I can think of a few titles where bugs or glitches were not only expected they were also thought of being one of the many sources of enjoyment of the game. The Elder Scrolls series is a prime example of this as their titles are almost always riddled with numerous bugs on release and Bethesda’s stance of not fixing the fun (but not game breaking) shows that many players get an awful lot of enjoyment out of their game behaing unexpectedly. I had yet to see a game where bugs, glitches and weird physics were actually the game itself until I came across Goat Simulator, a title from indie game developer Coffee Stain Studios. Whilst it’s definitely an unique concept there’s a limit to how much whacky physics fun you can have before you start to tire of it.
You’re a goat (surprise surprise) and the game centers around you being a goat in a section of a small town. Strictly speaking there are no objectives, there’s no over-arching plot to drive you forward nor any motivation provided for you being where you are, and so you’re free to roam the world doing as you wish. In traditional Goat spirit this of course means destroying anything and everything in your path, headbutting anything that might get in your way. Once you tire of that though there are many hidden challenges for you to unlock, some of which provide you access to powers beyond your wildest goaty dreams.
For a game that was slapped together in the space of a couple months Goat Simulator has a level of graphical fidelity that I honestly didn’t expect. It uses the Unreal 3 engine so you wouldn’t expect graphical miracles from it but the incorporation of atmospheric effects and modern lighting has Goat Simulator punching well above its weight class in terms of graphics. It still runs perfectly fine most of the time too (until you’re intentionally trying to break it, of course) something which, again, I wasn’t expecting. In all honesty for a game that was being touted as a bug ridden, hastily slapped together prototype there’s an incredible amount of polish. Much more than I’d come to expect from other developers of similar calibre.
Goat Simulator revolves around you being a goat that causes all sorts of carnage around the small suburban area that you find yourself in. In the beginning this will be pretty vanilla kind of stuff, destroying fences, headbutting people and generally running amok in the various areas available to you. This is all scored though so whilst your initial inclination will be to just ram things at random eventually you’ll try to figure out how to maximise your score. That’s when you’ll start to add a little strategy into your carnage, looking for places with a cornucopia of objects that you can goat your way through. Of course along the way you’ll run into the hastily slapped together physics that provides much of Goat Simulator’s entertainment.
I started out by just following the prompts to try out different things which serves as a solid, light touch tutorial that doesn’t get in the way if you just want to rampage through the town. This introduces you to how the scoring mechanics work which are pretty similar to what I remember Tony Hawk Pro Skating being like when I last played it almost a decade ago. So whilst you can headbutt that box 100 times in a row your score probably won’t go up by much as the game wants you to try a variety of different whacky things. This helps to add a little direction to a game that would otherwise have been thoroughly confusing without trying to impose on those who couldn’t care less about it.
After a while though there’s really only 2 things that will keep you playing: score and achievements. For the most part getting the highest score is just a matter of patience and not breaking the game too hard (as that can lead to you needing to restart it or the game crashing). something which can only take you so far. The achievements provide some fresh perspective on the game by giving you access to “powers” which can be anything from dropping dead goats from the sky to an impossible to control jetpack. If you’re like me though once you’ve done most of these the rest of the achievements don’t really seem that appealing and all you’re left with is a haphazard physics simulator.
Which, I have to say, is an awful lot less buggy than I thought it would be. You can make the physics engine do some crazy things but they’re really nothing above what I’ve seen in other games that were supposedly coded with good physics engines. You can get people stuck in the wall and launch yourself into the stratosphere but other than that there’s really not much else to speak of. Even when I was deliberately trying to make the game crash (by spawning dozens of other goats and using the console to fiddle with engine settings) all I could accomplish was making the physics engine and game slow to crawl. So if you were expecting a game that was absolutely riddled with bugs you might be disappointed as it’s really anything but.
Goat Simulator is a fun distraction that showcases the enjoyment that gamers can get from emergent game play. Whilst it’s far from the bug laden, glitch filled adventure that many touted it as the core game mechanics are still fun with the added benefit of a whacky physics engine just adding to the mix. It’s a short lived adventure however as whilst it’s fun to rack up a high score there’s nothing really to keep you interested once the achievements are gone and you’ve played with all the powers. If the idea piqued your interest then I definitely recommend grabbing it but otherwise you’re not really missing out on anything if you decide not to play it.
Goat Simulator is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 2 hours with 62% of the achievements unlocked.
The Humble Indie Bundle has been my source for many independent games that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. The pay-what-you-want model works spectacularly in the instance and I’ve always paid a lot more than the average so I get all the extra goodies. It was then without a second thought that I ponied up for the most recent release which was primarily for the release of Amanita Design’s Boatanicula, a curious little platform game that just beams with cutness from every angle.
Botanicula puts you in control of a quintet of characters, all of which appear to be either a seed or young form of some kind of plant. The opening scenes paint a picture of a tranquil, happy life of all these disparate species coexisting together on a giant tree. However a spider like entity threatens every living thing that dwells within it, sucking the very life out of every thing that it touches. The quintet’s hope lies within a single seed that they’re endeavouring to plant before all life on the tree is inevitably wiped out and the adventures that entail along their journey.
There’s something to be said for games that make the most of their chosen medium and Botanicula is one that does this to perfection. Every panel is abosolutely gorgeous, brimming with vibrant colours and soft glow effects that are very visually appealing. Unlike point and click adventures of times gone past Botanicula doesn’t make interactive sections obvious by colouring them differently which, whilst slightly irksome at the start, gave all the scenes an even visual feel without any jarring distractions. This is only surpassed by how the scenes evolve as the player interacts with them, bringing ever more life into them the more you dared click.
Coupled with this gorgeous visual art is an equally impressive arrangement for the music and foley. Instead of using typical sound effects Botanicula uses the human voice for nearly everything and I’m pleased to say it does so to great effect. There’s something joyous about clicking around on the various plants and insects only to have them respond with a cheerful sound or have the character’s speech be a long sentence of nonsense that’s aptly portrayed by a thought bubble above their head. I think this was by far my favourite aspect of Botanicula as I’ve never had so much fun listening to people make funny noises.
At its heart Botanicula is a point and click adventure with all the puzzle solving gooddness that comes along with it. Like all good games in its genre the puzzles start off pretty easy, usually being simple hunt and peck type deals with an over-arching goal of collecting x of something in order to progress to the next level. Afterwards they start to ramp up in the difficultly level slowly eventually getting to rather complicated puzzles that even left me guessing for a good amount of time. For the most part they’re pretty enjoyable and quite satisfying when completed but there are a few issues that plague them.
Now I’m not sure if this was because my desktop resolution was larger than Botanicula was able to display (as evidenced by the black borders around the screenshots) or something else but interaction with it was sometimes a little gummy. Whilst it was quite responsive to regular clicks on interactive objects anything that required some kind of movement with the cursor was plagued with unpredictable motion. One such puzzle was to get push a nut out a hole in order to knock a key down and attempting to do so was not an exact science with the nut reacting unpredictably. I can see how it might be better on a tablet when you don’t have a cursor to contend with but with a mouse and its ever-present presence on the screen I found myself having to come up with other solutions when precision movement was required.
Apart from that however the puzzles were pretty much all good with the only stumbling block being myself. For the most part it was lack of attention that usually caught me out, sending me on a wild goose chase for 10~20 minutes while I tried to find the last thing to progress to the next level. I did use a walkthrough guide a couple times when I started to get frustrated but for the most part the game was easy enough to get through whilst still providing a good challenge.
After playing through Botanicula I came away with two very distinct feelings about the game’s target audience and where they should be headed in the future. Whilst adults will find much to enjoy in the world of Botanicula I can’t help but feel that this game would be so great for kids as everything seems to fit the bill for this being an amazing game for them. The vibrant colours, extraordinarily cute characters and playful soundscape seem perfect for something to delight kids with.
Botanicula also feels like it would be very much at home on a tablet like an iPad or Android equivalent. Indeed my one gripe, the iffy mouse pointer control sections, seems like it would be a non-issue on a tablet platform. This also plays somewhat into it being a great game for kids as well as I know many parents use their iPads to keep the kids quiet on long journeys. To their credit Amanita Designs has said that an iPad version is already in the works and I’ll be very eager to see how it fairs in comparison to its PC cousin.
The story of Botanicula, whilst simplistic, is ultimately sastifying. Even though there’s no actual dialog you still get a feel for all the character’s personalities and quirks. The conclusion is predictable but it’s still worth seeing through to the end just for the fun of it.
Botanicula shows the reason why I continue to spend money on the Humble Indie Bundles without putting much thought into the games that I’m buying. My hit rate with unresearched titles has been quite high and I’m glad I can count Amanita Design’s latest release amongst them. If you’re a fan of point and clicks or just well executed games then Botanicula won’t disappoint and I couldn’t hesittate to recommened it.
Botanicula is available on PC, OSX and Linux right now for $9.99. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3.3 hours played, 75% of the achievements unlocked and a final score of 108/125.
It’s really no secret that the earlier that a game review gets out the more likely it is that more people will read it. For the most part it’s held true for the reviews I’ve done as people tend to look for info about the game mostly before or just after its release, usually to scope out whether they should buy it or not. Being one of the unwashed masses I’m not privy to early releases of games (except for one solitary exception with Modern Warfare 3) so all my game reviews usually come out weeks after the major sites have already posted theirs, usually with 1 or 2 follow ups afterwards. Still I continue to write them because they’re the easiest writing I’ve ever done and I have an incredibly fun time doing so. Some of my reviews have also been decently popular so I know there’s some value in them for my readers out there.
As to what value people were actually getting from my late in the piece reviews though wasn’t all that clear to me. Of course there are some who use them to inform their purchasing decisions (although no one’s told me of that) and a few will just be my regular readers catching up on my latest ramblings. I knew quite a few people stumbled onto my site when they were looking for wallpapers for particular games or screenshots of certain characters which might not be available anywhere else. However after reading a couple early reviews of certain games I started to realize why reviews like mine are important.
They give the companies a chance to fix broken things.
Take for instance this weeks review of Dead Island. I didn’t get the game on launch day because of the price but I happily snapped it up about a week after it was released. Had I got it on launch day and attempted to play it I would’ve been greeted with the developer build which was buggy, filled with odd shortcuts like turning on no-clip and overall a relatively unpleasant experience. Since I tend to avoid game reviews for games I myself intend to review I wouldn’t have known about these issues and would’ve panned the game for releasing such a half assed game. Coming into it later than the usual flood of reviews meant I got to experience the game as intended and I believe my review reflects a more accurate picture of what the game developers hoped to release.
Another game I was hoping to review in the future was Rage and of course my platform of choice will be the PC. However according to initial reports its sounding an awful lot like the Dead Island release, with the game being horribly buggy and glitchy. Since I’m still waiting on my pre-order keys to arrive (and the fact that I have probably 3 other games I could be playing at the moment) I haven’t been able to give Rage a go yet, but it seems like giving the game a miss for a week or so might be the best option, just so that I’m not reviewing the current mess that everyone is complaining about.
Delayed reviews then, whilst probably not garnering the same amount of press as their day 1 counterparts, serve to showcase what the game is capable of once you get past the initial bumps. It’s a good thing for small timers like myself who don’t have the privilege of getting early access too, as we have the luxury of taking our time with the games and making sure the experience we’re getting is the best the developers could deliver. If the game is still a smoking wreck at that point then it deserves what’s coming to it, but realistically if it’s an honest mistake (like Dead Island was) then it should be easy to fix it.
Of course I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to review a game before it was released if I was given the opportunity, hint hint 😉