Rover Mechanic Simulator
Reviewed by: Adam Kheroua
It is often said that the things a person produces reflect themselves. Great parents produce great children, great composers craft magnificent melodies, and only the best con artists can produce the likes of Cyberpunk 2077 and Balan Wonderworld. This truism is keenly expressed in Pyramid Games' Rover Mechanic Simulator, a precise, accomplished work of complexity and care, with all the attention to detail you'd expect from a simulator plus some casual additions that make it accessible and fun.
You are a green-as-non-existent space grass mechanic tasked with fulfilling orders sent to you from all around your colony. These orders see you repairing rovers, with orders for repairs being given one-at-a-time, meaning you can never take on too much work or start orders you cannot finish, thereby avoiding any time being wasted and frustration being accrued. Each order comes with 'guesstimations' from the clients. Their limited insights may prove useful or useless as you try to figure out what the problem is. This input from clients lends the game a wedge of relatability and verisimilitude, as I'm sure we can all relate to boring a plumber or electrician with our amateur guesswork, all the while knowing they know we don't know anything! Once you've hoisted a rover upon your work table it's time to tear it apart. Three modes allow you to assess the state of the rovers and fix them up: Disassembly Mode, Assembly Mode and Analysis Mode. As their names suggest, the three modes allow you to remove parts, add parts and analyse parts in order to better diagnose the problem, with some parts being so complex you may need to disassemble them at the 'workbench': a separate station that gives you the ability to delve deeper into intricate parts as well as clean them. With most jobs you will have to engage the services of your trusty 3D printer, which allows you to create brand new parts to replace battered ones. The 3D printer comes with a handy search function for parts and a timer that lets you know how long production of a part will take. There is even a small tray at the end of the device that dispenses your parts. Actually seeing the parts come out of the machine was a novel touch and immediately made me appreciate Pyramid Games' eye for detail, and I really felt like I was working on the rover, sipping cups of tea or sneaking sandwich bites while I waited for parts to trundle down the conveyor belt. Design choices such as this - and many other thoughtful gameplay additions that surprised me throughout my time with the game - reflect Pyramid Games' attentiveness and affinity for detail: almost every aspect of Rover Mechanic Simulator's experience feels as if it were made by people that understand and enjoy immersive videogames,
Once the rover has been repaired, a trip to the ECU Configurator allows you to complete a Bioshock-esque circuit puzzle in order to finish the job and get the rover roving! This puzzle addition complements the already eclectic showcase of mechanics in Rover Mechanic Simulator, giving the game a pace that oscillates between sleeves-up, serious simulator and 'ave-a-go arcade game. The crane you use to move each rover into your workspace operates like one found in any arcade, your main computer is full of retro arcade games such as Space invaders, Pong and Snake (all off-brand, of course!) and the game very much encourages experimentation with a restart feature that allows you to simply start again if you've spent too many resources trying to diagnose a particular problem. While many may think these features dilute a simulation experience - much like a rewind feature in a racing game, for instance - the restart feature is optional and doesn't give you any hints, tips or advantages: it just lets you have fun with the game, while also respecting the simulation. Given just how long you're expected to be pouring over nuts and bolts and bearings and brakes, the addition of some fun minigames seems like Pyramid Games' deliberate attempt at making RMS a seriously fun title as opposed to a serious simulator; their way of saying it's a game first, and a simulator second: enjoy!
While we are on the subject of things not being taken seriously, I'd be remiss if I didn't remark on the developer's failure to utilise the Switch to its fullest extent. A game that simulates precision inputs and fiddling with machinery is begging for the interactivity offered by the Switch's motion controls - yet no such integration was attempted. Rover Mechanic Simulator could have flourished with the incorporation of such immersion-enhancing functionality, but alas, perhaps Pyramid Games lacked the funds or the experience to integrate the Switch's signature controls. Either way, I can't say it's down to a lack of effort on the part of the developers, since every other part of RMS is meticulously developed and expressed - including aspects of the game that I thought would not find a natural home in a simulator game.
Which brings us to the skill tree. Three paths to choose from: Technician focuses reducing repair and printing times, Economyst reduces costs and increases experience gains and Analyst enables players to locate damaged parts faster. You can purchase skills by completing orders, and mix-and-match from the three trees, and all skills can be reset - although the cost of doing so rises for every time you do it. Not having tons of experience with the simulator genre, I would have assumed that skills making the game easier to navigate and less difficult or expensive would be an ill fit for a title in this arena, yet RMS's attentiveness to its players - both net players and 'prospective' players - shines through once again. The skills are wholly optional and do not reduce the game's immersion by any significant degree. Even with a good handful of them, you'll still need to be discerning, precise and dedicated to sole the plethora of problems you will face. For those players that want to speed things up a bit or make things a tad easier, these skills will help you get into the game and enjoy it, whilst still expecting you to bring a keen eye and problem-solving skills to each order. No skill can replace your intuition, no perk can replace your initiative, no power-up pushes the player into the passenger's seat; in an instant, RMS walks the line between simulation and entertainment, marrying the assumed tonal dissonance effortlessly, with considered design choices deftly punctuating this stand-out experience.
And this is really what I've been itching to get to: the sheer quality of Rover Mechanic Simulator. Seldom do I review a modest, indie title and get such an overwhelming sense of capability and talent from a studio. RMS is at once a love-letter, a challenger and a trend-setter to the simulation genre, with every aspect of the game having seemingly originated at a ground-level in terms of design, meaning the developers have added mechanics and elements that they know would be appreciated by like-minded gamers who play the games they play. Rover Mechanic Simulator will put a compelling puzzle in your hand as often as it puts a smile on your face, with thoughtful choices and consistent challenges intermingling to form an accessible simulator that will appeal and appease players of all abilities. While this may indeed be a small step for Pyramid Games in terms of what they can achieve, I can happily say: Houston, we most certainly do not have a problem with Rover Mechanic Simulator on Switch.
Reviewed by: Adam Kheroua