Backlog: the joy of piloting a spinning limousine in Roundabout

By Brenna Hillier, Wednesday, 24 June 2015 09:01 GMT

Roundabout is an open world action game in which you pilot a spinning limousine through escalating challenges. No, look, stick with me here.

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Backlog is a new, irregular VG247 feature in which we take advantage of quieter times to check out games that went under our radars. Indies, sale bargains, classics or just missed opportunities – nothing is safe from our ravenous team. In this episode, Brenna tackles Roundabout.

I always knew I was going to like Roundabout at least a little bit because Dan Teasdale’s other major works – Destroy All Humans, Rock Band, The Gunstringer – have pleased me greatly. If I had realised just how much I was going to like it I probably wouldn’t have left it sitting unclaimed in my inbox for ten months.

Roundabout’s premise is ridiculous. When you read it, or have it explained to you, it sounds like a funny novelty. It doesn’t really start to make sense until you’ve blown up your spinning limousine half a dozen times and experienced a gestalt shift dividing the environments into things to be avoided and things to gleefully career through at high speed.

I powered through the entire story in two evenings, not caring that my scores were all ridiculously low on the global leaderboards and I died literally hundreds of times overcoming difficulty spikes.

Although I’m going to do my best to get you to try Roundabout, I’m not massively sold on the spinning limousine. I don’t have the patience needed to master the skills for reflex-based score attack games, and while Roundabout does present puzzle-like challenges, you also just need to be pretty good at piloting a spinning limousine, and I’m not.

Nevertheless, I’m ranked #1 in my Steam friends list for most missions in the game, just because I actually finished them. It looks like those of my pals who tried Roundabout did a few missions, repeating them to get higher scores, and then switched it off and never came back. Meanwhile, I powered through the entire story in two evenings, not caring that my scores were all ridiculously low on the global leaderboards and I died literally hundreds of times overcoming difficulty spikes (this isn’t as frustrating as it sounds; it doesn’t matter at all unless you’re shooting for 100% completion, and you’d really have to be a masochist or very, very skilled to do so).

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As modern gamers we’ve become accustomed to being able to get perfect scores on early missions, and I suspect not being able to do so despite several attempts is what sent my friends scurrying away. There’s no right or wrong way to play a game – more power to those who want to tackle the score challenges – but I wish my buddies would have another go and try my way: ignoring percentages and racing from mission to mission.

There are a couple of reasons I suggest giving up on perfect scores and completion and instead just following the story to its conclusion right off the bat. The first is that you unlock new abilities as you progress, which make the impossible high score time limits of earlier missions much more achievable, and the second is that playing the missions provides multiple learning opportunities to get a handle on the almost unique gameplay.

The major reason, though, is that the story is hilarious. All the cutscenes are skippable, but they’re also a major feature of Roundabout’s charm, and really worth watching at least once each.

I won’t list events and jokes, or try to describe the faux-70’s aesthetic of the package, because foreknowledge will probably ruin the pleasure for you. (Do not watch the launch trailer. Just go with it.) I will talk about one aspect that really got me though – the main character, Georgio Manos, is played by Kate Welch of She Geek Show.

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I knew this back in September 2014 when Roundabout launched, but I somehow forgot it. All the baggage of years of gaming kicked in and I expected that first cut scene to star a (probably moustachioed) man. Welch’s astonishingly expressive range of not-that-blank stares is what I got instead. I think I laughed aloud immediately, just in the absurd pleasure of seeing a stereotype subverted, and as the game continued I only enjoyed this more and more.

What on earth…?

How do you come up with a game like Roundabout? Teasdale once told us that Roundabout was inspired by games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Crazy Taxi – as well as Kuru Kuru Kururin.

As silent protagonists go Georgio is terrific, and Roundabout’s careful failure ever to use a gendered pronoun to refer to its hero makes it entirely possible to project anything you like on Welch’s performance. Perhaps Georgio is a man to you, who just happens to be played by a woman? This kind of playfulness is so often missing from design-by-committee games. I really, really enjoyed it.

I eventually became really invested in Roundabout’s plot, and composed several angry tweets to address to Teasdale if matters did not resolve satisfactorily. They did, of course, but not entirely in the way I expected, and that’s pretty much why I enjoyed Roundabout so much: it never stopped surprising me. Both the gameplay and the jokes stayed fresh throughout.

Not everyone is going to like Roundabout. I know the humour is going to miss the mark for a lot of people, who will write it off as weird. The spinning limousine is too unforgiving to resonate with everyone. But I loved Roundabout, and if you also love Roundabout, I will elevate you ever so slightly up my list of people who are probably great.

Roundabout is available now on Linux, Mac, PC, PS4 and Xbox One, and is coming soon to Vita.

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