Wrench is in Early Access and this article was written in July 2020. That means this is more likely to be out of date as things are updated, so please bear that in mind.
For those unfamiliar with the formula popularised by Car Mechanic Simulator, this is a first-person game where you work in a vehicle shop. Jobs appear, and you take in vehicles with various issues, aiming to fix or replace certain parts, before gaining money and experience as you go.
I did not play this in VR because I don't own a VR headset! So this will be the keyboard and mouse perspective on the game.
This is a really polished game but it's still very early. More than half of the tutorial is not yet there, there's only one vehicle, and there's quite a number of minor glitches, graphical and otherwise.
If you don't mind potentially wasting the equivalent of $15 in your currency, I'd suggest checking out a YouTube video or two. I think that for most people, it will be a case of waiting a bit longer at least.
- Very detailed in-game tools and procedures
- Large variety of tasks even at this early stage
- Only one vehicle currently
- Lots of missing stuff, so sometimes instructions or procedures are not clear
- Some items in the store aren't titled well so don't appear in the search
- Very large number of non-breaking minor bugs and graphical glitches
I always fancied myself as a bit of a petrolhead, in the least convincing way possible. I've got no desire to get oily while pulling random bits out of an engine bay and not knowing where they go.
So in some ways, this game was made for people like me, where there's no need to get gunk everywhere and no risk of accidentally breaking the only thing that's going to get you to work on Monday morning.
I know this must be quite a niche though, and niches are everywhere in gaming. People love American Truck Simulator. By "people", I mean, a select minority of the gaming community. By "love", I mean, have you seen the community? They're quite passionate, and so are, by all accounts many other niche communities amongst gamers at large.
Is it for me?
I'd usually put this kind of section towards the end of an article, but I feel like there's a clearer delineation here, and I'll split people into three rather arbitrary groups:
- You are going to love this no matter what the state it's in, or the cost
- You will be mildly entertained, don't mind a cheap-ish price, and will have your fun and move on
- You are 100% definitely not interested in a game that is basically like doing work
If you've self-identified with any of the above, I totally get it. Even if you're in the last group; those who wouldn't enjoy this type of game whatsoever, it's probably worth reading on because there's some innovations here that might well feed into other games, if the right developers take note.
The nuts and bolts
Starting from a basic workshop with a car lift and not much other than a torque wrench and a funnel, you're going to be taking on jobs from the job board. These are quite limited to begin with, but much like the workshop, there's more choices ahead as you gradually earn experience and money from doing various things (hopefully well) to other people's expensive hunks of metal.
It controls very well, and I think the development team has done a very good job of ensuring freedom of movement. Rather than having an actual character model that gets stuck on little engine bits and bobs, you're more like a floating point in space, free to move up, down, and all around, to get the game's first-person camera where you need it.
It's a smart choice and works very well for the most part but oh my God the walking speed is so slow! I'm not sure what experience the game's developers, Missing Digit, have with real-life mechanics, but if there's any accuracy to the walking speed, it would explain a lot about why, when my real car goes in for a simple thing, it seems to take all day!
There's a sprint key or modifier, but this is still excruciatingly slow as well, and both walking and sprinting speeds really need to be doubled. The sprint needs a toggle as well, rather than having to hold the key, because currently there's just no reason to walk anywhere unless you're trying to play Sloth Simulator.
Not having much actual experience with some of the tools on offer, I'm not really in an expert position to comment on realism, but Wrench at least does a great job of making it feel realistic. There's some concessions here and there like how parts will position themselves into a "ready to be tightened" spot and stay there, rather than literally making you hold it with one virtual hand while grabbing the wrench with the other.
There's some things that obviously need work here, like how if you fill a funnel with oil, and then pocket the funnel, the oil just remains floating in the air in front of you, slowly pouring away, but this is a sort of charming comedy rather than a real annoyance.
More glaring is the way that procedures such as refilling transmission fluid involve connecting a pump to the fill valve, but there's no graphical indication such as a tube to connect them, so it's more "imagine this for now" and it can be difficult to figure out if you're doing it right.
Haynes? Who's Haynes?
The game has a built-in manual with step-by-step procedures for each task, which is remarkably helpful, even at this early stage.
You might think that any challenge would be removed by having a guide like this to work from, but amazingly (and often hilariously) I still cocked it up more than I thought I would, by using the wrong torque settings on various bolts, or wasting an entire bottle of oil because I forgot to put the plug back in the oil pan before I refilled it!
Generally the game doesn't punish you for minor mistakes, and if you generally get the job done with little flaws, you'll still make a profit and gain experience.
Screw me faster
I didn't much care for the speed grade on certain jobs. You're given a score based on how quickly you completed the job, and while it's fine to take your time; you'll still get a profit; it feels like the game is urging speed over precision and care, with larger rewards for getting done faster.
I'd like to see rewards for efficiency rather than speed, and while these might seem like the same thing...
It would be great to have an in-game time progression, with workshop hours from early morning to mid-afternoon, so that you can only get so many jobs done within a day, and perhaps have deadlines to meet, to prevent accepting too many jobs at the same time (although at this stage, it's limited to one at a time anyway).
With the addition of background costs, such as paying rent per day on your workshop, you'd have the incentive to get jobs done in a reasonable time, but by removing a direct per-job cash reward for speed, it becomes more about planning ahead and working out what you'll get done before the end of each day.
There isn't much "finished" in Wrench yet, but crucially, the development team have taken a player-focused approach to getting things finished. Rather than model and flesh out all the cars, but not defining any of the parts or the workshop, Missing Digit have done a little bit of everything.
There's only one car, but most of the bits you'd expect to find are there, and if you want, you can strip it right down to the chassis. There's no variety in parts: there's only one oil you can use, but the complete procedure for changing oil and filter is ready to be played.
It's all the more hilarious because there seems to be no penalty for failing to use the oil pan right now, so you can just piss oil all over the shop and nobody cares.
These systems will gradually be added, but in terms of "right" and "wrong" ways to do Early Access, if there are such things, then this is looking good to me. You have a complete, playable game, with not many features. That's infinitely better than a game with a huge number of features in one area, which, as a result, isn't playable.
An obvious comparison
Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the various games in the Car Mechanic Simulator franchise. However, there's no denying their "gaminess". Everything is on a sliding scale. I can understand that a tyre or brake pad might be 70% worn, but how does that work with an ABS unit? Surely it works until it doesn't, and then you repair or throw it out?
While Car Mechanic Simulator tries to embrace the latest technology every few years in a new iteration of the same game, while keeping the fundamental game mechanics the same with some minor changes, it's clear that Wrench is going for a much more detailed approach.
What's not clear is how some of these game mechanics will be fleshed out, but the finished parts have already gelled nicely into a fun experience, which is proof, to me at least, this game has legs. Well, wheels, but you get the idea.
While Car Mechanic Simulator games have a generic hero spanner that can fasten or unfasten any bolt in the history of... bolt history... Wrench gives you more realistic tools. Namely, individual torque wrenches of various sizes, with torque limits, and attachments to reach into frustrating little spots, such as when removing spark plugs.
While I can see the convenience of a single all-purpose spanner being appealing to some, I can see the other side of the coin too, where the minute adjustments and approximate realism appeals to others, much like watching a hardcore flight simmer tweaking one of the hundreds of dials and buttons in a cockpit until it's just right.
Speed of development
Wrench was first offered as an Early Access title in 2018, but it's worth bearing in mind this was in December of that year. The time to get to its current state has been around 20 months, therefore.
Early Access is always a gamble. Sometimes, games linger with little progress for years, and some disappear and never get finished. Compared to other Early Access titles in the "car fetish" genre, such as GearCity (6 years so far) and Automation (5 years), development speed on Wrench seems to be much swifter.
This counts double for me, because it indicates that a "complete" release of the game will potentially arrive sooner rather than later, but it also means that once the release is out there, and sales of the game pick up, there's more potential for the developer to continue with it, either via free updates, or even paid DLC.
Stable but glitchy
The game is rock solid on my PC, in terms of crashing and stability. It loads every time, and uses about the amount of graphical resources I'd expect, not pushing the GPU to ludicrous fan speeds for what's a relatively simple-looking game. There's a good few graphical options, but nowhere near the amount you'd expect from a top-notch AAA title like Doom Eternal.
The same can't be said for minor issues in the gameplay though. The parts catalogue often bugged out while searching, where despite me having no text in the filter box, the entire catalogue was empty, forcing me to enter some letters and remove them to "reset" it. Oil and other liquid bottles clipped into the plane of view, so half would disappear sometimes.
It's fairly easy to leave a wrench floating in mid-air if you don't press the right button. There's no penalty for this; it just looks really weird. Also new jobs will spawn a car on the lift, even if you leave items under it, so the car clips through the roller trolley. Again, not game-breaking, just a bit weird.
I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of receiving ordered parts in a cardboard box with a little strip to open it up. The first time. Then it got tedious, very quickly. I hope there will at least be an option to turn this off and just have the parts appear individually.
Tyres were the worst offenders when it came to game physics. Ordering more than one caused them to spawn "inside" each other, where the first tyre would be interlocked with the second. Again, not a major problem, because they separate once you try to use one of them.
I tried to stack the tyres neatly in the corner because there doesn't seem to be an obvious way to get rid of the worn ones yet, but I soon gave up because trying to create a stack of more than two would often send them randomly bouncing about the place.
All of these are very minor bugs that don't really affect gameplay, but it's something to keep on your radar. A game that becomes littered with a huge number of tiny bugs will become frustrating, so it's a case of waiting to see whether the developers fix 'em faster than new ones arrive.
A bright future
This is obviously simple speculation and prediction, but things are looking good based on what I've seen so far from Wrench. There will need to be a lot more content to consider a full release, with at least a few more cars.
I think there's already enough procedures in the game to satisfy most players, but of course, different cars will require additional work to make sure they carry over, as the only vehicle is currently left-hand drive, rear wheel drive, and a straight 4-cylinder.
I'm quite happy to wait. I like that the work has gone into polishing, somewhat, what's already there, rather than trying to cram as much stuff into the game as possible regardless of whether it's functional, or fun.
Your mileage (haha, a car pun!) will vary on this title. If you regret the decision after your purchase, there's some comfort in the fact that it's not an expensive game right now (around $15 or equivalent), and as always, it's Early Access. If you pay up now, you get an unfinished game with absolutely no guarantee it will ever be finished and no refund outside of the usual Steam policy.
Still, if you have the relatively light amount of cash to burn, and want to take a comparatively safe gamble on a very niche title with a lot going for it, you could do a lot worse than Wrench.