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Wheels of Aurelia: a game about driving?

From deep space to the hard shoulder.

"Are you a feminist?"

Two young women alone in a sports car: there's probably a political dimension to this. Certainly in Italy in the 1970s there is, anyway, where everything has a political dimension. "Terrorism, kidnappings, political turmoil" reads the marketing blurb. So be it. A hitchhiker the women pick up wears a Juventus scarf, and that kicks off a discussion that skirts around the issue of workers' rights and of who owns who - at least I think it does; it never quite lands on its presumed target. Minutes later, an aggressive city type who challenges the women to a race as far as Siena lights the fuse on a proxy war between commies and fascists, a proxy war that is always ready to explode here.

This is Wheels of Aurelia, the latest treat from Santa Ragione, a tiny indie developer that is fast becoming one of my favourite game-makers. Their last game, Mirrormoon EP, turned out to be everything I think I want from No Man's Sky, and more - so much more - besides, while previous games include a puzzler, of sorts, about hunting through bookcases. Everywhere Santa Ragione seems to turn, you get something unexpected and tart. This time it's a conversation game that is also a driving game and occasionally a racing game - and also, inevitably, a game about politics, personal and otherwise, the true dimensions of which I am far too stupid to grasp.

The strange joy of useless machines Why great minds waste time. The strange joy of useless machines

But that's the thing about road trips: you don't need to grasp anything. Not fully. Not when you're behind the wheel of a sports car and the pastel countryside is slipping past in such a dreamy manner. Italy was ugly in the 1970s, I gather, but it was also perversely beautiful. Wheels of Aurelia's an isometric affair in which you drive a little Dinky Toy car through Bizarre Ware surroundings: green lawns, whitewashed buildings, elegant umbrella trees and a beautiful blue sea. Was Clarice Cliff secretly an Italian? The eye for detailing is perfect. I love the radio towers. I love the sailboats. This is a driving game that is weirdly willing to let you zone out. In the current build, your car even ghosts through traffic instead of landing you in a collision, and the gently curving track generally bumps you back into the right direction when you rebound off the side.

I drop in and out of the conversation, too, none of which I should really spoil. Suffice to say it's a picaresque affair, lots of travellers joining you for very short distances. You use the mouse wheel to select things to say, and sometimes you don't select anything and the dialogue just hangs in space. A strangely perfect modelling of the real world.

One of the woman left at Siena and the other one hitched along with a priest, whose car settled into a maddeningly slow cruise that somehow seemed like an indictment. A game in which speed gives you an insight into character! Wheels of Aurelia is quite a thing.

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