What to play this weekend: Does Not Commute

"Dentist Charles Schneider skipped lunch and went to the library instead. He's heading back to his clinic with the books 'Temporal Paradoxes' and 'Retrocausaility in Practice.'"

There's an undercurrent of weirdness in Does Not Commute (universal, free with in-app purchase) that Fox Mulder would love. The beautiful and challenging strategy game from Mediocre Games has you driving various vehicles -- from sedans to speed boats to ice cream trucks -- through several neighborhoods, being careful to beat the clock and avoid the other drivers. It's challenging, thematic and a lot of fun. Here's my look at Does Not Commute.

Looks

Boy, this is a good-looking game. Does Not Commute's splash screen shows the dashboard of a big old 1970's American sedan, with no airbags, no Bluetooth stereo, no digital anything. It's pointed towards the horizon at the end of a lonely road, where a huge, ringed planet dominates the sky. Right away, you know something's up.

Once the game loads, you're looking at the car's radio. Swipe to browse levels and watch replays (more on that later). You can also adjust the music and sound effects volume levels. Each "station," or level, has its own theme song which is another nice touch. Simply tap one to begin.

Game play

Your job is to move a vehicle from Point A to Point B within the allotted time. Tap the screen to steer your charge to its clearly-marked destination. Once that's done, you start over with another vehicle...and it starts to get weird.

As you pilot the second vehicle, you notice that the first one retraces the route your drew for it in round one. Once you guide the second car successfully, you're presented with a third car. Again, vehicles one and two re-trace their route as you pilot vehicle number three. The pattern continues -- and traffic increases -- until you've guided thirteen vehicles to their destinations before time expires. Speaking of time...

Does Not Commute plays loosey-goosey with the concept of time. Forget that a vehicle you drove away five minutes ago is just starting off again. You can also rewind time. Let's say you drove the ice cream truck directly into a large building. It takes damage and drives significantly slower than when it was fully functional. That won't do, as you're playing beat the clock here. In that instance, you can tap the rewind button to return all vehicles to their start positions, so you may try again. However, this time-bending privilege ticks one second off the clock.

*Read: previous selections for "What you should play this weekend." *

Ah, the clock. You have a certain amount of time at the start of a round to pilot all vehicles to their destinations. As you play, you'll find power-ups that add to that limit; simply drive over them to pick them up.

The whole game becomes a hilarious jumbled mess that requires more planning that you might have initially guessed. For example, the bridge that you used with the first car could be the ideal route for vehicles six, nine and ten, so you've got to remember where the earlier vehicles will be. Put the first car in the far left lane, and you better remember that when piloting vehicle number three.

But driving is only half the fun.

The game describes each vehicle's driver. Don't skip reading this text, as it slowly reveals a story full of deception, intrigue and time-traveling weirdness. I don't want to spoil it, but people's motivations and true destinations become clear as you progress through the levels.

There other options available to help you along the way. You can earn different "boosts" that quickly become essential. By beating levels and unlocking other achievements, you'll earn things like Turbo, Traction Control and Armor. Some vehicles move slowly, and benefit from a turbo boost. Meanwhile, others are speed demons and need a little traction control to keep them on course.

There's also a practice mode to unlock, which lets you run a course without penalty before trying it for real.

Replay!

Once you've completed a level, the game stores a video of your successful run, which you can watch three ways:

  1. From the perspective of each vehicle in turn
  2. From a static, overhead view
  3. From a sweeping, left-to-right view

It's really a lot of fun to watch these videos, and laugh at the near-misses and bone-jarring collisions. And I'll tell you, it's very satisfying to safely deliver the last vehicle with only a second or two left on the clock.

In conclusion

Does Not Commute is a lot of fun. It looks great, the physics work well and the theming comes together to make a title I'm eager to play. It's free, and a one-time in-app purchase of $1.99 lets you resume the game from checkpoints, instead of starting from scratch.

Does Not Commute is definitely what you should play this weekend.