I’m not sure what attracts the people of Finland to PretendRaceCars.net; maybe it’s our shared understanding of harsh Northern winters, our love of alcohol, or our dark sense of humor. Regardless of the fact that we’ve almost gotten half of their country banned off the iRacing forums for simply posting topics discussing PRC.net articles, we’ve somehow still managed to get our hands on a copy of My Summer Car shortly before it hits Steam’s Early Access platform thanks to Johannes from Amistech Games.
To be honest with our readers, I’ve been looking forward to the release of this game ever since I saw the first Twitch streams that our friendly iRacing Finns shared on the official forums. Our first glimpse of the game came over a year ago with what looked like just a basic backroads driving simulator, with the ability to get hammered and flip people the bird at 100 km/h like I assume Kimi Raikkonen or Jari-Matti Latvala had done ever so frequently in their teenage years. Along with the hilarious commentary from Johannes himself, it looked like this really niche, obscure, odd-ball indie title that nobody knew they wanted, until they saw it in action. Above all, it looked FUN, something that’s been missing in sim racing for an exceptionally long time.
I’m happy to report that the game itself is extremely enjoyable once you invest yourself in the premise; a game that capitalizes on the niche appeal of Gearhead Garage with the added bonus of a proper plot, actual gameplay, and unique brand of humor from a country who is incredibly proud to be who they are.
You begin the game with every part you need in your shop aside from a fan belt, and you need to physically walk to the store to keep your character replenished with food, as well as purchase essential fluids for your vehicle. It’s a bit of a goofy gameplay element, but I enjoyed the fact that I always had something to do within the game world. The guide located on the game’s quasi-official Wiki gives a pretty easy set of instructions to build the car, even if you know nothing about cars, and also gives you ever wrench/spanner size needed for the project – and I think it’s really good Amistech have provided this, as let’s be honest – not everybody knows how to build a functioning vehicle.
During the process of building your car, you’ll receive random phone calls for side missions, which pay well and can be used to upgrade your vehicle, and these are quite nice as they serve to flesh out the game world and feel like you’re living in a dynamic environment that’s had some serious thought put into it. Some of these missions, such as the Sewage truck event, aren’t always clear on what you should be doing, so unfortunately I was forced to look up YouTube tutorials just to progress through these events, but overall, the quirkiness of the project offset some of the design elements that confused me.
Once you’ve finished building the car, you can configure your toy steering wheel and take your creation for a test drive, and treat the game world like an open sandbox from there on out. Physics-wise, the car drove very nicely, and despite the fact that I couldn’t get my force feedback settings configured properly – something that will surely be fixed in a future pass once the masses openly discuss it – the vehicle dynamics themselves didn’t feel all that far from reality, and it didn’t do anything unexpected.
This was the biggest shocker I found while putting time into My Summer Car; the car actually felt decent in terms of physics, and the change between surfaces is very noticeable – which increases dramatically during a storm as well. It really impressed me for such a simple game to see how much detail was put into the driving model itself, and for those worried that it’s more of a first person adventure than a driving game, you have no reason to fear this title – the hard work put in building the car at the beginning of the game gives way to a very satisfying driving model. The best part of My Summer Car by far is completing the project and using the open world around you – a mix of rural trails and paved highways – to rip around like a hammered Finnish teenager, and then physically fixing the damage you’ve done on your joyrides after you limp it home to the garage.
I’m extremely optimistic for this title for these reasons, as the overall premise and gameplay elements work well together as a cohesive unit – it’s definitely not a flavor of the week indie game. Additional missions, a multiplayer element, and heavy third party mod support would go a long way to extending the game’s replay value. It’s not so much a basic unity game that promoted itself well through a goofy YouTube video with hilarious commentary, but instead a really creative and well thought-out Finnish automotive Minecraft.
I didn’t start any proper missions until after the car was built to earn some juicy upgrades, and although pretty repetitive and a bit of a grind, the missions aren’t too bad, the payoff in being able to upgrade your car offsets the time spent breezing through side quests.
But, of course, being in pre-Early Access, there are a few problems, and it’s only fair to talk about them so people know what they’re in for.
First things first, the version of My Summer Car I’ve been privileged enough to evaluate was receiving a daily dose of patches, and was pre-Early Access, so some of the problems I’m about to report on are probably already fixed. However, one thing annoyed me to no end – there are always fucking mosquitos in the background. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on the car, taking a piss, or getting hammered; the mosquitos are still there, just begging to be killed, but you can’t. The store clerk agrees. I’m sure this is typical Finnish humor, but there are a few instances, as is the case with the mosquitos, where the joke overstays its welcome and doesn’t translate all that well to an international audience.
Another problem I’ve dealt with, is the overall hitbox on some of the nuts and bolts when working on your car. Yes, you’re basically building a vehicle from scratch in My Summer Car, manually turning wrenches on the thing in a kind of endearing restoration project. I don’t mind this concept, I think it’s really unique, but it’s super difficult to hit some of the bolts. It would be greatly appreciated if some of the parts, such as the radiator hoses and exhaust, had a bigger hitbox for placement, especially when filling up the car with fluid – which was a massive pain in the ass to find the sweet spot.
When it comes to driving physics, there seems to be a ton of chassis flex to the point where if you hit 120 km/h in the van, the whole vehicle went into an uncontrollable speed wobble. Considering perma-death is a very real possibility in My Summer Car (with an equally quirky game over screen), this is something I feel needs to be fixed, as otherwise it’ll be a quick game over if you consult your inner Sebastien Loeb while behind the wheel of the van rather than the car.
The only other major problem I’ve had with My Summer Car, is with some parts physically vanishing out of the game world. First, my clutch went through the floor when I dropped the engine block on it, causing it to transcend our universe and migrate to another plan of existence. None of the disappearing parts happened on my second play-through of the game, but that could have been a quick patch rectifying the issue, or a careful set of hands ensuring I didn’t make any major mistakes.
For those wanting to invest some serious time into My Summer Car, SAVE OFTEN, especially after trips to the store – as they can take a while – or any key part of your car build. In my case, basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and nothing is worse than being two hours into a game and losing a key part of your car that forces you to restart. It’s not a very big game, but it’s a complex game considering you’re building a car from scratch, and one minor glitch can fuck up your entire progress.
Overall, this sneak peak at My Summer Car was incredibly enjoyable, and I say that as someone with a background in building and maintaining race cars. It’s fairly simple to build your vehicle in a couple of hours provided you’ve got the size chart handy, and driving around to test out the fruits of your labor is extremely satisfying thanks to the overall competence of the driving model. I was particularly impressed with the size of the game world and the abundance of options given to the player, especially for an Early Access title created by one guy in his free time. You shouldn’t expect an AAA title out of this, but for what it is – a small game from the heart of Finland – it does a lot of stuff well, and can be either super rewarding or immensely frustrating based on your style of play. For once, we have a car game that actually punishes you for being too aggressive, and I think it’s a really neat idea to explore the concept of forcing players to manually turn every bolt and physically make repairs after an off-track excursion. If this game receives any sort of multi-player component, we’re looking at the ultimate sim racing time waster. I’m really impressed in how well My Summer Car works as a game.