Roundabout review: taxi driver

Game Info
Platform Win, Mac, Linux
Publisher No Goblin
Developer No Goblin
Release Date Sep 18, 2014

Roundabout is a game whose success depends on its admirable restraint.

Developer No Goblin's first game doesn't do much, but all of those things are done exceptionally well. Combining elements from driving, puzzle and FMV games without becoming a product of one genre, the veterans of games like Destroy All Humans! and the Rock Band franchise have crafted a unique hybrid.

Its mix of exacting gameplay and an absurdist plot propelled me through its open world. It’s short, funny, focused and loads of fun because it understands itself so well.

You act as a glorified taxi driver who shuttles odd inhabitants

Roundabout's story tells you all you need to know about how seriously the game takes itself. The year is 1977. You are Georgio Manos, arguably the world's best revolving limousine driver. Played with no explanation by a silent red-haired woman, you command an unwieldy vehicle that, for no reason, spins around like a top at all times. You act as a glorified taxi driver who shuttles odd inhabitants around a nonsensical, open-world metropolis.

Roundabout's endearing characters each come with their own memorable quirk. From the good-natured Canadian tourist to the activist on the run to the mischievous mechanic, you'll meet each several times. Each encounter deepens their backstory in ways that surprised me, and I looked forward to learning more as I picked them up for another ride.

Roundabout tells its bizarre tale through FMV cutscenes, complete with the kind of awkward acting and stilted dialogue that you'd have found when FMV games were in their zenith. Assembling that cast made what could've been a quirky, forgettable driving game into a living alternate universe where everyone is as off-kilter as your limo.

The wacky story and unhinged characters made me chuckle, but the gameplay made me sweat

The wacky story and unhinged characters made me chuckle, but the gameplay made me sweat. No matter who I was delivering or why, Roundabout demanded that I navigate its landscape with precision. Not only was my limo spinning constantly, but streets were littered with cars and Jersey barriers, while airports were filled with grounded, rotating airplanes and helicopters and country farms with rotating machinery.

roundabout review header

At any point, I was five bumps into walls, barriers or other cars away from a fiery death. I had to anticipate my limo's movement, time my movements just right and slide through the city to deliver passengers safely. Roundabout is designed to make even the simplest trip a challenge, and I enjoyed learning the language of this weird world. There was nothing more gratifying than timing my movements just right and watching my limo weave its way through parked cars, trees and around, well, roundabouts.

It only gets more difficult as the game progresses

Pulling off these moves is satisfying, but it is not in any sense easy, and it only gets more difficult as the game progresses. To its credit, Roundabout mitigated my many fiery failures with quick respawns and frequent checkpoints. I was occasionally frustrated when the difficulty spiked, but those moments were fleeting. Were it not for the story and characters softening the impact, I would have been far more annoyed.

The bulk of Roundabout is about threading that odd traversal needle, but you can also complete objectives like plowing down pedestrians and road cones to unlock special moves. These allow you, for example, to change the rotational direction of your spinning limo at will. I didn't use these powers much, but they were handy from time to time.

On the weirder side, you can unlock cosmetic upgrades for your limousine using money earned from delivering passengers. There's even a mechanic that allows you to purchase property around the city, which earns you cash to buy hats for your vehicle. These are entirely optional but thematically perfect objectives. I spent most of my time driving a ghostly limousine topped with a gigantic jack-o'-lantern, because why not?

Wrap Up:

Roundabout is a goofy game that requires serious skill

Roundabout's central premise is odd and amusing on its own, but the developers at No Goblin were smart to create something that requires genuine skill on top of the goofiness. By surrounding a game that punishes sloppiness with a delightfully sloppy narrative, they transformed a curiosity into something memorable.

Editor's note: Roundabout includes voice-over work from Polygon editor Justin McElroy. He was not compensated for the contribution. Roundabout was reviewed using a download code provided by No Goblin. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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