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Traffix is a puzzle game that gives you the complete control of traffic lights you always wanted

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A simple aesthetic disguises the chaos

It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.

In a city builder like SimCity or Cities: Skylines, traffic inevitably becomes a point of frustration. Your budding metropolis simply gets too big to handle the congestion. There is usually one intersection where, for some reason, the cars just don’t behave how you want them to. You end up cursing the terrible AI drivers or whatever system manages the traffic lights. But before you tear it all down in an attempt to fix it, there is a moment when you feel like if you had more control over the drivers or maybe the lights, you could make it work. That’s basically Traffix.

Each level of Traffix puts you in control of an intersection or group of intersections and asks you to manually control the traffic signals until a specified number of white cars leaves the area. How you control the lights couldn’t be more simple. By default, all of the lights are set to red, stopping all cars and trucks. Tapping or clicking a traffic light once lets a single vehicle through, while tapping twice lets all vehicles through until you hit it again to change the light back to red.

Aside from making sure that the right number of vehicles leaves the stage, you also need to avoid causing crashes and making a vehicle wait too long at a traffic light. Racking up 10 of those in a single level causes you to fail and start over. At first, this seems simple enough to avoid. But as the game progresses, it introduces new intersections with more complicated layouts, as well as traffic that you have no control over, including trains and sometimes planes. You have to manage your time between looking at traffic, an ever-growing lineup of cars that are stopped at your lights, or deciding what lights need to be signaled and when.

What really makes Traffix interesting are the levels. Even though you are effectively doing the same thing in each stage, the game manages to construct interesting environmental puzzles. Each one gives a different feel to how you solve the level. It’s almost like you have to reset your understanding of game, as each scenario requires a different approach to complete the stage. It does this all without changing anything about the game’s simple mechanics.

There are some design aspects that carry over from one stage to the next, which tend to create certain styles of levels. Some intersections have a rhythm to them, requiring lights to be activated in a repeatable pattern to finish flawlessly. Others spread out where the signals are, requiring more of a time management-like approach that requires you to decide where and when to look while also determining when to send vehicles through the light. Some do the opposite and centralize all of the lights in roughly the same area of the screen, but they make the solutions less about planning and more about reacting in the moment.

I think the highest praise I can give this game is that I often find myself muting games while playing on my phone so I can listen to podcasts or have a YouTube video on the TV as background noise. But about 10 or 20 levels into Traffix, I realized I had paused a podcast and not started it up again. The game required so much focus, and I was so engrossed, that I had to cut out any distraction.

Traffix was created by Infinity Games. You can buy it for $4.99 on Steam (Windows and macOS), on the iOS App Store for $3.99, or for $2.99 on the Google Play Store for Android. It takes about two to four hours to finish.