Developed by Coffee Stain Studios. Published by Coffee Stain Studios. Released April 1, 2014. Available on PC.
Goat Simulator is incredible. It’s awful, and it’s insulting, but it’s everso slightly incredible at the same time. The game’s own developer derides it, claiming the $10 it costs could be better spent on a bunch of bricks, and suggesting it’ll be worth picking up in a two dollar sale.
There is an interesting question to be had with Goat Simulator – when does pointing out one’s own flaws cross the line from charmingly self-deprecating to conceitedly galling? Satirizing bad game design is something that games regularly fail at, because they fall into the trap of simply being the thing they’re mocking. Roleplaying games that make fun of obligatory “killing rats in the basement” quests are simply hypocritical if they point out this cliche by making you go through with such a quest. The Simpsons Game was full of commentary about lazy game design, but went ahead and packed its levels with the same uninspired block puzzles and platforming sections it lampooned. It’s hard not to feel insulted by games that do this, games that are self-conscious enough to brazenly admit what they’re doing is lame, but can’t be bothered to find a way around it.
Coffee Stain Studios is clearly having fun with the idea of knowingly selling a bad product. It proudly lists bugs as a feature, promising only to fix glitches that outright crash the game, leaving in everything else for hilarity’s sake. With its bizarre physics and distinct lack of structure, one could make the case that Goat Simulator has a point to prove, providing a savvy commentary on the state of videogame design – not to mention the temptation of the modern game developer to make bizarre, “random” experiences simply to appeal to YouTube’s Let’s Play creators. In fact, the cynic could easily argue that this game exists entirely to exploit that medium, while others may say it’s all done in the name of satire.
All I know is, you get to use a jetpack. As a friggin’ goat.
The basics of Goat Simulator are as simple as simple gets – you are a goat, and you smash stuff up. Clicking the mouse as you run about causes the goat to smash things in his path, and pretty much everything exists to be smashed. From fences, to greenhouses, to cars and people, you’re required to bash, explode, or otherwise ruin whatever you can get within bleating distance of. Essentially, that’s the whole point, and there’s very little to worry about beyond that.
Of course, there are minor things to keep you temporarily invested. The goat can “lick” things, its tongue latching onto objects and people that can then be dragged around the map. There are secret areas in the game which confer special abilities upon the careless capra, such as the aforementioned jetpack, or the ability to assume demon form. There are also little golden goat statues to uncover, for no real reason in particular.
This lack of reason is a running theme throughout the experience. You rack up points as you destroy things, and can bash objects in quick succession to keep a combo meter running – but for no real quantifiable end. There are challenges, such as causing certain calamities to occur, or pulling off flips in the air, and they also award the player with worthless points. Nevertheless, there’s a certain joy in earning a meaningless reward for pulling something off, especially as they’re often accompanied by flashy text with such celebratory phrases as “Michael Bay” or “Fuck The Police,” signifying that you have accomplished something – and I use the word “accomplished” loosely.
As you may have guessed by now, the game is a complete mess, and that’s supposed to be part of the charm. The physics are insane, our titular goat liable to turn into a ragdoll at the slightest provocation, while random bric-a-brac bounces weightlessly around the environment with a mere touch. It’s very easy to get the goat stuck – either under a load of debris or underneath the entire map – but a respawn function has been included for just this occasion. Once again, this game knows how broken this is, and it’s hard to say whether that makes it respectable or despicable.
For about ten minutes, Goat Simulator is pretty damn entertaining. It nails what made the “Insurance Fraud” minigames of Saints Row so much fun, and expands on the idea in a few amusing ways. With its fairly small map, and limited range of interactions, however, all the goat-based mayhem quickly becomes another Nobi Nobi Boy or Cargo situation – it’s a delightfully eccentric experience that suffers from having way more fun with itself than the player can have.
Ultimately, this game is a joke, and it’s a joke with a limited shelf life. The humor soon wears off once you’ve made all the humans run screaming and sent your trotting little beast flying into the air with the help of a few industrial fans. While there are some great little secrets to discover, you only ever need to see them once, and there’s very little to keep returning to the game for. There’s no sense of progression, and no real laughter to be had once you’ve seen the limited range of punchlines. I am sure there will be those who argue that this is the point of the thing, to be so utterly bereft of value, but here’s where that argument about “becoming the object of your satire” rises up once more. It’s risible to make something that’s not worth buying … but that doesn’t make it worth buying.
As well as the vanilla experience, you can mutate your goat with various unique traits, all of which offer a chuckle the first time around. You can give your goat a “Yoshi” mutation, which lets him swallow items to make bombs, or give him the physical form of a giraffe just because it looks rather funny. These extra modes can extend the running joke a little while, but not for very long. Like with everything else in the game, once you’ve seen what’s on offer the first time, there’s not a lot that can be gleaned from a repeat run.
The central premise is ripe for all sorts of ideas, but since this was cobbled together – again, by the designer’s own admission – in a few weeks with little regard for quality, the opportunity just isn’t seized. Instead, Steam Workshop is being relied upon for additional content. The possibilities should be endless, and while further support from users may make it so, the base product right now is nowhere near as imaginative as the core idea deserves.
As a joke, as a piece of interactive comedy, Goat Simulator is an undoubted success. The sheer concept is damn funny, and as you see everything for the first time, it’s hard not to let a big grin spread across your face. Like all good gags, however, there’s only so far it can be taken before it stops raising a smile, and by its very nature, Goat Simulator doesn’t have the legs to last more than a few minutes.
Bottom Line: It’s funny the first time, but there’s just not much there beyond the one big goof.
Recommendation: The developer recommends waiting until it’s two bucks in a sale. Not bad advice![rating=3]