With an unusual mixture of visual novel, driving and Car Mechanic Simulator, Road to Guangdong is an intriguing concept. But could the worry be that it does all ideas well enough, but never excels at anything? Or is there an emphasis on one aspect at the expense of the others? In actuality, it is all of the above.
Road to Guangdong starts off with the unfortunate news of a family death, and the fallout of surviving members having to agree to the deceased’s last wishes. You play as Sunny, a bright young girl who has inherited her family’s restaurant. Along with her aunt, Guu Ma, they aim to rejuvenate the restaurant with new recipes and bring back that family environment. They decide to take a road trip across China and visit various family members to get their input. It will be a good bonding experience for the pair of them in ‘90s China where cultural differences need to be put aside as the country looks to evolve.
There is just one problem: Sunny also inherited a car. It has seen better days and requires constant maintenance, but it is the only car they have.
Sunny and Guu Ma have six locations across China – including their starting point – to visit other family members throughout the land. On their road trips the car – named Sandy – is a bit of a fixer-upper. It has just enough juice to get it to the first garage, but there it requires some urgent TLC.
This is how the road trip aspect of the game should be treated: asking yourself whether the car has enough life left in it to make it to the next garage. You can fix or upgrade a variety of components including the engine, air filter, fan belt and tyres. These will deteriorate over time, so it is best to have a spare or two in your inventory also.
As well as the garages, there are also frequent scrap piles you can rummage through. These are useful for two reasons: you may find a part in better shape than what is currently in your car, or additional parts that you can then sell on. Money is a precious commodity in Road to Guangdong; it will all go into repairing your car, but also paying for petrol and oil.
If there is one thing that your car is reliable for, it is quickly draining your petrol tank. It is absolutely vital to have a spare can or two of petrol in your inventory. Get caught short and you will need to request a pickup to the nearest garage, costing even more money.
At least the roads are clear – the complete opposite to how they usually are in China. If anything, the roads and surrounding rural and urban environments are a bit too sparse. There is row after row of the same trees, and only about four different shop fronts once you get into a city setting. Then there is some pretty jarring asset pop-in that is visible only a few hundred yards down the road.
In fact, the whole driving experience is laborious. Even with Guu Ma to keep you company you would have thought there would be decent back and forth between the two, but there is rarely any idle chit-chat between her and Sunny. Guu Ma will inform you if there is a warning light on the dashboard and what it represents, or maybe repeat the same few lines about the family members you are visiting. But other than falling asleep, that’s really it; driving in Road to Guangdong is largely a long and lonely experience.
The only real thing to keep you company is the radio. You have a choice between two stations: the more traditional station that plays a lot of Asian instrumentals, and the other one which tends to play beats that wouldn’t be out of place in Rocket League, but then throws in a punk track every now and again. The Asian-inspired station is infinitely better.
Compounding the driving experience is the necessity to drive extremely slowly to ensure that Sandy doesn’t overheat, causing faster deterioration of the car’s internal workings.
When you finally arrive at a destination, the story finally comes to life. These short vignettes into the lives of our characters are rooted with deep personal connections, and almost make the driving gameplay worth it. You will meet members of the family struggling through various issues such as trying to conceive naturally, contemplating retirement or just planning a proposal. The problem is, each of these tales is on the short side. And that’s hugely disappointing.
Each destination features several characters that you can talk with through a conversation tree. Ask the right questions and you will unlock further discussion options that usually lead to the correct outcome. The purpose of these interactions is twofold: to be able to invite the family members to a Spring reunion back at your restaurant, but also to acquire a new recipe for the restaurant.
Things can go south however. You see, in certain situations if you lack certain items or pick the wrong option, this will result in your invitation being rejected and there being an empty chair during the final scenes. Of course, running out of money also ends this road trip prematurely.
Road to Guangdong has 15 achievements in total, and due to the premise of the game, all bar the first one you unlock can be missed. If at any point you run out of money or cannot afford to be transported back to a garage for repairs, then it is game over. Manage your money appropriately though, and you will find achievements unlocking for every successful family member invited to the reunion and each new recipe you earn.
In our initial preview of Road to Guangdong, we picked up on the same issues that are present in the final release: the lack of interactivity between Sunny and Guu Ma when out on the road, and the general lack of any fun to be had whilst driving. It may start off fun in having to keep an eye on the car’s performance but becomes increasingly grating as you have to make yet another pitstop on your journey. Locations are too far apart; you could be driving for upwards of an hour for a character interaction that lasts ten minutes max. And then you are straight back on the road for another unnecessarily long time.
The saving grace does come from these self-contained stories. Family is a big deal in the East and it is portrayed very well in Road to Guangdong on the Xbox One. Sadly though, the family included here isn’t worth the drive to get there.