Simon Flesser—better known as half of Simogo—has a distinctive talent for finding the extraordinary in the mundane. He weaves mysteries into unexpected places and listless characters in a such a way that it grips your curiosity and pulls you in. It’s what he, as a writer, brings to Does not Commute.
While this strategic driving game isn’t part of the Simogo catalog, it being made by fellow Swedish videogame studio Mediocre Games, there’s no denying the hand print of those responsible for DEVICE 6, Year Walk, and The Sailor’s Dream. Through the medium of the daily commute, the interlaced stories to be found within a small yet busy 1970s town are slowly revealed.
At first it appears to be as you’d expect: people, like anyone else, on their way to work. But then their secret lives are revealed as they take detours between errands; scandals arise, weird obsessions emerge. Suddenly, you’ve got an adulterer journeying in secret, and it’s this type of clandestine knowledge that you acquire that plays the part of Lynchian taint; reeling you in to darker territories like the severed ear in Blue Velvet. Seconds later, you’re wrapped up in the secret lives behind the suburban mask. Now you’re tracking the endurance of a wife whose husband has an unusual passion for Yorkshire Terriers. In the early morning (for you progress through the day), you discover that the school bus driver finds comfort in the excitable noise of the children playing in the seats behind her as it veils her screams of anxiety.
The most Simogo-style entry to all these characters, at least from what I have played, is a car that appears to have no driver. It’s pointed out as odd by the in-game text, just to make sure you think of it as such while steering the mysterious vehicle along suburban roads. That no one else in the town seems to notice the driverless car speaks volumes about the town’s personality. Either, a potential ghost sighting isn’t out of place here, or they’re all so wrapped up in themselves that it’s impossible to see anything else.
Your part in this unfolding drama is to ensure the safe passing of all cars as they criss-cross each other at the same time. To achieve this you experience a time paradox. At each top-down section of the town you stop off at, you are given a number of people (typically about 15) to steer from a starting point to their destination. It begins easy enough, as you’re only concerned for a single driver and their A to B route. But each time you successfully escort one character, time is rewound, and another person and their vehicle is added to the scenario. Now you have to avoid the traffic of all your previous selves, as it were, while driving haphazardly to the next destination.
Making matters tougher is the time limit placed upon you to manage this simultaneous commuting challenge. Should you crash into another vehicle—be it the ice cream truck, moped, sports car, whatever—the car you’re steering will be engulfed in smoke and be reduced to a crawl. Either, you can keep going and hope you don’t lose too many seconds, or manually rewind to lose a single second from your overall time but get another go at a clean run.
What Does not Commute brings to light is how we’re all so busy in our own lives that we miss the multitudinous stories popping off all around us. If you sit near a roadside and watch the traffic go by you’ll see hundreds of lives in transaction, just out of reach. Does not Commute allows you to peek in at them for a short time and see the immorality seething beneath. But the challenge is in managing all these lives as they desperately break out of their routines, creating unexpected traffic flow while pursuing their private activities right under each other’s noses.