Car Mechanic Simulator PS4 Review
Rough ‘n’ ready.
With a few notable exceptions, simulator games are pretty upfront about what they entail. Car Mechanic Simulator ain’t one to buck the trend. With zero interest towards automobiles or the engineering of them, then, I’m likely not the target market PlayWay and Red Dot Games had in mind. But to its credit, I mostly enjoyed my time with this scrappy scrapyard delver – and for what it’s worth, I even learned a few things along the way.
Car Mechanic Simulator 2018 originally launched on PC two years ago. This console port for the Xbox One and PS4 has been a long time coming, then – so long, they had to drop the ‘2018’ suffix. From what I gather of its rough launch, mind, this was probably for the best.
You’d have thought that in two years they could have added a half-useful tutorial, but this is still a glaring omission. Spawning inside a large garage with a couple of cars, all you can do is walk around and receive laughably basic direction on what each piece of equipment does. The paint shop “allows you to perform various paint jobs,” you say? And the repair bench is for carrying out repairs? Fascinating.
There are a lot of menus and systems to juggle here, meaning your first few hours will likely be an infuriating case of trial and error. The lack of instruction is a barrier to entry that could have been easily avoided. And yet, once you’ve made it past these initial frustrations, Car Mechanic Simulator is a genuinely relaxing experience.
At heart, every car that you take into your garage for repair is an elaborate puzzle. Find the faulty parts, dismantle them from the car in the correct order, fix them or order replacements, then put it all back together again. It’s a methodical and ultimately satisfying process.
The game does a decent job of guiding you through this process, at least. Any missing pieces are shown with outlines to remind you where to put them. If other parts are blocking you from removing a piece, it highlights them in red. And when a car’s faults are known, Overview mode shows the offending parts clearly in different colours.
That said, having real-world knowledge of cars is a definite advantage. For one job, I was simply told that a car wouldn’t start anymore. After closer inspection and a lot of trial and error, I determined that the ignition coil, spark plugs, fuel filter, fuel pump and battery were all on their last legs. Being a mechanophobe, it was far from a straightforward conclusion. For some, this may have been painfully obvious.
On the flip side, Car Mechanic Simulator has dramatically expanded my understanding of how a car works. While far from a perfectly realistic or complete simulation, it lets you get closely acquainted with much of a car’s internals. Next time my car’s in for repair and the garage tells me what needs replacing, I might actually have a rough idea of what they’re talking about, for once, before grimacing and handing over my credit card.
While I can’t see myself swapping vocation in real life, Car Mechanic Simulator does plenty to make its titular career compelling. There’s always a sense that you’re progressing towards something. You earn experience by working on cars and completing orders, to be spent on skill points like faster part installation, expansions to your garage and new tools. And every job nets you cash that you can put towards your own vehicles. That said, I hope you’re not in a hurry, because it takes quite some time before you can even afford your first banger.
The amount of content on offer is dizzying. Infinite repair jobs. A large skill tree to unlock. Car auctions to bid at. Barns and junkyards full of old cars and parts. Test tracks and race tracks. A multilevel car park with more spaces for cars than you could ever hope to fill. My main complaint is that it takes too long to progress far enough to experience all of it.
The experience is also marred by a bunch of quality of life issues, some of which are specific to the console port. Though it mostly works with a controller, I often wished I could just grab a mouse and keyboard. The camera is awkward, not freely moveable but rather focusing on individual parts to rotate around. You have to use the right analogue stick as a cursor, which is workable but obviously nowhere near as effective as a mouse.
The entire approach towards UI and UX is half-arsed. It’s laborious to track all the parts you need, find them in the shop and buy them. Sometimes there can be more than 25 parts you need for a single vehicle, and you have to scroll through long lists to find each one. You can add parts to a shopping list but this is woefully under-baked and doesn’t let you just simply click on the list items to find what you need. It doesn’t even stack items – e.g. “Rear Spring x 2” – instead listing everything separately.
Bizarrely for a console game, Car Mechanic Simulator has a graphics menu, letting you toggle anti-aliasing, bloom and other options. It already looks a little rough with all the good stuff turned on, so I can’t say I was eager to disable it. All wear and tear is represented as rust, too, which is not only unrealistic but pretty naff-looking, the brown cartoonish splodges failing to replicate convincing corrosion.
Ultimately, Car Mechanic Simulator demands a lot of patience. Patience to learn how to play it, patience to work with its clumsy menus and controls, and patience to eke your way through its deep, glacial progression systems. Tolerate this and it has a rewarding and essentially peerless gameplay loop to offer car fanatics – and maybe the odd apprentice, too.
[Reviewed on PS4]