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Wheels of Aurelia: a game about driving?

“Are you a feminist?”

Two young women alone in a sports car: there’s probably a political dimension to this. Certainly in Italy in the 1970s there is, anyway, where everything has a political dimension. “Terrorism, kidnappings, political turmoil” reads the marketing blurb. So be it. A hitchhiker the women pick up wears a Juventus scarf, and that kicks off a discussion that skirts around the issue of workers’ rights and of who owns who – at least I think it does; it never quite lands on its presumed target. Minutes later, an aggressive city type who challenges the women to a race as far as Siena lights the fuse on a proxy war between commies and fascists, a proxy war that is always ready to explode here.

This is Wheels of Aurelia, the latest treat from Santa Ragione, a tiny indie developer that is fast becoming one of my favourite game-makers. Their last game, Mirrormoon EP, turned out to be everything I think I want from No Man’s Sky, and more – so much more – besides, while previous games include a puzzler, of sorts, about hunting through bookcases. Everywhere Santa Ragione seems to turn, you get something unexpected and tart. This time it’s a conversation game that is also a driving game and occasionally a racing game – and also, inevitably, a game about politics, personal and otherwise, the true dimensions of which I am far too stupid to grasp.

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But that’s the thing about road trips: you don’t need to grasp anything. Not fully. Not when you’re behind the wheel of a sports car and the pastel countryside is slipping past in such a dreamy manner. Italy was ugly in the 1970s, I gather, but it was also perversely beautiful. Wheels of Aurelia’s an isometric affair in which you drive a little Dinky Toy car through Bizarre Ware surroundings: green lawns, whitewashed buildings, elegant umbrella trees and a beautiful blue sea. Was Clarice Cliff secretly an Italian? The eye for detailing is perfect. I love the radio towers. I love the sailboats. This is a driving game that is weirdly willing to let you zone out. In the current build, your car even ghosts through traffic instead of landing you in a collision, and the gently curving track generally bumps you back into the right direction when you rebound off the side.