Road trips are rad. You cram into a car with your best pals and explore the great unknown. Or a series of traffic-ridden highways en route to a music festival. Still, it's the journey, not the destination, that counts. I'm glad games like Final Fantasy XV, Overland, and The Flame In The Flood are finally getting it.
It kind of amazes me that it's taken this long for road trip games to catch on, given that other mediums—film and literature, especially—have had the formula down pat for ages. Get people together, send them on one big adventure broken into smaller adventures based on a broad range of wacky/interesting locations, watch characters grow, change, learn valuable lessons, and usually stop hating each other as a result. It's a comfortable formula, sure, but a versatile, oftentimes illuminating one.
It's also exceedingly relatable. Most of us have been on at least one road trip, even if it wasn't terribly long. But you get so much out of adventuring with people like that. For example, I knew I'd never forget my college best friends after we stopped at some weird tourist trap shop and bought bullwhips together. Getting lost in a forest and fearing for our lives was kinda helpful in that respect, too.
As you're likely aware, FFXV is about a gang of gloriously coifed bros who traipse around the world hunting monsters. They'll have a car, campfires, copious bro moments, and they might even braid each others' hair. I certainly hope so. You can read Jason's impressions of it—sans car, sadly—here. In short, though, it seems on track to nail the basic beats of a tradition started by movies and books like Easy Rider, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and heck, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (I think it counts) that's taken a winding journey into modern works like Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland.
Fortunately, FFXV isn't the only road trip game on the block—not anymore, anyway. During GDC I came across two other road trip hopefuls, both of which made me yearn for the open road, a few meticulously composed music playlists, and two or three major Shenanigans to break up hours of relatively uneventful silence.
First up, there was Overland, a game Luke briefly touched upon recently. Described as a "tactical survival road trip game," it, well, basically is. Think Oregon Trail meets XCOM. I played a bit of it, and I definitely like how it's shaping up. Basically, each action you take creates noise, which can alert grotesque alien monster bug creatures to your location. You do not want to fight them. They will fuck your shit up while emitting not-of-this-world noises that'll make your skin crawl. The idea, then, is to take a pit stop, collect supplies and/or rescue survivors as quickly as possible, and then stomp the pedal in your car like your life depends on it. Because it does.
I'm most interested, though, in how Overland will unfold over long periods of time. Comradery is one of the things that makes road trips so great/memorable, and it'll be cool to see what form that takes when a) you're getting attached to characters based on their in-game actions rather than a pre-scripted story and b) you can lose them permanently.
I imagine it'll be like going on a regular road trip, only at some point, when you're driving off into a picture-perfect sunset, one of your friends turns around to face the rest of the group and says, "Guys, I don't know how to say this but... Josh didn't make it out of the 7-Eleven. His sacrifice—nay, snackrifice—will not be forgotten." And then everyone gazes sternly forward, eyes stinging from a mix of tears and uncaring sunlight.
The other road-trip-inspired game I played at GDC was The Flame In The Flood. Worth noting: despite essentially being one long, randomly generated road trip, The Flame In The Flood does not have roads. Instead, the game—created by ex-BioShock developers at Molasses Flood—takes place on a massive river and the mini-islands that populate it.
The flooded, post-societal world is inspired by "the Everglades, Mississippi Delta, Louisiana Bayou, and other quintessentially American places," which touches on another fun aspect of road-tripping: random relics of Americana. The world's largest rocking chair, a convenience store where you're almost positive the "beef" jerky is actually made from human flesh, a big yarn ball or something—those sorts of bizarre, family-friendly attractions.
During my brief time with The Flame In The Flood, my faithful dog and I encountered a few interesting sights, including a spooky, rundown bar and its take-no-bullshit owner. We also got lost in the woods while starving during a rainstorm and were eventually devoured by wolves. I learned that I'm a decent rafter, though, even in torrential downpours that turn the river into a churning water slide of certain death.
On the whole, I'm glad to see road trip games becoming something of a trend, especially with procedural generation involved. If done well, these games will form a fertile soil for endless mini-adventures with in-game "friends" whose lives may or may not be abruptly cut short in tragic convenience store checkout line accidents. I think that's something we can all get behind.