The Good Life has been in development for a long time – it failed its initial fundraising campaign in 2017. But after several development pauses, fundraising attempts, and visual changes, its bumpy development led to a bumpy gaming experience. Despite that, The Good Life contains flashes of fun in the most absurd moments, and its slice-of-life aspects are surprisingly engaging. However, these do not make up for the outdated overall design.
Journalist Naomi Hayward’s goal is clear: to pay off an astronomically high debt to Morning Bell News by uncovering the secrets that lie beneath the surface of England’s happiest city. At the end of each major quest, a portion of Naomi’s debt is canceled, which motivated me to delve deeper into the absurdly diverse mysteries of the city. In a quest, I crushed a centuries-old party; in another, I searched classified documents at a secret military base. These surreal tasks assemble such an over-the-top and playful plot that I struggled not to smile even as I shook my head in disbelief.
However, the writing sometimes crosses the line from deliciously weird to juvenile. For example, city dweller Naomi takes almost every opportunity to call Rainy Woods’ town a “fucking hellhole.” The relentless use of this phrase makes the character feel like an angsty teenager trying to appear more adult by swearing. There are also a few blatant narrative hand gestures. Digging into the game’s setup, even a little, rocks it. Why does a New York journalist owe a debt to an English media outlet and how did she get into what is essentially indentured bondage? Questions like these are not addressed in a meaningful way, which left me disappointed in accepting the inconsistent backstory.
Even narrative elements that initially seem important receive this muddled treatment. Early on, I learn that the people of Rainy Woods have mysterious shape-shifting abilities related to the moon cycle. Confusingly, when I gain my own transformative powers, it inexplicably works differently from sky-influenced city dwellers. My abnormal skin change becomes just another weird plot point that I’m not supposed to think about too much. But talent comes in handy when I need to hunt down scents or climb buildings to uncover those debt clearing secrets.
The gameplay is also confusing as it randomly mixes genres and mechanics. The good life is a mysterious murder. It’s also a life simulator with collectable resources for cooking meals, crafting clothes, brewing potions, and upgrading your home. Sometimes it’s an action game with mashed button fights, a survival game that requires you to consume food or starve, and a photography game with challenges based on it. camera to earn money. I enjoyed some of these elements, but they don’t complement or support each other very well. For example, initially I was excited to learn different recipes, which Naomi collects by buying the same meal multiple times in a restaurant. Money can be tight, however, so I felt I had to stop and spend money on more crucial things like fixing my camera when it inevitably breaks.
This problem also sometimes interferes with the story. In one case, I was just steps from the final confrontation on a quest, but realized I was dangerously lacking in sleep and had no consumables to keep me awake. It put me in the position of risking exhaustion or shortening my urgent task to get back to bed. Collapsing from fatigue would stop the streak anyway and leave me with a small medical bill, so I offered money to a nearby shrine to take me back.
Going home to rest, and even to save money, looks very dated, and it’s not the only questionable design choice. The visuals are unimpressive, with entirely smooth stone walls up close and characters who have no life behind their eyes. Abrupt changes in music have taken me by surprise on several occasions. Sometimes stepping out of a store into the town’s main square causes the background music to wobble noticeably. The story also played on outdated stereotypes; for example, Naomi is characterized as a stunned blonde by characters who sometimes don’t seem justified. There are maddening walls bordering the countryside that make shortcuts through the fields next to impossible. Fast travel costs hard earned money and can only be initiated from specific areas.
Despite its lack of polish, I enjoyed The Good Life. It has a few rough edges, but those can add to its charm, and it’s undeniably entertaining when the story is purposely silly or when I’ve had time to just breathe in the world. The Good Life has heart, even if its features do not always mix well and its design holds it back.
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