret recipe, which can then be used in your newly inherited restaurant. Like with your family and mine, some conversations you have are hard, and the subjects can be raw. At points it made for tough reading as you are given the chance to alter someone’s understanding of their own life, and the people they call family. The developers did really well with the emotional side of the game, and I bought into the sense that the game was all about bringing people together, no matter how difficult it may be.
The game’s main premise revolves around the bond between Sunny and Sandy, and the message that you must take your time, and look after the small things. This again is reminiscent of Jalopy. In both titles, you are responsible for the elderly person who you are travelling with, managing money, purchasing goods, and keeping the battered old car on the road. Before you set off, you are given a lesson in how to maintain your vehicle from the local mechanic. This is absolutely vital as Sandy falls apart quicker than toys purchased in a £1 store. Every millimetre you move drains vital fuel and adds wear and tear. It’s a constant battle and failing to plan for your trip will cost you all your money. When you first begin, you will floor the car like you are Lewis Hamilton, ragging this old dog around corners on 2 wheels. This isn’t advisable. The car overheats, you crash into everything as it handles like a shopping trolley, and it’s just a bad idea. If you wish to succeed at this game, treat the old vehicle with kid gloves, driving everywhere slowly, and visiting every garage you find. You may think, “That sounds tedious as hell!” I’ll admit, it took a bit of getting used to, but the micromanagement of resources, and the desire to finish the road trip made you want to keep this little old car going.
One thing that I didn’t like in this title compared to Jalopy was the navigation once you had chosen your route. In Road to Guangdong you set out, and there are no indication or signs to tell you that you are on the correct path. It gave you a sense of freedom, but it was also frustrating as I didn’t know if I was heading in the correct direction, or how long I had to go. It made planning for fuel, and parts very challenging. There were moments where I played car roulette, and nearly every time I lost out. An old school map to show just the route would have been sufficient, and it would have matched the era.
When driving you are free to set your lights, speak to Guu Ma, and change the radio. Now call me immature, but your aunty only likes the classic Chinese music, and turns over whatever channel you select. Each time she did this I would automatically turn it over again, wait a few seconds, and hear her grumble about the terrible music. It was a pointless endeavour, but it made me laugh every time. That’s not me being immature, is it?
What I loved about this is the vibrancy of colours, and the different landscapes that you drive through. As you have to move so slowly, you get to observe everything around you. The graphics, however, aren’t really of this generation, and if you come to this expecting AAA imagery, then you will be left feeling very sour indeed. There are several glitches I experienced, from scenery disappearing, to flickering screens, and cars ghosting through me. It was all very strange, but somehow it didn’t ruin the experience. I became accustom to the sharp lines, and almost PS1 style graphics quickly, and could ignore these issues as they didn’t affect the gameplay at all.
Now the audio is a different beast all together. It’s limited to say the least, none of the dialogue is spoken, and the game requires you to absorb quite a lot of text. It would have been nice to hear from the main characters, especially when you were driving, even if it was just small talk. Instead, you have some classical Chinese music to listen to (the style that you hear in a Chinese restaurant), or Asian dance music. Both were terrible, and if it wasn’t for the amusement of upsetting Guu Ma, it would have been awful. The text is met with a retro tapping noise, which drives you insane after a while. Though the audio added a traditional feel to the title, and set the scene, it did nothing to increase the emotional connection, and was the weakest element of this game.
I’ve already mentioned the steering quality of Sandy, quite frankly its appalling. It has the turning circle of a tank, and the brakes are shocking. This is the only element that is controller heavy, and it was like dragging several tons of sand in this old shed of a car. Though it was hard work, it represented the age of the vehicle perfectly, and added to the realism of the game. The rest of the controls are simple enough, and as the title wants you to take your time, there is very little risk of making a mistake, not that it would matter if you did, anyway.
On paper, or if someone was to say to me, you’d love a game about driving your elderly relative around 1990s China, I’d have laughed at them. But this game is oddly addictive. From the moment that you set out, you want to bring this family together, and fulfil Sunny’s parents’ last wishes. It’s such a chilled out game, and everything is so slowly paced that is very relaxing. It has a simple achievement list if you are so inclined, and these are unlocked if you build suitable relationships with every person you meet. I’m not sure how much replay value this has, mainly because the premise is repetitive. If you were to ignore the emotional tie to why the action takes place, it can be dry. With the already mention shortcomings in the navigation it makes failing unrewarding, and unfair. This being said, the first playthrough is extremely rewarding, and the story is well told, and delivered at a nice pace.
Driving simulators will not be everyone’s cup of tea. The idea of nursing an old banger around the countryside while you reconcile your family will not be to everyone’s taste. But, the emotional element of this game is so strong, and how you influence the bonds between people is so well written, that you can’t help but fall for this title. The developers have done a superb job of producing a game that keeps you interested throughout, even when there is nothing going on. Do I recommend that you play this? I do, but you must give yourself some time to become accustom to what can be a confusing start to the action. Life goes too quickly, and sometimes what you plan doesn’t come to fruition. It’s time to slow down and focus on the little things.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Road to Guangdong Review
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 4/10
Replay Value - 5/10
User Review( votes)
A Driving simulator that has the core message of family, love and friendship. Can you reconcile the family to grant your parents’ last wishes?
- Oddly addictive.
- Slow and relaxing pace.
- The graphics are dated, but colourful and vivid.
- A touching and emotional story.
- A number of graphical glitches.
- The audio is lacklustre, and doesn’t support the emotional element of the story.
- Gameplay can be confusing to start with.