Review: Freeways11 Oct 2017 9
Released 15 Oct 2017
Developer Justin Smith makes super interesting, low key indie games. 2014’s Desert Golfing was an (almost) endless supply of 2D golf courses set within a pixel-art designed desert. Its absolute simplicity mixed in with varying degrees of difficulty kept me and others compelled as we aimed to reach the 64,465th hole.
His latest release, Freeways, is a sort of motorway simulator with a very simple concept that quickly becomes fiendishly difficult as the stakes are raised. The objective is to connect entry and exit points together - trying to find a smooth a flow as possible for the traffic. A basic level will have a few of these points, and connecting everything together in a seamless enough fashion shouldn’t cause too much trouble. It starts off simple enough: drag the road up to the middle of the screen and split it off into three separate directions till they’re connected up with each exit. Problem is, you’ve gone and taken up the middle of the screen with this motorway and now need to make a whole bunch of flyovers to avoid creating a mass of congestion. So you go and do same thing with another entry point, raising the motorway path - which can be raised twice - and then proceed to use the same idea of splitting the path in three, but from a raised road in order to connect all the exits. This works for the earlier levels, but it will become apparent quickly that it’s not a sustainable method, especially when the elevated roads are taken away from you.
Once you’ve completed the network, the game will calculate your total efficiency score based on how much concrete you used, the speed of traffic flow and how complex the system is in general. It’s crushing to see what looked like a well crafted network of roads turn into a fifty car pile up and everything comes to a grinding halt. The crucial goal is to keep the traffic flowing at all times. Considerable forward-planning is needed, as dog-piling a junction at the end with the last remaining bit of space is the quickest way to causing a jam.
The thing I love about Freeways is that it forces you to get creative, but doesn’t have or need to give you any incentive on how. Each failed attempt comes with something learned. Each failed attempt is only ever a couple of minutes at most. Each failed attempt that sees you getting a step closer to creating a free-flowing network of motorways is exhilarating - a feeling I was not expecting to have. I also appreciate that you can always go back to prior maps and improve on them. Certainly as you learn new tricks and approaches to forming the roads, you’ll see all the flaws in your early maps that can be improved with a few small changes.
Freeways has one huge glaring issue that causes no end of frustration: the inability to undo simple mistakes. You can clear the screen and start again, but if your finger slips or the game decides to freak out trying to decide what path you were trying to register, there’s not a lot you can do besides start the whole area over again. For a game that feels so finely tuned, it’s massive oversight that I hope gets patched soon.
It’s also frustrating on the odd occasion when the road you’ve connected up to a roundabout registers in the opposite direction than intended. You will get the knack for knowing where not to connect a road up, but having the option to undo a small mistake and not have to start the process over would be a small but highly valued tool. You won’t feel the pain of this early on, but as the task at hand increases in difficulty and you have to come up with an ever increasing list of ways to connect up that final road - making a small error that can’t be reversed is the only genuine moment of frustration during the game.
The game is light on options. In fact, the entire presentation and options available feel akin to something off of the Atari 2800. There’s the options to clear the map or zoom out to select a new area - that’s pretty much it. Locations and Landmarks are made of crudely designed squares. Cars are not exactly intricately detailed, but the colour coding - especially when you speed the game up to test if your network actually works - gives a clear indication of where traffic is coming from, where it’s going to, and if there’s a clear indicator of problems and the culprit.
AI works for the most part. If you spot four lanes of traffic all connecting into one lane and create a new path for particular flow of traffic (usually used to connect a direct route to an exit) the game will register what you’re aiming for and will send cars aiming for that particular exit off on your new road - alleviating the pressure of the nightmare junction you had previously created. There is the odd occasion the game won’t register this - usually because of a mistake made trying to connect the road up - but it’s not game breaking, especially because each map only takes a few minutes to create.
Seeing the end result of your work, particularly when you zoom out and see the entire network of tiny dots across your tangled mess of concrete, is oddly charming. There is a rough-and-ready crudeness about Freeways that has totally won me over. I’ve restarted maps countless times - even ones I’ve completed, because there’s always improvements that can be made to your mangled creations. Because of how fiddly it can get, I do wonder if it'll ever release onto phones as currently it's tablet only. However, for its price, if you’re even remotely curious I would say pick it up. You can’t make anything worse than the M25 (a particularly notorious motorway/highway in the UK -ED).