There are solely two radio channels within the slice-of-life driving simulator, Road to Guangdong–one performs some mix of milquetoast “oriental” music, whereas the opposite broadcasts extra upbeat and decidedly trendy synthwave-inspired melodies. It’s this gulf between the 2 genres that additionally appears to encourage one of many few highlights behind Road to Guangdong: the light-hearted ribbing between you and your Guu Ma–the Chinese honorific for aunts–as you embark on a highway journey collectively. The aged Guu Ma’s disdain for the pulsating grooves of digital music means she’s going to at all times attempt to change the radio channel again to the vaguely Guangdong-esque music she’s extra conversant in, after a lot grumbling concerning the unrefined state of contemporary music. You can, in fact, flip the channel again once more, if solely to harass her–and cackle at her exasperation as she reaches out to alter the music as soon as once more.
While this small interplay is mildly amusing, it does not maintain the sport’s novelty for lengthy. Road to Guangdong is a long-winding, exhausting ride–and I do not imply by way of hours. Not solely is its pacing extraordinarily sluggish, its characters’ minimalist expressions are additionally overly mechanical and too restricted of their vary to convey any emotion–an unlucky design alternative that solely brings extra consideration to the sport’s flat, lacklustre dialogues. This is made extra obvious when Guu Ma sometimes sprinkles some canned recommendation over the course of your infinite drives, one in every of which is a recurring suggestion to alter your radio channel. But why would you counsel that, Guu Ma, if the one different possibility is these trance-like bangers you hate a lot?
This unnaturalness–even a way of aberration–also extends to the remainder of the sport. You play as Sunny Tong, a younger college artwork graduate whose mother and father have just lately handed away in an accident. They’ve left behind a restaurant so that you can handle, and accompanied by your Guu Ma, you will be driving your dad’s closely battered, decades-old car–lovingly nicknamed Sandy–to go to your family members throughout Guangdong. At the identical time, you will even be accumulating hand-me-down recipes from them to run the restaurant with. One half interactive novel, one half highway journey simulator, Road to Guangdong alternates between driving to your family members’ houses and interacting along with your prolonged household.
Road to Guangdong is not cavalier about its tales’ cultural context, on the very least. This may be noticed in how Sunny addresses her family members by their correct phrases of kinship, in addition to via Guu Ma’s gruff pragmatism and awkwardness with verbal affections, that are very quintessentially Chinese. A major a part of this is because of developer Just Add Oil Games’ narrative designer and cultural guide Yen Ooi, who clearly has a hand in shaping the story. However, all the pieces else about Road to Guangdong rapidly falters, for there’s little real heat to be discovered within the interactions along with your family members. Visits to each family are simply messy knots of familial issues that Sunny has to untangle, and all these are unravelled with such muted enthusiasm that all of it comes off as extremely drab.
Like a visible novel, conversations happen by selecting from an inventory of dialogue choices, peppered by insights you may decide up on to develop in your conversations. Ultimately, these decisions quantity to little or no, with none marked affect on how the sport ultimately performs out. Odder nonetheless is the distinct lack of music throughout these narrative segments, apart from the jarringly artificial UI sound results that ring whenever you scroll via your responses, which solely echo the sheer vacancy of the household dynamics. Towards the top, I used to be merely clicking via the dialogue simply to rapidly conclude the narrative chapters. I truthfully could not wait to get again on the highway.
That’s to not say the driving is any extra compelling than these visits–it solely serves as a slight reprieve from the tedium of familial exchanges. The household automotive is a dilapidated heap of junk that is barely held collectively by schmaltz and nostalgia, so it could’t go too quick in case the car offers manner. Meanwhile, you additionally must be careful in your petrol and oil meter earlier than they get too low, and cycle out automotive elements that may be conveniently picked up in scrapyards alongside your journey or bought at gasoline stations. It bears a outstanding resemblance to Jalopy–both share the identical publisher–but the repairs are nothing greater than busywork to pad the sport with, as scrap elements may be present in sheer extra.
And whereas the drive itself may be hypnotic and soothing at occasions, the cathartic pleasure of cruising down asphalt is absent. The roads in Road to Guangdong are largely straight and mind-numbingly linear, with the one pit stops you make the scrapyards and gasoline stations you will see each few kilometers. What makes this even duller, and even unnecessarily grating, are the uninspiring pastel-hued scenery–a joyless rendition of the bustling province of Guangdong–as effectively because the insipid spin on Guangdong music and digital tunes on the radio. I discovered myself turning down the grasp quantity and enjoying exterior music over it to remove a few of the humdrum.
Guu Ma, too, makes for an immensely stale highway journey companion. Rather than replicate the movement and cadences of actual conversations, small speak along with her feels totally scripted and stilted. Far from conversing with a beloved relative, this dialogue is extra akin to interacting with a digital assistant in your rickety automotive, as she regurgitates reminders concerning the state of your sedan at particular intervals. Is your automotive guzzling an excessive amount of petrol? Guu Ma will intermittently drop hints about pulling it over for a fast refuel. The needle in your temperature gauge swaying too often into the pink? Guu Ma tells you the fan belt most likely wants servicing. Or maybe the automotive is buzzing too loudly? Like clockwork, she offers a perfunctory response on how this can be on account of a defective automotive engine or worn-out tire. While actually a veritable fountain of vehicular information, Guu Ma is unfortunately not a lot else. She additionally dishes out banal anecdotes concerning the household, however they add no shades of intimacy to your relationship along with her and your family members.
Road to Guangdong appears to carry a lot promise at first, regardless of its easy premise. There generally is a tender attraction to search out within the simplicity of its conceit–the mixture of the storytelling energy of visible novels and the unhurried tempo of driving sims. After all, anecdotal tales may be powerfully memorable of their brevity, and the thought of lengthy drives alongside asphalts roads can have a nice, leisurely attract. On paper, Road to Guangdong appears to have the mellow, slice-of-life method down pat, though you will quickly notice its execution is something however.
And as a Chinese participant, I had are available anticipating extra from a studio referred to as Just Add Oil Games–a title that is a cheeky reference and a literal translation of the Chinese phrase “jia you,” an expression of encouragement and help. But its forged of Road to Guangdong is little greater than an ensemble of lifeless, cardboard cutouts of a Chinese household, regardless of the very best efforts of its author Ooi (who’s coincidentally the one member of Chinese descent on her crew). In the top, Road to Guangdong does not fairly dwell as much as its modest ambitions as an intimate driving expertise, because it shapes as much as be a meandering highway journey that merely cannot finish quickly sufficient.