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Review: Freeways

Guest post - Jade Winterburn

Freeways is a game in which you get to ruin a city by inundating its’ inhabitants with the most mundane misery of modern society: motor travel.

Overview

Freeways presents you with the ability to freehand one-way roads but requires you to make sure that these people can make it to those places and to also ensure that those people can make it to here and there.

It seems quite straightforward, but shortly your own lack of experience as a civic planner will reveal itself. Like a crude chalk scrawl in parody of the architects measured, distinguished lines, you are invited to participate in an attempt to solve the devilish problem of designing good intersections to retroactively apply efficiency to the transport systems of a city that, like so many of the cities we live and work in, are so cumbersome to navigate.

Freeways (game) Screenshot

Gameplay

Each stage (or should I say each intersection) simply presents you with a number of entry and exit points. Clicking on the road signs shows you which other roads people are trying to access from that entry point, and the size of the arrows roughly indicates how frequently people are going to be heading that direction.

It stands in stark contrast to other node-connecting games, such as Dinosaur Polo Club’s Mini Metro, another game in which you have to draw lines to maximize the efficiency of transporting people. Where the challenge in Mini Metro is gradually escalating until your limited resources or inefficient systems are unable to cope with the strain, Freeways breaks the challenge into discrete chunks that remain eternally static.

You have unlimited resources. You can lay down as much road as space allows. But, how much concrete you use and how complicated the eventual network is, is shown in your efficiency score.  

Freeways (game) Screenshot

Mechanics

There is an efficiency target that every challenge offers for you to try and exceed with your finished work, but meeting that target is by no means necessary. (Just like in real life, ha!) However, meeting that target is a good metric to tell whether your design is good or not.

Again and again, I found myself dusting down the blackboard. Again and again, refining on the execution of a concept I had on how to join these roads. The city in this game grew organically, and your roading systems do too. Having exclusively one-way roads at your disposal makes the optimally efficient endless grid largely irrelevant. To try to force a roundabout into your design might not suit the natural way these roads connect.

Usually, the better solutions came when after many tries to meet a target – or get the roads running at all – I reverted back to the blank slate and started trying different kinds of design, different ideas on how to connect paths.

Freeways (game) Screenshot

The result was an ever-growing transit system where each tile made up only a piece of a constantly expanding collage. Like an open-plan sketchbook, I could see the work of hours of assorted scribbles at once, notice at once my clear triumphs, and examine how the way I designed my roads changed over time, how I dealt with various different kinds of challenge. With a bit of thought or brute force, you too can make the leap of logic that leads to the creation of a ‘spaghetti junction’.

Final thoughts

Freeways is an excellent example of a problem-solving game that opens itself up to innumerable answers the player could conceive of but doesn’t force you to break your brain over finding anyone ideal method. It’s well worth your time if you’ve got any interest in the sort of game that simply presents you a pen and paper and says, “Go for it!

Freeways is available for PC on itch.io as well as iOS and Android.

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