A new game by publisher Playway S.A. and developed by Code Horizon (both Polish companies who seem to be well versed in casual and simulation games), Playway’s flagship title: Car Mechanic Simulator looks to be a pretty standard monotonous task simulator that hosts a raft of DLC. And Code Horizon, I was interested to find out, is a sort of Video gaming contractor, their website boasts a general vision and competence towards developing for an end user, much like a lot of freelance companies, seemingly without their ideas necessarily coming from within.
Disclaimer: The code for this game was supplied by the developer at my request.
It is no surprise that this game is a licensed title, the franchise in question is Gold Rush, a pseudo-reality TV show set in Alaska, where canny miners compete and collaborate to obtain riches from the town of Haines, the self styled “Gold Mining Capital Of The World”. It seems Playway obtained a deal with The Discovery Channel somewhere down the line.
Whatever the case, this title has become a bit of a flavour of the month with various prominent Youtubers playing through it. The game itself is a fairly standard simulation game, you start with a pinch of gold dust and a few hundred dollars to your name with the goal of striking "pay dirt" and retiring early.
You load into the world in your trusty pickup truck and are led along by the in-game tutorial system, which while being comprehensive, is perhaps a little too annoying at times, constantly telling you things you already know. This is a slight criticism faced with the fact that I really enjoyed the first few hours, going to the warehouse and purchasing the basics, renting a little plot of land, piling all my kit into my truck and pulling up to the trailer before setting everything up and getting started.
I mentioned before that the tutorials were comprehensive, every step of the way is detailed in your “journal” with tips on how to proceed and there are even little video tutorials that show you exactly what to do. So I set up my “hog pan” and the sluice and start shovelling, after a good half an hour of pouring water onto the gold-rich soil, my little mats in the sluice were about half full, so I pulled them out, washed them off in the water and started panning!
It sounds very narrative, but it’s true to life, the starting hours of the game are very tactile, you play first person and actually take part in all the steps with all the individual items used being manipulatable in some way, meaning yes you have to physically lug everything from one place to another. the shovelling and pouring is monotonous but you really feel invested when you pan the water and see those little nuggets shining.
My main gripe comes in two forms, namely the pacing of the game is totally off and the endgame feels entirely two-dimensional. About three hours into digging, pouring and panning, the game basically gives you a massive amount of gold. “You’re lucky!” It exclaims and we “find” a big nugget worth tens of thousands, without which we would have most definitely had to spend many more hours engaged in that same gameplay loop of:
Fill Hog Pan with dirt until mats are full.
Pan water from mats.
Go sell gold.
I feel this decision was made when they realised how long it was going to take the player go from this “tier one” mining to the more industrious second tier, but I feel like they really pigeon-holed themselves with the fact that you can only set up one mining operation on each “parcel” of land and with how long the loop is.
My latter gripe comes in when you do have enough money to go on to the next set of systems, they are so much more advanced than tier one it’s unreal. You go from needing about 600 dollars worth of equipment to minimum 40k just to set up the next operation, namely involving the use of a mechanical excavator and a big machine that does all the work for you. (which by the way, increases my opinion of this game innately, anyone who designs a fully functional digger and lets me play with it, has my attention).
The third tier is even more impressive, you essentially set up an entire hillside with machinery and sluices which you have to position into place with your excavator, but in real terms the only difference is the initial setup and the scale. Then as far as I can see, that is it, your scope for progression ends and you’re left in the trap that all simulation games eventually fall into, the automation takes over and you watch your money tick up into infinity with very little input from the player.
I feel like the devs maybe missed a trick with the game, as the driving and manipulation aspects of the game are so enjoyable but everything is so restricted, you can’t really bounce off scenery objects and every boundary outside the play area is a hard invisible wall. I feel if the constraints were let off and if we were able to, let’s say, build wherever or take excavators to glitch through town, this game could have real cult and modding potential.
As it stands, the game retails for about 20 bucks and for that you’re going to get about 20-30 hours of real simulator gameplay before you reach a fun plateau. I enjoyed my time with it and I think the hype around the game is mostly- deserved, and frankly I love it when little sim games come onto the scene and do well, so good luck to all involved.
It must also be noted that the publisher posted an indiegogo and Kickstarter campaign some 3 months ago, both raising about 140k in return for early access and promised added content, which to me seems a little odd, since some of the “stretch goals” that made it into the release version would presumably have taken a little more than three months to implement, but there are “coming soon” signs littered about the game, so I would expect more content forthcoming.