Thelma & Louise. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The Motorcycle Diaries. National Lampoon's Vacation. Rain Man. The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. Road trip movies are a grand cinematic tradition. Odd, then, that the increasingly cinema-inspired game industry has had relatively few road trip titles, isn't it? There was Sam & Max Hit the Road way back in the day, and recently we've enjoyed The Last of Us and Final Fantasy XV. You could also argue that Mass Effect 2 was a kind of road trip game or bring up Oregon Trail if you're feeling morbid, but my point is that we've had far fewer road trip games than we have movies. I'd love to see the format used in more games, so here are the things developers can learn from the movies if they want to make a good road trip title.
The Characters Are Paramount
Plenty of games feature a single character traveling from place to place, but that's not really a road trip story in my opinion. The most important part of a good road trip story is the relationship between the characters who are traveling together. That's why The Last of Us and Final Fantasy XV shine as examples of the genre in gaming. Both of them put character relationships front and center, and those relationships are shaped by the journey they take. I feel like modern gamers are becoming increasingly interested in character dynamics and relationships in their games, so this is a great time to iterate on the concepts introduce by those two trailblazing titles.
The Mode of Transportation Is a Star
Of course, if you're on a road trip, you've got to pay attention to your wheels. Everybody remembers the iconic car-off-a-cliff scene in Thelma & Louise, and everybody who loves Priscilla: Queen of the Desert remembers the opera scene on top of the bus. Final Fantasy XV pays particular homage to this staple of the road trip story with its Regalia. Not only are there mutliple quests that involve customizing and improving the Regalia (I faced down a cave full of nasty imps for car wax!), it's considered irreplacable by the cast. When it's taken from them, they risk everything to get it back. Thanks to their many genres, games can take this concept to the next level. The "wheels" could be a spaceship, a magically perambulating house, or just about anything that moves. That's one of the things that makes gaming special.
There Are Mini-Adventures Along the Way
In a dramatic road trip story, problems along the way turn into revelations for the cast. In a comedic road trip story, the odd characters in out-of-the-way places and travel mishaps are the crux of the comedy. This is probably the easiest aspect of the genre for games to replicate. After all, adventures in various destinations is how most games are structured, so it's a natural fit for any dramatic or adventure-based road trip game. I'd love to see a new comedy road trip game, though, since we haven't had a big one since good ol' Sam & Max. We should get the team behind Tales From the Borderlands on it; I bet they'd be aces.
The Journey Is More Important Than the Destination
This is a concept that gamers might find hard to swallow. We're used to looking for climactic showdowns and big, bombastic endings to reward us for our time spent, and that's not really how most road trip stories work. The climax of the road trip movie usually happens with a big character revelation while still on the road, and the destination is more of a denouement. Sometimes we never even reach it. But it's not like gamers are unfamiliar with the concept of the journey being more important than the destination. I mean, we've all played Skyrim, but does anybody know how that game ends? I've started it at least three times, and I sure don't. It would be interesting to see more games take this idea to heart and actually give us a playable segment in which the aftermath of the climax is resolved (think Dragon Age: Inquisition's Tresspasser DLC)... and what better format for that kind of ending than a road trip game?
What do you think? Have you played Final Fantasy XV and enjoyed its road trip elements? Would you like to play more road trip games? What would you like to see in them? Let us know in the comments.