[Hands-on preview] Parcel Corps is jet set biking

[Hands-on preview] Parcel Corps is jet set biking

Two wheels and no need for a road

Parcel Corps, from Secret Mode and Billy Goat Entertainment, harkens back to a time in gaming filled with arcade experiences, popcorn, and very loud music. It draws a lot of inspiration from that era, wearing its homage on its sleeve. It’s about bursts of fun controls, funny writing, and lots of points. And it’s nice to see that, especially when we sometimes just want to have weird, quirky experiences that fit well between long Elden Ring sessions.

Parcel Corps takes place in a world where biking is outlawed, so of course we’re biking. We’re part of a trio of bikers in competition with two other groups, and we need to deliver packages around a city as fast and best as we can. It’s very bright and colorful, like Jet Set and Crazy Taxi, and pops off of the screen. And like those games it has meet customers and move around a town, avoiding precarious situations and the authorities.

It’s a physics-based game, so learning to control the bike is of utmost importance. It includes learning what the triggers do, understanding how to make a soft stop and a hard stop, how to do a quick turnaround, drift, and even flip and do tricks. Ambidexterity is key. That aspect can be tough in a short demo; ideally we have time with a game like this to pick things up at a regular pace. But, in a Summer Game Fest session where we have to learn quickly, learning can lead to, uh, A LOT of fails.

And I failed. A LOT. I kept crashing my bike into cars, getting stuck in walls, flipping into ditches. My biker flails wildly as I met the pavement (and it’s hilarious to watch). I FAILED. A LOT. So much so that the conversation with the developers was often centered around me trying to prop up my crappy play with comments like “I’m just tired” and “my hands have been cramping all day” and “actually, I just suck at this.” That last comment is likely the truth, and it led to some chuckles, because a big part of a game like this is all about failing. That’s how we learn the controls, how we understand the terrain.

How do I do this part better? Practice.

How do I learn where key locations are in this town? Just ride. Everywhere.

Failure here is actually fine, and it’s even fun. One assignment asks me to carry wine to a woman on the other side of a construction site. As I make my way, trying to find how to go around a big obstacle, I keep an eye on the clock winding down and start to panic. This causes me to speed up and try and make a jump across a gap — but I haven’t been as confident in the jumps yet and I fall, and the wine starts to spill (there’s a meter depicting how much I have left). But falling to the bottom reveals a large pipe, one that I can likely head through to the other side. As the time runs out I head back to the start of the mission and opt to take the pipeway this time, cutting off serious seconds off of my time and avoiding dropping the wine. I could have made it over the gap, or around with a ramp, but I chose to go under. The levels are built around the premise that players can complete the tasks however they feel is best. If I had mastered the jumps then hopping over the gap would have been fine, but instead I took the pipe because that’s what I was most comfortable with.

It’s a short demo, but it clearly shows what the project is supposed to be: it’s like learning to ride a bike, where we understand that we’re going to mess up a lot until we get the hang of things. And by the end of my session I did manage to get the hang of it, so hopefully muscle memory will chime back in when Parcel Corps has its full release on September 3, 2024 on PS5, Xbox Series and PC.