A the moment commutes might not be a regular thing for most office workers but many aren’t likely to be in much of a hurry to restart the daily ordeal of sitting in traffic, trying to wake up with a hot beverage. While this is all part of city life you wouldn’t have thought plonking someone in the middle to manage grumpy pedestrians and stressed drivers would make for an interesting or even comedic videogame. Yet that’s exactly what Little Chicken Game Company has managed to achieve with help from Arizona Sunshine studio Vertigo Games.
Traffic Jams wants you to manage and maintain tranquil city streets where traffic flows, journeys are unhindered and no one gets run over. That isn’t going to happen of course, because as the traffic piles up and rage quickly sets in the streets turn to chaos, and then there are the meteors, monster feet and zombies to deal with. There’s a lot going on in this seemingly simple experience.
You’re a traffic controller in training under the guidance of the flamboyant Dennis, who’s teaching you the tricks of the trade to maintain order. These are actually very basic with just a couple of hand gestures to learn, point with one hand at what you want to command and with the other put your hand up to tell them to stop or wave them on. Nothing tricky about that? However, even this becomes an entertaining handful as later levels introduce more vehicles, pedestrians and routes to keep an eye on.
The core single-player experience consists of five cities Gouda, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo and New York, each with their own unique look and cultural nods – Paris has the Eiffel Tower in the background. These are then split into three subsections Daytime, Night Time and Rush Hour, the same level just with a few tweaks here and there including their own set of 10 objectives. This makes for a sizable amount of content even if a lot of it is on repeat because not all of the objectives can be completed in one run due to conflictions – achieve no crashes or attain a certain number for example.
Thankfully, this repetition doesn’t hinder the gameplay because it can be quite engrossing, waving through traffic and trying to keep these colourful cartoon characters alive. That’s not to say Traffic Jams can’t become stressful, it really can! Dealing with more traffic means someone is likely to get angry, at which point they’ll simply walk or drive regardless of your commands. Events such as smog obscuring your view and wasps apply distractions that can’t be avoided, whilst some of the more obscure objectives like crashing a fish truck to feed seal hats worn by pedestrians or popping balloons add to the multitasking.
All of this means you do need to be accurate and speedy with your hand signals and what you do with your hands in between. In the later levels especially, where the distance is increased to fit all the roads and pavements in, it can be very easy to misselect someone or give them an unintended command. These mishaps can occur even when you’re not giving commands as they’re technically ‘always-on’. Also, the throwing mechanics aren’t the most accurate, feeling quite haphazard trying to hit those balloons.
Even so, when it comes to the spatial audio in Traffic Jams this very well done and vital. From car horns to screaming pedestrians, what your eyes miss your ears will likely pick up, helping judge both direction and distance. Traffic Jams is also super comfortable as there’s no locomotion whatsoever and completely ambidextrous, so there are no options for any of those to worry about.
This all makes for a really solid single-player which should provide a good 4+ hours of entertainment. Fleshing out Traffic Jams even further is multiplayer where one person is in VR whilst four more can join in via smartphones or PC, there’s no app, just a web address to head to. Unfortunately, the multiplayer is the weakest part of Traffic Jams purely down to what the non-VR players can actually do.
Given an overview of the level, non-VR players are given certain spawn points which need to be button bashed to make a vehicle or pedestrian appear. It’s a gameplay mechanic very similar to mobile hyper-casual games, simple and monotonous. It lacks the raw excitement found in titles like Acron: Attack of the Squirrels! which also includes non-VR gamers, as well as the character the core title features.
Little Chicken has managed to take an unusual idea and make it work really well as a virtual reality (VR) experience. Best played in short 30-minute durations as it can become a little grinding if you try and play for over an hour straight, nonetheless Traffic Jams provides an enjoyable and engaging arm flailing time. It would’ve been nice if the multiplayer had some more substance to really trip the VR player up though. The kind of VR experience everyone can have fun with no matter their skill level.