Although the name ‘Car Mechanic Simulator’ makes the premise obvious, we still weren’t sure whether to expect a serious and po-faced experience or something sillier in the vein of Surgeon Simulator. It’s not hard to imagine a game where engines catch fire and fountains of oil erupt while performing a routine service, prompting you to juggle multiple tasks at once while swapping between tools.
So, which is it to be? Perhaps this breakdown of our first day on the job will provide some clarity.
Once the remarkably hands-off, text-heavy, tutorial is out of the way, our new career as a mechanic begins. While our newly opened garage may be small, it houses all the basics to carry out minor repairs, oil changes, and tyre servicing. The day begins by picking up the phone and agreeing to a service order. In this instance, a customer complains of poor brakes – a task that requires a full investigation and part replacement. Additionally, we can choose to take it out for a test drive at the local track, just to make sure the problem is fully resolved.
The customer’s car magically appears in the garage, and after a few button presses, it’s loaded onto the electric lift. After removing all four tyres – holding down the A button to remove the bolts from the rim in each instance – we can visibly tell that the problem is down to rusty brake discs and worn pads. A full inspection using examination mode confirms this. Making a mental note of parts required, we head over to a filth-encrusted computer (which can be later replaced with a tablet) to order goods from an online store. Parts are delivered instantly, so there’s no need to wait for a courier to turn up three hours later than expected or wait for goods of dubious quality to arrive from Hong Kong.
The new parts must be fitted in the correct order – as per removal – which adds a slight puzzle game slant. Even though object outlines are colour coded to show if they’re accessible, this can still lead to some head scratching at first. In other instances, such as opening an air filter cover, the camera must be swung around manually to reach the clips on the reverse.
Once all faulty parts are replaced – and the originals sold for scrap – it’s time to refit the wheels, but not before each is balanced with a machine, which involves a 10-second animation for each wheel. Incidentally, removing and refitting rims also involves an elongated animation. You can, however, simultaneously balance one wheel while removing the rim on another, saving valuable time.
Looking at the checklist, the customer’s demands now have a green tick against them. We decide to go the extra mile (literally) and take the car for a five-point test drive that’ll test suspension, acceleration and brakes. Car Mechanic Simulator’s loading screens are anything but brief, so the decision to visit the test track adds a good ten minutes on to the work order.
Now confident that everything is shipshape, we complete the order and receive payment. Looking at other service orders for the day, one customer requires an oil change and wheel balancing, while another complains of rough suspension. As things progress, orders become more in-depth. Having already mastered the basics during our first work order, we have a good idea of what each will require – strip downs, examinations, new parts ordered and fitted, laborious wheel balancing, and optional testing.
Before we can start buying and renovating old cars found in junkyards and barns, we have a lot more customer orders to fulfil first – a prospect that hardly generates excitement. Taking cars out onto the track soon loses its novelty too, with twitchy handling to blame.
Car Mechanic Simulator definitely favours seriousness, but it isn’t without refinements to make things slightly less laborious than they could have been. Weirdly, tools never come into play – we expected to be unscrewing bolts by rotating analogue sticks, etc – but all actions are performed by either holding down or tapping the A button. Even after purchasing a repair bench (the career mode has an XP system with unlockable skills and upgrades), repairing items is achieved by bashing buttons.
There’s plenty of stuff to appreciate here, though, and just enough content to justify the £25 price tag. The range of vehicles, each with vastly different engines and parts, is impressive and the cars are recognisable despite a complete lack of licenses. Competitive car auctions feature too, although it’s impossible to inspect a vehicle first. It’s hard to tell if this was a design decision or an oversight.
The radio has a dozen stations to flick between (the fact that the classic station has ‘The Bridal Chorus’ raised a grin), and the ability to fully restore (paint) and sell old vehicles holds much appeal, feeling more rewarding than servicing a random customer’s car. Head to a barn or junkyard – again, after enduring a long loading screen – and you may also find a bunch of random wing mirrors, bumpers and other parts to sell after being renovated.
The sandbox mode – which grants unlimited money and enough XP to unlock all upgrades – allows you to jump straight into living the life of a wheeler dealer. Sadly, only one save file is supported, so you can’t flick between sandbox and the slower burning career mode. Some achievements can only be gained in career mode (such as making £1m, which takes a significant amount of time), so it’s wise to commit to one before dabbling in the other.
Ultimately, and perhaps obviously, Car Mechanic Simulator is of niche appeal. A bit too laborious and dry to recommend to casual car enthusiasts, but petrolheads will appreciate the realism and the ability to take cars apart and fit better parts before taking them out for a test drive. You may even learn a thing or two from the process. As the start of a new franchise on consoles, it leaves a much more positive first impression than any of the farming simulators we’ve encountered.