In Freeways, players are challenged to build increasingly complex roads in an ever-expanding landscape of concrete. Will you construct an efficient interstate for the endless traffic of colorful cars, or trap them in a gridlocked dystopia? The urban planning simulator by Justin Smith of Captain Games is a simple video game that revels in the complexities of highway engineering, as well as the sometimes absurdist shapes roads take in order to transport the motorist everywhere.
Freeways was recently released on Itch.io for PC, iPad, and Android. It has much of the joyful insanity of Smith’s previous games, like Desert Golfing, in which you play through an infinite course of sand, and Enviro-Bear 2010, a driving simulation in which you are a bear. As I covered the digital world of Freeways with my shoddily drawn roads, it became a very messy “Spaghetti Junction,” a knot of cloverleafs, whiplash intersections, harrowing overpasses, and questionably safe mergers. It also gave me flashbacks to driving such real urban puzzles as the High Five Interchange in Dallas where five levels of roads zip drivers from expressways to interstates, and reminded me what a relief it is to live in Brooklyn where I do not need a car.
Once a Freeways player designs their roads, they’re given a rapid time-lapse simulation, and rated based on efficiency, how much concrete was used, and number of traffic jams (“Jammed!” the game exclaims when you’ve failed). One wrong move can destroy your system, but it’s easy to start over and drag the little bulldozer icon over the dark emptiness. And after one block is filled, you can zoom out, and keep filling the grid with congestion. As with much of the world, the needs of the cars in Freeways are prioritized above all other means of movement; trees, homes, and waterways are just obstacles.