Tucked into last month’s Humble Monthly Bundle, along with games like Wasteland 2, ARK: Survival Evolved and I Am Bread, was a small retro style game with the moniker “Humble Monthly Debut” – Switchcars. Released into early access on Steam on 4th March 2016, the developer describes Switchcars on the Steam store page as “a vehicular roguelike arcade [game] set in a broken spacetime”. Normally, I run as far away from roguelike games as possible as they are just not my cup of tea, but the description of the game and the screenshots convinced me that it might just be crazy enough to be interesting so I gave it a shot – and I’m glad I did!
The story of Switchcars is simple enough – run away, as fast as possible, from giant green alien space beasts (who I have affectionately christened “Ghurkle”) using vehicles that you “borrow” to sprint though time until you reach the year 2055. Sounds simple enough, but the difficulty of achieving this, along with the procedurally generated environments, means that every game is different, so you have to adjust your strategy as you go, trying to get a little bit further each time before dying. And you will die. A lot. Whether it’s crashing your vehicle once too often, being gnawed by Ghurkle or a simple case of man’s head vs dumpster at high speed, each death is unique and just frustrating enough that I want to immediately buckle in for another go.
Gameplay in Switchcars is simple, but rewarding. Choose your destiny with a controller or keyboard (both are equally responsive) then run like hell to the right, either on foot or using your trusty grappling hook, pinching any vehicle that might be useful. Starting in 1985 (although earlier starts are possible if you like punishment) you travel through different time periods, in increments of five years, trying to get through the time zone you’re in before the timer runs out and Ghurkle bounds in like an overly affectionate Great Dane. There are time rifts scattered around for a quick speed boost and each zone is made up of different stages which all have a unique feel, from forests to ice plains and even space with unique vehicles for each stage. Once you reach a new zone, you have a brief “safe zone” respite where you can repair your vehicles and steal some new ones before beginning the sprint again.
You can store an inventory of up to three vehicles, so it’s a good idea to have a variety of vehicles ready to go, rather than just carrying an inventory of coaches (don’t ask). You can also get power ups for your vehicles (winged tanks anyone) to make your like easier when you can find them and a recent update even added a helmet to protect your cranium from cracking like an egg. Speaking of vehicles, there are over 1000 types currently present in the game, with planes, trains and automobiles all accounted for as well as boats, tanks, ambulances and many, many more. The really awe-inspiring part is that all of them behave slightly differently, which prevents the game from becoming stale. All of these vehicles have their own fuel gauges (if you run out, you need to pinch another vehicle or grappling hook like a certain Mr Rodriguez) and they can only take so much punishment and will explode occasionally leaving you scrambling for another vehicle. The difficulty ramps up in the different zones, so 2015 is much more punishing than 1995 which gives Switchcars immense replayability. Also, as each game is procedurally generated, you don’t end up grinding the same levels trying to memorise patterns – you are equally doomed every time you play! Another nice feature is that after your inevitable demise, your start year is adjusted depending on how you did, so if you’re doing well you don’t need to start at 1985 every time. The furthest I’ve got at this point is 2026, so I’m nowhere near the end, but I’m not ready to give up just yet!
Graphics and sound wise, Switchcars is great. The graphics are in the retro 8/16 bit style and are cheerful and colourful and remind me a bit of the classic Command and Conquer games. The zones are all distinct having a unique look and feel which leaves you in no doubt where you are and the vehicles all look different enough that you can learn to spot the ones you need to avoid. There is one problem with the graphics – the game is locked to 1280×800 which doesn’t look the best on my 1920×1080 display. It can be played windowed, but support for more resolutions would be nice. The music is an adaptive thumping chip tunes sound track (literally, my subwoofer has fun with this game) that wouldn’t sound out of place coming out of an Atari 520 or even a C64. The sound effects are “whoompy” – when you hit something you really know about it!
So, would I recommend Switchcars in this “Early Access” state? Yep. It’s a fun little game which is seeing regular development updates to improve it further. The game is simple, yet effective, although I am curious to see what more the developer will add to improve long-term replayability, as I can see the simplicity wearing thin after a while. For now though, barring the resolution issue, I really recommend it and despite the developer saying the game is in late alpha, it’s playing smoothly with minimal issues so far. I think that the asking price of £5.99 is fair at this point and if you’re a Humble Monthly subscriber who hasn’t played this yet, I highly recommend giving it a look.
Switchcars is developed and published by Altfuture and is currently in early access on Steam.