You have goat to be kidding me…
While I was waiting to play Goat Simulator ahead of writing this review, I really had no idea of what to expect from the game. Was it going to be a genuinely funny, satirical take on all the more serious, conventional simulator games that have popped up recently, such as Farming Simulator or Car Mechanic Simulator? Or would it be a poorly executed attempt at satire? Coffee Stain Studios have gone on record describing their game as “small, broken and stupid.” A disclaimer on their website states that “you’re better off not expecting anything at all” out of Goat Simulator. Would the game be too broken to properly enjoy, and a waste of everybody’s time?
Goat Simulator’s trailer certainly laid down a marker of its intent: taking the form of a Dead Island parody, it humorously conveyed the fact that this game appeared to have its tongue firmly in cheek. Would the actual product live up to the billing it gave itself?
We’re gonna need a bigger goat.
The first thing that struck me when I started to play Goat Simulator is its complete lack of structure. It makes it a difficult game to review, a point to which I will later return. The game gives the player third-person control of a goat in a small sandbox environment. The size of this sandbox presented an immediate issue in terms of Goat Simulator’s long-term appeal – it’s not very big and felt restrictive after a relatively short period of playing. While I easily spent a couple of hours happily causing carnage and hunting out the game’s various collectibles, I’m not sure I see myself spending a significant amount of time in this world down much further down the line.
So what to do with the goat? As I mentioned above, Goat Simulator is pretty much bereft of any structure, so the player can embark on any kind of barmy adventure that comes to mind. Upon clicking ‘play’ for the first time, I found my goat in the middle of a small neighborhood. There’s no prologue, no story, nothing that goes any way to explaining who the goat is, what type of quest he or she might be pursuing. Instead, I was presented with a few initial challenges. These were simple, of the ‘jump over an object’ or ‘get airborne’ variety. There’s a Time Trial in which the player is invited to inflict a maximum amount of damage to gain points within a time limit. After completing a couple of these I soon decided my goat and I were ready for bigger things, so off we trotted to inflict some damage on the nearby surroundings.
I found that many of the ‘goals’ my goat and I completed on our subsequent sandbox adventures were done so completely unintentionally: I accidentally conquered the ‘Michael Bay’ objective by destroying a petrol pump at a gas station. I completed the ‘Baggio’ objective by running into, and thus propelling, a basketball over the crossbar of a soccer net (mocking the Italian striker’s infamous miss from the penalty spot in the 1994 World Cup final). Dragging various bits, pieces or people across the map via my goat’s ridiculous tongue amused me for a while, as did finding and interacting with objects such as a (completely unstable) jet pack and a rocket firework. Combining the ‘rag-doll’ (the ‘Q’ button) and slow-motion (the ‘F’ button) effects led to equally ridiculous yet enjoyable results – my first gleeful experience of this was propelling my goat down a huge water-slide and watching it flop around as it flew across the map.
All of the challenges, goals and objectives Goat Simulator contains are entirely optional. There is no story, no narrative, no progression or levelling up. The player can aim for a certain high score, but there isn’t really any impetus to do so. While I could transform my goat into a Devil or an Angel by finding the hidden entrance to a bizarre goat shrine/temple/dungeon type place, this didn’t impact at all on any of the challenges I pursued. That being said, it did grant me the power to summon goat ‘peasants’ from the sky by pressing the ‘R’ button, which was fun.
As I said before, Goat Simulator has no structure or constraints, beyond the small environment the player is invited to explore. While this offers complete freedom in terms of game play experience, and clearly fits the unhinged vibe of the game itself, it did leave me wondering how much the game actually had to offer once the initial hilarity of watching my goat pop back up after getting hit by a car, or being flung through a garden fence by a treadmill, wore off. The game clearly doesn’t have, or claim any pretence to having, a point. Which is fine – it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment on offer for the first few hours of exploring this crazy suburbia in goat form. After those first few hours are up, though, a legitimate question presents itself as to whether such mindless, goat-fuelled silliness is sustainable over time without the joke wearing thin, – especially when that question is considered alongside the many, many bugs the player will inevitably encounter, such as getting stuck in walls or, as happened to me on more than one occasion, falling under the map.
Whatever floats your goat.
It is difficult to know where to stand in terms of how to effectively and fairly review Goat Simulator. The game is hilarious and stupid. It sells itself as such, as the creators themselves state. So I return again to the question of how to score Goat Simulator. Do I adopt a tongue-in-cheek attitude, like the game itself? Do I maintain the satirical tone it perpetuates? Do I embrace the game’s brokenness from the perspective that it needs to be experienced and laughed at? Or, do I take it seriously as a game in its own right and on its own terms? Can a game that is broken be given a good score? The respawn option is there because it is required, due to the copious amount of bugs.
When I sat down to write this review, settling on a score became a tougher call than I initially expected. Goat Simulator is definitely both funny, and fun, for the first few hours. The sheer absurdity of the ‘experience’ it offers, the slightly insane jingle that accompanies the player’s every move, the exaggerated mechanics, the hilarity of propelling a goat, rag-doll style, across the map – it’s all genuinely amusing. Whether or not the joke wears thin after extended use is another matter.
Ultimately I’m going to remain firmly on the fence. I can’t bring myself to award Goat Simulator an outstanding score because it’s not an outstanding game, by its own admission. There are many, many things wrong with it. Yet I can’t also deny the fact that it’s enjoyable – it’s funny, it’s a ridiculous ride and it (obviously) doesn’t purport to be anything other than a bit of a laugh.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.