Game Review: My Summer Car, The Worst Video Game I’ve Ever Loved

Title: My Summer Car

Developer: Johannes Rojola, Amistech Games

Publication Date: Early Access, October, 2016. Full Release (anticipated) Q4, 2021

Early Access available on Steam

I know what you’re thinking. Video game reviews on a car site? But My Summer Car is a video game about a car. Not just any car, but the kind of old jalopy we just love around here at Car Talk.

The premise seems straightforward. You’re a 19-year-old kid in Finland whose parents have gone away on vacation “until they get bored and come back.” There’s a rusty old heap of a car, completely disassembled, scattered around your garage, and your goal is to put it back together, fix it up, and enter it in a rally.

But you quickly discover that what sounds straightforward is anything but. As developer Johannes Rojola says, “I am making this game because this game needs to be made. This is not made because this is fun game, but because it is NOT!” Truer words were never spoken. My Summer Car is the nitpickiest game of obsessive, over-the-top detail you’ll ever play.

Screenshot of a car game
"This car has unlimited possibilities," said no one ever.

As the game begins, you wake up and stumble outside the house to find a shell of a 1974 Satsuma AMP - the game’s version of an old Datsun 100A. Opening the garage, you discover car parts, seemingly hundreds of them, littering the floor and shelves, along with a set of wrenches. It’s that wrench set that gives you the first hint that you’re going to spend a lot of time being irritated while playing this game.

There’s a full set of wrenches in that box, and you can pick each one up individually. That’s because there’s a full range of bolt sizes you’ll need to turn to build your car, and you’re required to match the wrench to the hardware size. Of course, the game doesn’t tell you what size the bolts are because that might make the game easier and more fun. Instead, you have to guess, and your guesses will be wrong.

Screenshot of a car game
This game might be just a little persnickety.

Even if you’re an experienced wrench turner in real life, your size guesses will probably be off, because it’s harder to determine scale in the somewhat simplistic graphics of My Summer Car. There’s a joke about working on old Japanese cars, that all you need is a 10 and 12mm wrench and you can assemble about 90% of the car. That joke must not have made it to Finland, because you’ll find all sizes from 6 to 15mm. If you’re keeping score, that means you could guess wrong eight times with every bolt. In short, you’ll spend about half your assembly time going back and forth between the part you’re trying to attach and the wrench box, swapping out sizes until you hit on the right one.

Not so bad, you might be thinking. How many bolts are on this thing anyway? That’s where the intricate detail of the game comes in. Almost every real-world fastener is replicated. Not just the major ones, like head bolts and lug nuts. You’ll even find yourself attaching clutches, brakes, and even crankshaft bearings, because like the rest of the car, the engine is completely disassembled at the beginning.

Screenshot of a car game
Almost done! Except, not even close to done.

Once you’ve got the engine built - and this will be hours if not days after you start - you can’t just pick it up and put it in the car. You have to attach it to an engine crane, pump the crane high enough to clear the car, then wiggle the mill into just the right position and bolt it down before you unbolt it from the crane. And you’re still not done - now you have to install all the accessories; fuel pump, brake and clutch hydraulics (miss just one line nut and you’ll leak fluid everywhere), even the steering column and seats need to be installed before you can drive the car. But you can’t just grind through the car’s assembly in one power session because that might be lighthearted fun, and this game actively runs from such frivolities.

As you’re assembling the car, you find yourself managing all the other aspects of the game, included seemingly only to add a layer of difficulty and irritation on top. It’s not enough to just build the car like a normal pretend video game car builder, because your character is treated as a regular human. He has to eat, stay hydrated, sleep, reduce his stress, keep himself relatively clean, and even use the bathroom. Failure to address any of these concerns for too long generally results in death. Forget to eat? You die. Forget to drink water? You die. Forget to pee? Yep. Die. In fact, the only metric that won’t kill you is dirtiness, but you’ll find yourself showering anyway because getting too foul attracts flies, and the buzzing gets annoying.

Possibly the most obnoxious metric to keep under control is stress. Your stress rises no matter what, and you have several remedies to deal with it, none of which are particularly ideal. You can drink alcohol, which leads to drunkenness, simulated by blurred graphics and a swaying camera, making it hard to build that car until you’re sober. You can smoke cigarettes, but that leads to addiction which the game renders by making your stress bar increase even faster than usual.

You can even swear, which has the dual advantage of reducing your stress meter slightly and teaching you how to say bad words in Finnish, because it’s important to be a life-long learner. But swearing enough to drop your stress to zero takes a long time, and your finger will get sore from spamming that button over and over.

The most effective method for stress reduction is, big surprise given the game’s nationality, using the sauna. But it’s also the most exasperating and dangerous. Here, I’ll go through all the steps you have to take in order to de-stress the Finnish way. It’ll give you a good idea of how ridiculous the game can be. Open the sauna door, grab the bucket, and bring it into the bathroom. Put the bucket under the faucet, turn the faucet on, and wait for it to fill. Turn the faucet back off, then bring the bucket back into the sauna. Crouch down and look at the bottom of the stove. Turn the temperature dial all the way up. Turn the timer dial all the way to the right. Close the sauna door and wait several real-time minutes until the thermometer indicates the sauna is at temperature. Now, grab the dipper, equip the dipper, “sit” on the sauna bench, and dip the dipper into the bucket. Throw the water on top of the stove (there’s an aiming dot which, probably intentionally, does not actually show where the water will go, so you will have to figure out where to aim by trial and error) to create steam. Do that over and over again until your stress bar drops to zero. Unequip the dipper and drop it on the bench. Crouch down to turn the thermostat and timer dials off; if you don’t, the sauna might overheat and set fire to the house.

Screenshot of a car game
Did I leave the sauna on again?

If that sequence sounds absurd, just know that there’s a similarly insane list of steps for everything else you do in the game, and most of those activities are not optional, and they all intentionally get in the way of doing what you really want to do, which is build the damn car.

Speaking of building the car, you’ll at some point doubtless notice that its wheels are nowhere to be found. That’s because they’re inexplicably stored in an abandoned house on the other side of a lake from your garage. You’ll need to drive there - the game gives you several working vehicles in which to do so, but only two, a moped and a tractor, are available from the beginning. This is a good example of the brilliant way in which the developer goes out of his way to irritate you. Assuming you know where the wheels are (because you cheated and read a guide), you’ll hop in your tractor, attach a trailer to it, and meander over to the abandoned house. This will take a long time, because you live on the end of a peninsula jutting into a large lake, and you have to drive to the ring road around the lake, then drive all the way to the other side of the lake, all in a tractor that doesn’t go very fast at all.

Once you get there, you’ll be glad you brought the tractor, because you need to use its loader forks to bash in the door of the boarded up house. You’ll find the wheels in the attic, but you’ll also find a nest of wasps. You’ll know you found it when your vision narrows and you die; your character is allergic to wasp stings, because of course he is.

Now you’re in a pickle, even if permadeath is off, because you find yourself back at your house, but the tractor is all the way on the other side of the map. Good thing the moped is here, but it’s easy to fall off, which will kill you unless you’re wearing a helmet. Assuming you manage not to die on the bike, you realize you need to take care of the wasps before you can get your wheels, which means you need to go to the store (many minutes ride from the wasps) and buy a fire extinguisher with which to spray the nest. Best to do it at night when the wasps are more dormant, but you can only buy the fire extinguisher during the day when the store’s open, so now you have to sit around waiting for dark, and there’s no way to accelerate time.

You can risk spraying the nest during the day, but you might not wipe the wasps out before they wipe you out, and now there’s another vehicle stuck on the other side of the lake. Running out of vehicles near your house is bad, because it means you have to "walk" back to one of the lost vehicles to retrieve it. This can take over an hour if the distances are great enough.

Once you finally retrieve the wheels and all the vehicles you lost getting killed by insects, and you have the car completely assembled, including all the wiring connections which are nearly impossible to find (and if you attach the negative battery cable before the positive, you’ll probably set it on fire), it’s time to fill it with fluids and start it up. Simple? Of course not.

The carburetor needs adjustment, and unless you bought the fuel/air gauge you’ll have to do it by sound. Screw it up and you’ll fail inspection which increases your stress. The front alignment needs adjustment, and if you get that wrong the car will be hard to steer and you’ll probably crash, which will damage the car and you’ll have to either tow it back home, or repair it in the field. Believe it or not, I’m skipping a lot of detail here. Really, I’m only scratching the surface.

Speaking of damage, many of the parts you started with are old and worn. They’ll break, and then you’ll have to take things apart to replace them. Not so bad with the carburetor, but replacing the clutch gets obnoxious because you have to remove it from the car, disassemble it, reassemble it with the new parts, then reinstall it. Savvy players will buy all the new parts they can before they assemble the car, but that takes money which leads to another game feature, earning a living.

As a teenager in a remote area of Finland, job opportunities are few and far between. You’ll find yourself earning cash by delivering firewood, which you must first chop, one piece at a time, then load, one chunk at a time, into a wagon, and slowly drive it to the customer. Needless to say, this takes a very long time. A quicker cash earner comes after your drunk uncle loses his license and gives you the keys to his sewage pumper truck. You can then wander the countryside sucking people’s septic tanks dry. This, of course, increases your dirtiness and stress metrics, and is potentially fatal as it’s astonishingly easy to fall into the tanks. The process for actually sucking sewage is just as intricate as those described above, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a good way to quickly earn money as you make the rounds of the map.

Screenshot of a car game
Yep. This is my life now.

That money can’t all go toward car parts, of course. You also need to buy food, drinks, 2-cycle gas for the moped or a motorboat if you want to take shortcuts across the lake, gas or diesel for the other land vehicles, and several other almost mandatory purchases. Oh, and you have to pay the electric bill or the utility company will shut off the power, which not only disables the lights, but also the sauna and the faucet, so you can’t deal with your thirst and stress bars until you pay up. And when the power comes back on, some fuses will blow and you’ll have to go buy those and replace them. It’s a good thing the game teaches you Finnish swear words, because you will be using them yourself almost every time you play.

With all that buying, you might wish you could steal stuff in the game. The good news is, you can! There’s a slot machine in the bar, and you can attach a tow rope to it and yank it out with a vehicle, then help yourself to the money inside. But if you get caught, you’ll be tossed in jail, where you will have to sit for your entire sentence. These can span days. In-game time is set to one hour equaling five minutes of real time, which means a four-day jail sentence means you get to play a game about staring at a jail cell wall for two hours. And some sentences are longer than that.

But despite all the intentional annoyances, the game’s warped sense of humor and the reward of finally finishing that car and blasting it down dirt roads makes it, to some anyway, all worthwhile. Finishing the car build actually makes you feel, as much as any video game can, like you’ve accomplished something, and the amount of bizarre activities and situations to discover makes for a game that you find yourself quitting in frustration innumerable times, only to crawl back hours later, sheepishly asking for more. If you even get around to quitting; the only way to save is to find one of a few toilets or outhouses scattered around the game - saving anywhere else is not possible. By the time you make your way all the way to a loo, you might well have run across just one more thing you want to do before you quit.

Screenshot of a car game
This is how you save your game. No, really.

My Summer Car is available on the Steam distribution platform, whose users have somehow generated over 33,000 mostly “very positive” reviews. If you’re a masochist, or just like quirky, oddball entertainments, it’s worth trying. Just try not to burn your house down until you’ve finished building the car.

Todays Car-o-Scope

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