Over the past few months, the ID@Xbox program has brought several intriguing titles to the Xbox One. From the prison-breaking antics of The Escapists to the chaotic action of #IDARB, there has been no shortage of indies available for the console. Of all the notable releases to have come from the program so far, though, perhaps none are as odd as Roundabout, the debut effort from No Goblin.
Set in the swinging year of 1977, Roundabout tells the tale of Georgio Manos, the premier driver in the world of rotating limousines. Yes, you read that correctly. This limousine does not do straight lines, but rather is constantly spinning from location to location. It still drives people around, like any regular limousine would, but does so in a rotating manner. Oh, and it can also jump across the city of Roundabout as well.
Since everyone in the city travels via limousine, business is booming for Georgio. Driving customers (plus their kids, and occasionally their lunch) is the main goal here, but this isn’t just another spin on the Crazy Taxi formula. Rather, the gameplay is heavily influenced by the Gameboy Advance puzzler, Kuru Kuru Kuruin. Except, instead of guiding a pole through a maze, you’re guiding a rotating limousine through crowded streets.
With the majority of the missions following the same basic pattern — which is driving passengers to their desired locations — it’s remarkably easy to jump right into Roundabout. The controls are extremely basic and the missions are straight-forward, so there’s little learning time required before you are good to go. It’s rather fun and thrilling for the most part, too, as being able to perfectly thread a small opening is incredibly satisfying. However, despite the simplicity of its controls, the title can be extremely punishing at times.
Being successful in Roundabout boils down to timing and precision, and a simple miscalculation on either of those factors will lead you to a fiery death. Your limousine can only take five shots at a time, so you need to be careful to avoid the assorted cars, planes, and trees that litter the metropolis. While completing every mission is more than possible, thanks to a friendly checkpoint system, 100%-ing each one is a little more difficult. In order to properly complete each task, as well as 100% the game, you’ll need to finish each objective while also meeting certain guidelines. These include not taking any damage, completing something under a certain time limit, and avoiding direction-shifting stacks of tires.
It’s wonderful that No Goblin rarely punishes you for messing up during a mission, though its debut is certainly mechanically unfair from time-to-time. The hit window for the limousine seems extremely large, and all too often it seemed like I would easily clear an object, only to find my ride getting scuffed up by it. Even worse are the times where I would get wedged in-between two objects and quickly explode. If there wasn’t such a gracious checkpoint engine, I probably would have smashed my expensive Xbox One controller by the end of the campaign.
On top of these frustrations, the title is also surprisingly buggy at times. I’m not sure if these issues were prevalent in the original PC release, but numerous times during my session with Roundabout, I saw my limousine clip through objects and, sometimes, fall right through them. This was most notably witnessed during a latter portion of the title that sent me to a local fair. During this section, I frequently fell through the merry-go-rounds that I was supposed to be able to stand upon. As you can imagine, falling through these objects leads to your vehicle getting wrecked. Those weren’t the only issues I came across, though, as the game did delete my progress during its third area. Twice.
It’s a shame that Roundabout is so frustrating to play at times, because there really is an abundance of content included here. The open-world Georgio drives around in houses plenty of secrets, including various horns, bundles of cash, and buildings, which can be purchased with cash in order to cultivate even more money. Also, the main campaign itself will take a few hours to complete, and even longer to 100%. On top of that, there are several bonus games tacked on. These include running through each of the main missions in sequential order, bouncing a soccer ball on your ride, and traveling across the desert in a segment that is reminiscent of the Desert Bus minigame from Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors.
The main reason I kept playing through the campaign, though, had little to do with the gameplay itself. Rather, I kept pushing forward in order to continue watching the hilarious storyline cutscenes. Told through FMV and stock footage, the story is frequently absurd and occasionally endearing. The various passengers you drive around are all hilariously awkward, from the Swedish/Canadian tourist to the drug-induced skeleton and Mickey the Mechanic, your pseudo-guide. Despite not uttering a word the entire time, the star here, of course, is Georgio Manos. Played by Kate Welch, Georgio says more with a simple glance or facial expression than most of the other actors do with an entire sentence.
In the world of transportation-based video games, Roundabout stands out from the Crazy Taxi and 18 Wheelers of the world. With its absurd premise and hilariously awkward storyline, it presents something unique and makes for a decent debut effort. Be warned, however, that underneath all of this silliness lies a fiendishly difficult, and perhaps a little unfair, gameplay experience.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided to us.
While the gameplay of Roundabout may be a little sloppy and unfair at points, its gleefully absurd premise and storyline are just enough to mask these faults.