Faced with a game about designing motorway interchanges for autonomous vehicles, you might reasonably shudder. It all sounds a bit dull. But then you discover Freeways is by the bloke who wrote deranged driving game Enviro-Bear 2010 and endless ‘zen’ golf ’em up Desert Golfing.
Suddenly, you think this might actually be a bit good. And also a bit weird. On both counts, you’d be right.
Long and winding road
Each single-screen challenge in Freeways dumps you before a blank canvas with highway exits and the odd building. Prod a sign or landmark and arrows spring forth, detailing connections you need to make, and how much traffic will head along each route.
It’s then a question of drawing the roads. Your finger becomes a magic dispenser of virtual concrete, as you fashion roundabouts, speedy straight bits, lurching bends, and flyovers by way of deft two-finger swipes. As you make connections, cars start doddering about, and you begin to feel a bit smug.
In a jam
When all routes are connected, a simulation shows a day’s use in blazing fast-forward. It’s then you’ll sometimes watch aghast as your carefully crafted network grinds to a juddering halt.
Because there’s no undo, you’ve only two choices at that point. One is to add more complexity to a road system that may already resemble someone having hurled grey spaghetti at your screen. The other is to start from scratch.
That may seem harsh – and the lack of undo does irk, especially on occasions where road connections don’t quite snap; but the author explains this was an intentional design decision, intended to stop perfectionism.
Mostly, the game’s crude nature is in fact a net positive. It unlocks a kind of immediacy and makes it feel approachable.
The right connections
During play, there are echoes of Mini Metro; but whereas that game was sleek and shiny, being based on diagrammatic Tube maps, Freeways dispenses with rigidity. It’s road planning with crayons.
Even so, there’s sophistication in the foundations. By the time the initial nine-level map has zoomed out a couple of times – pleasingly showing cars driving around your interconnected network – the demands become stiffer.
You’ll be baffled by challenges that seem impossible within the confines of a single screen, before imagining into being increasingly ingenious solutions. It’s all hugely compelling; and if nothing else, you’ll end up with a grudging respect for the designers of real-world road madness.