Yahtzee reviews House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails.
I have a feeling it's going to be a long summer; E3 hasn't even been and gone yet, and I already emptied out the retro review bucket. All right, Steam; stop kicking that visual novel developer in the stomach for a second so I can see what's on your "Top Sellers" list. "Well, you know what all the kids have been talking about this week: House Flipper." Hmm, intriguing. Just one question: Are you taking the piss? "No, seriously! It's had even more user reviews than Wizard of Legend. It's a thrilling, first-person RPG in which you play a proud, stoic adventurer who comes to a land blighted by the forces of a less-than-satisfactory housing market and must battle sinister oil stains and a mismatched internal décor with naught but your mighty Stippling Brush and the Color Swatches of Zenthar!" Ohh… you are taking the piss. But, you know, I've occasionally found some value in games that fall into the genre of "what it's like to have a real job"; I've whiled away many an hour in Stardew Valley and Euro Truck Simulator, and I do have a lot of podcasts I've been meaning to listen to. And House Flipper is the kind of thing we'll all be playing for escapism in a few years, after society collapses and we've got a few hours to kill before Lord Humungus raids us at dawn.
So this is where we are: I'm reviewing a daytime television simulator for frustrated spouses who want to imagine trussing up their fantasy dream home even as their real-life home descends into filth and squalor around them. So you play a sort of mercenary handyman and at first, to get to grips, you're given some contract jobs where someone just wants you to come into their house and clean, repaint, buy specific furniture, and/or shag the missus. And once you've got a handle on things and, more importantly, a big sack of cash, you can start buying your own houses, all of which were apparently recently vacated by meth-dealing cockroach farmers who never quite pinned down the difference between a toilet and a floor.
So first of all, we clean; you remove the litter and crystal meth gift baskets by pointing and obliterating them with your laser eyes, and then you clean all the stains by holding out a perfectly dry mop and waving it a bit. Now, annoying as it was in Viscera Cleanup Detail to have to pick up every shell casing and severed knob and carry them all to the furnace in a bin while walking like you had a pogo stick strapped to each leg, I don't think you're doing us any favors in a job simulator game by removing work; isn't that what we're here for? And using the mop in Viscera Cleanup Detail had a cathartic and, for want of another word, visceral feel to it; it was satisfying to thrust a newly-wetted mop into a big stain while imagining it was the face of your supervisor. In comparison, using the limp-ass mop in House Flipper is, frankly, humiliating; this is supposed to be "house flipper simulator", not "stoned air traffic controller simulator".
So after that comes the painting, and again, I feel it suffers from oversimplification: point paint roller at bucket, point paint roller at wall, hold down button; even if you can only glimpse half an inch of the wall between a bookshelf and a meth lab, you can still merrily roll away. I'd have appreciated this more if there had been a more systematic aspect to it; you know, not moving the furniture before you start painting results in ruined furniture that you'll have to halfheartedly jab with your mop. You also need to install appliances like showers and washing machines in weirdly obsessively-detailed minigame sequences where all you're expected to do is click on components as the game highlights them, and gameplay-wise, it's about as involving as leafing through a booklet of IKEA assembly instructions.
And once the contract gigs are done, the game isn't much more than an interior design creativity toy with a number representing your cash flow that you can close your eyes and dream as real. I think we could have done with a bit more gameplay structure, a "win" state, like, say, earning enough to buy Disneyland and sell it to the Russian Mafia. "Thank you for your assessment, Yahtzee; now please supply an explanation and apology for reviewing House Motherfucking Flipper!" Dah, I've got no excuse; of all the new games I've played this week, it's the one I kept coming back to. So there's something absorbing about it, or maybe it's the kind of downtime I seek after a long shift at my day-job as an international jewel thief.
And the thread of "games about working a repetitive job" leads loosely to our second game, FAR (HRUUH) Lone Sails, which is a narrative indie game from the Post-9/11 Politics School of Game Design, i.e., "keep moving right until you can't anymore". FAR is a game about... that doesn't sound right. Lone Sails is a game about... that doesn't sound right, either. I'll just call it Bollocks. Bollocks is a game about making a journey, and because you're a little wastepaper basket person with tiny legs, you obviously have to make that journey in a gigantic land-sailing vessel the size of an average suburban McDonald's.
There was an obscure LucasArts game called Night Shift back in the day that I used to like, about running around a big Heath Robinson machine, checking on all the components as it ran. But I think it's a core gameplay concept worth exploring, 'cos it captures all the thrill and excitement of turning on a self-assembled PC for the first time, not knowing if it's going to run or embed a fan blade two inches into your fucking eye socket. And FAR Bollocks scratches that itch to a degree; the idea is, you've got to keep your ship going by running around and loading fuel, putting the sail up and down, releasing steam, putting out fires, making sure everyone's got cheesy biscuits, and it's well-designed enough that this is all effectively tutorialized without dialogue.
But I'm afraid I'm going to have to inform you, Mr. and Mrs. Sails, that your child is suffering from a severe case of "indie game-itis". If only you'd brought her in when she first started emitting sad music and washing out most of her colors; it's now progressed to a terminal case, complete with bog-standard deliberately ambiguous, unsatisfying ending. I'm afraid there's not much more we can do now, except submit her for the "Best Art Direction" prize at next year's game awards and hope she can one day rejoin society.
No, a "small child, scary world" standard indie-brand atmosphere doesn't inherently worsen a game, but I still think FAR: Lone Bollocks is missing something; maybe the attempt at a thoughtful, understated tone doesn't match the inherent concept of piloting a fuck-off giant roadster that wouldn't have looked too out of place with Mad Max hanging off the front, looking like he's undergoing a wasteland teeth-whitening procedure, the sort of thing I'd want to have push up to top speed and then ride on top of, going, "Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley! Ring, ring, ring goes the bell! Crunch, crunch, crunch go the bones of the old people not getting out of the way!" That might have stirred a little engagement up from the dried-up store of emotions I keep repressed so hard that they dangle out my asshole like a prolapsed surgical glove.
But having to stop every five yards to pick up some fuel or solve another gate-opening puzzle killed the pace; yes, I know there's a vacuum for picking up fuel, but I turned it off 'cos it kept messing up my fuel-storage organization system. Maybe it would have helped if we'd established a need to get to or away from something quickly, to justify going in the vehicle. There's one brief bit right at the end, when you have to go full-speed to escape a volcano, and otherwise, it's the video game equivalent of a vegan diet: watery, anemic, and disappointingly low on steaks.
- Location, location, location: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Play both these games and you'll know how to drive a car and fix up a house and will be fully prepared for the adult world
- Sunday drivers, am I right