Since I like mysteries, life sim gameplay, taking photographs, and adorable animals, I thought The Good Life would be a slam-dunk for me. Honestly, the game has good bones, and all the pieces should work really well together. After five hours of playtime, however, I am put off by awkward controls, unsatisfying photography, unlikable characters, and an absurd amount of mechanic bloat. I don’t expect this is a game I will be going back to.
The player character is photo-journalist Naomi Hayward, whose signature phrase seems to be “A GODDAMNED HELLHOLE” and I am so very tired of hearing her say that already. She’s been sent by her employer to uncover the mysteries of Rainy Woods, the self-proclaimed “Happiest Town on Earth”, somewhere in rural England. I think the big mystery is supposed to be about how the townsfolk turn into cats & dogs at night, and I would apologize for the spoilers, but it’s also in the first paragraph of the game description on Steam, so…
If you’re already thinking, ok, this is a little weird, I’d draw your attention to the fact that this game was developed by the same person who made Deadly Premonition, and then tell you – it gets weirder. It doesn’t just embrace its weirdness, it wears it like a badge of honor.
Then of course, there’s a dead body.
The Good Life leans heavily into adventure game tropes, which by itself, I don’t have a problem with. The Good Life should feel free to be an adventure game if that’s what it wants. However, it gets in its own way over and over with non-adventure game mechanics that are, at best, distracting, at and worse, suck every drop of fun to be had right out of the game.
There’s a lot of focus on earning money – via quest completion (both for townsfolk and for your employer) as well as from taking photographs that align with popular hashtags and uploading them to social media. Hey, a need to have money to pay of a ridiculous amount of debt is a great motivation. The problem here is twofold. One, some of the “life sim” aspects mean you’re spending money faster than you can make it (you’re going to need a lot of food, and I’ve already had to go the doctor multiple times to cure ailments), and two, quest items and necessary camera upgrades are prohibitively expensive. If you’re the type who just wants to follow the story and do quests, well, too bad, because you need to spend an absurd amount of time doing things to make pennies, and most of those pennies will probably go back into buying food so you don’t pass out from starvation.
Also, at least in the early game, traveling around the map is going to eat up a huge chunk of your day. Your home isn’t so much far from the action, but it is somewhat awkwardly placed, and is the only place you can manually save. You can conserve your financial resources a bit by cooking items you find or grow in your garden, but if there’s a way to store pre-made food in your inventory to eat while you’re on the other side of the world, I haven’t discovered it. I found myself frequently wandering away from the active storyline in order to go home, eat, sleep, shower, and check my email. Which is annoying in and of itself, but the main story will occasionally drop you into “urgent” quests, which is bad because you don’t know when they’re coming, and some are rather long. If you haven’t recently refilled your needs meters, you may find yourself stuck and having to revert to an earlier save.
But the final straw for me is that I really am tired of listening to my player character. One of the last sections I played through has her screaming “YEAH BABY” over and over to the point where I almost turned the sound off. There’s another character who shows up way too often for my taste who just screams “LOBSTAH!” over and over and I hate him. I think you’re supposed to hate him, but not enough to want to turn the game off.
Look, I’d like to solve the mystery of Rainy Woods. I really would. Even though the humor is very much not to my tastes, I am fascinated by the world that’s been built, but not fascinated enough to have to jump through all the assorted hoops that are in my way. There are a lot of hoops, and the end of each play session had me more frustrated than entertained.