The Good Life has been in development for a long time – it failed its initial funding campaign in 2017. After several funding attempts and development pauses it failed to receive its initial funding campaign in 2017. The Good Life has moments of humor in even the most absurd situations, and it’s slice-of life aspects are surprisingly entertaining. However, these don’t offset the overall outdated design.
Journalist Naomi Hayward’s goal is clear: pay off an astronomically large debt to Morning Bell News by uncovering the secrets lying beneath the surface of England’s one-time happiest town. At the end of every major quest, a chunk of Naomi’s debt is forgiven, which motivated me to delve into the town’s absurdly diverse mysteries. One quest saw me crash a party that was centuries old; another allowed me to dig into secret documents at a military base. The surreal task of assembling a story so bizarre and absurd that I couldn’t help but smile as I disbelieved, I had to.
The writing can sometimes go too far and seem juvenile. For instance, city-slicker Naomi takes almost every opportunity to call the town of Rainy Woods a “goddamn hellhole.” The unrelenting use of this phrase makes the character feel like an angsty teenager trying to sound more adult by cursing. You will also notice some narrative hand-waving. Digging into the game’s setup, even a little, causes it to topple. Why does a New York journalist owe a debt to an English news outlet, and how has she entered into what’s essentially indentured servitude? Questions like these aren’t addressed in any meaningful way, which left me to disappointedly accept the incoherent backstory.
Even elements of narrative that appear important at the beginning get this confused treatment. Early on, I learn the residents of Rainy Woods have mysterious shape-shifting abilities tied to the moon’s cycle. It is confusing that my transformation abilities work in a different way than celestially-influenced townsfolk when I am granted them. My abnormal skin-changing becomes just another weird plot point I’m not supposed to think about too much. This talent proves to be very useful in situations when I’m trying to locate scents or scale buildings for debt-clearing strategies.
Puzzled gameplay also exists as the game haphazardly mixes mechanics and genres. The Good Life is an intriguing murder mystery. It’s also a life simulator with collectible resources for making meals, fabricating clothes, concocting potions, and upgrading your dwelling. At times, it’s an action game with button-mashy combat, a survival game that asks you to consume food or starve, and a photography game with camera-based challenges to earn money. I enjoyed some of these elements, but they don’t build on or support each other very well. Naomi has a collection of different recipes that she learned from me, and I am excited about learning new ones. Naomi buys similar meals at restaurants multiple times. But money is tight so I had to make a decision to not spend my hard-earned cash on things like fixing my broken camera.
Sometimes, this problem can also interfere with the story. One time, as I approached the end of a quest, I realized that I had run out of sleep. I didn’t have any consumables. I was faced with the dilemma of avoiding exhaustion and completing my immediate task to go back to bed. The sequence would be stopped by fatigue and I’d have to pay a small amount of medical bills. So, I donated money to a shrine near me to help me get back.
Returning home to rest, and even to save, feels jarringly dated, and it’s not the only questionable design choice. The visuals are unimpressive, with stone walls that are entirely smooth up close and characters that don’t have any life behind their eyes. Multiple sudden music changes caught me off guard. Sometimes walking out of a shop to the town’s main square causes the background music to lurch noticeably. The narrative also played to outdated stereotypes; for example, Naomi is characterized as a ditzy blonde by characters at times that don’t seem warranted. Exasperating walls lining the countryside that make it all but impossible to take shortcuts across fields. You can’t travel fast without spending a lot of money.
The Good Life, despite its flaws, was interesting to me. It has some rough edges, but these can contribute to its charm, and it’s undeniably entertaining when the story is purposely silly or when I had time to just breathe in the world. The Good Life has heart, even if its features don’t always work together and its design holds it back.
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