It’s exactly what it says on the tin. You’re a mechanic, and you run an auto repair shop. Customers call you up with car problems, and you can choose which repair jobs interest you. You open the hood, take the engine apart, find the bad bit, and then either repair or replace the damaged part. Then you put the car back together and move on to the next job.
This game was originally Kickstarted for $22,866, and it’s pretty good for a game developed on a budget of that size. By random chance, this review is going to appear on the same day as the launch of Car Mechanic Simulator 2018. This will be the first CMS game since 2015. For the last couple of years developer Play Way has been trying to branch off from cars by making similarThe trailers make them look similar. I haven’t actually played them. mechanic-style games about farm equipment, trucks, and trains. I don’t know enough about this series to comment on those, except to note that the Steam reviews aren’t particularly good for those spinoff titles. This review has nothing to do with any of that. Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 is just the game I decided to play this week.
This game is pretty janky and I have gripes with just about every aspect of it, but I got a good couple of days of entertainment out of it despite that. There are a lot of baffling design decisions here, but the core loop of tearing something apart and putting it back together is really satisfying.
The various cars are modeled with an almost fanatical attention to detail, with each car being made up of literally hundreds of parts, all modeled down to the individual bolts. Because of this, it takes some familiarity with the particular model of car to work on it efficiently. (The cars are all fictional. No licensed cars here. I think that’s a plus, since licensed cars always have annoying compromises imposed by image-oriented car companies.) Different engine layouts mean that some cars are easier to work on than others, and knowing what parts you’ll need to disassemble to get at the problem can make a lot of difference in how long it takes you to complete jobs. Beyond the engines, you can repair damaged bodywork, open the doors, check out the detailed interior, and even take the car for a test drive to look for problems.
The game simulates all the fun parts of automotive repair and ignores all the annoying stuff. Removing the alternator is just a matter of right-clicking on the part in question, then clicking on each of the bolts to remove them. You can see through the body of the car and position the camera almost anywhere you want. Which means that – unlike a real-world mechanic – you’ll never find yourself wedged halfway inside an engine trying not to burn yourself on the exhaust system while you use your off-hand to turn a stuck bolt you can’t see while flakes of rust rain into your face. If working on cars in the real world was more like this, I might be more inclined to do my own repairs.
The problems with the game stem from its slow and obtuse progression mechanics. You earn both XP and money for completing jobs. The odd thing is that all of your upgrades are based on XP, not money. A typical repair job might get you 100XP or so. For every 1,000XP, you get a skill point. All upgrades cost a skill point. Want to add a new device to your garage? That’s a skill point. Want to buy a tablet PC so you can order parts while you’re working on a car so you don’t have to cross the room to use the garage computer? That’s a skill point. Want to change a completely cosmetic feature, like the wall texture? Skill point.
Worse, the game doesn’t explain any of the upgrades. I had no idea what “Compression Tester” upgrade was, what it would do, or how it would help me. Same goes for the “OBD Scanner”. The game never explains any of the devices. Even if you have some knowledge of cars and know how these devices might be used in the real world, you might still have trouble understanding how to apply them within the game.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if upgrades were frequent. But after 5 hours of play I’d only earned 3 skill points. After a while it starts to feel like a real grind. That’s probably totally realistic, but in a “realistic” world I’d buy an “Electric Tester” with money instead of conceptual representations of my life experience, and I’d know if I needed one and what it would do before I bought it. With each point taking so long to earn, it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself to blind experimentation. If I sink over an hour into an upgrade, I should at least know what I’m getting. A grind is a lot more tolerable when you’re working towards a concrete goal with a perceivable benefit, as opposed to blindly picking from among various inscrutable options.
The game is in desperate need of a tutorial. It offers you one at the start of the game, but that ends before it gets done explaining much of anything. It never told me about the repair table, the oil drain, the various upgrades, how job payment workedYou’d think it would be better to personally repair parts as opposed to ordering new, but according to the forums you just pass that cost on to the customer. Since you don’t see an itemized bill, I don’t know how you’re supposed to tell the difference., how you diagnose problems, or any of the other systems in the game.
I know I’ve been kind of negative, but I have to give credit CMS credit for trying something really new and committing to it fully. The systems of the game are kind of wonky, but it’s pretty impressive from a technical standpoint. Assembling and disassembling modern engines is a complex thing and this game had to basically invent their own interface conventions from scratch because there really isn’t anything quite like this out there.
I can’t wholly endorse this game on the basis of gameplay, but as an experimental quasi-educational sim it’s worth having a look.
 The trailers make them look similar. I haven’t actually played them.
 You’d think it would be better to personally repair parts as opposed to ordering new, but according to the forums you just pass that cost on to the customer. Since you don’t see an itemized bill, I don’t know how you’re supposed to tell the difference.
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