One of the weirdest genres to emerge on PC is the shitty old car simulator. I'm talking about games like Jalopy, Road to Guangdong, and My Summer Car, which see you exploring evocative locations in rusty, unreliable old automobiles that you have to periodically fix, flip over, or top up with fuel.
And now you can add The Long Drive to that list, a bare-bones but strangely compelling Early Access driving sim set in a vast procedurally generated desert. It's still in development, so there isn't much to do but drive, but there's something hypnotic about this endless, sandy wasteland.
Start a new game and you'll find yourself in a garage, getting ready for your trip into the dunes. You can top up your gas tank and load the trunk with water, because you're gonna need to stay hydrated in a forever desert.
I like how this preparation stage gives you a sense of embarking on an exciting, dangerous road trip, although the controls are clumsy and the physics are kinda twitchy at the moment. I keep idiotically dropping stuff or accidentally pulling the doors off my car. But the game's survival systems aren't fully in place yet, so a lot of this is just role-playing at the moment anyway.
Luckily, I don't care about survival: I just wanna drive long distances in silence. One of my favourite things to do in open world games is grab a car and aimlessly drive around the map enjoying the scenery. I have a couple of hundred hours logged in various truck simulators for the same reason.
The Long Drive scratches the same itch, and I find cruising along those lonely highways an enjoyable way to spend 30-40 meditative minutes. The almost minimalist aesthetic of the desert, and the deafening silence except for the howl of the wind, is surprisingly atmospheric. Especially when the sun begins to set, draping the wasteland in burning red light and long shadows.
Stick to the roads and you'll occasionally run across an old abandoned house or a roadside gas station, in which you can scavenge for new car parts, fuel, and other survival supplies. When you're low on fuel and limping along on your starter motor, seeing the silhouette of a building ahead is a relief.
You can even yank bits off other cars and attach them to your own, and as you play your vehicle slowly becomes a Frankenstein's monster of mismatched parts. There are dusty highways to follow, lined with electricity poles, or you can go off-road into the infinite desert where you'll find strange rock formations and towering mesas. But if you badly damage your car out here, or run out of fuel, you'll have a hard time making it back to the road.
The Long Drive has a long way to go, and games like Jalopy offer a similar, but more fully-formed experience. But the bones of something really interesting are here, and I'm intrigued to see how the developer builds on them. I just hope the purity of the driving remains the priority, rather than the survival elements, because we have enough of those games on PC already.
If you've ever wanted to drive a clunky little car through an eerily deserted expanse of long highways and seas of sand dunes, then The Long Drive is the answer to your very specific prayers. I'm not sure if it's quite worth the $10 asking price yet, but this could be one to keep an eager eye on.