The Good Life has been in development for a long time – it failed in its first funding campaign in 2017. But after several development pauses, funding attempts, and visual changes, the bumpy development led to a bumpy gameplay experience. Nevertheless, The Good Life contains flashes of fun in the more absurd moments, and the aspects of life are unexpectedly captivating. However, these do not detract from the overall outdated design.
Journalist Naomi Hayward’s goal is clear: to pay off an astronomically large debt to Morning Bell News by uncovering the secrets that lie beneath the surface of England’s once happiest city. At the end of each major quest, some of Naomi’s debt is forgiven, which motivated me to delve into the absurdly diverse mysteries of the city. In one quest, I crashed an age-old feast; in another, I delved into classified documents at a secret military base. These surreal tasks put together a plot so over the top and playful that I found it hard not to smile, even as I shook my head in disbelief.
However, the writing sometimes crosses the line from wonderfully strange to youthful. For example, city enthusiast Naomi seizes almost every opportunity to call the town of Rainy Woods a “damned hell.” The relentless use of this phrase makes the character feel like a fearful teenager trying to sound more mature by swearing. There’s also some eye-catching narrative handshakes. If you dive into the setup of the game, even a little, it falls over. Why is a New York journalist indebted to an English news outlet, and how has she addressed what essentially is contractual servitude? Questions like these aren’t addressed in a meaningful way, leaving me disappointed to accept the disjointed backstory.
Even narrative elements that seem important at first get this muddled treatment. Early on, I learn that the inhabitants of Rainy Woods have mysterious shape-shifting abilities related to the moon’s cycle. It’s confusing that when I get my own transformation powers, it inexplicably works differently than the sky-affected townspeople. My abnormal skin change just becomes another weird plot point that I shouldn’t think about too much. But the talent comes in handy when I have to hunt down smells or scale buildings to unravel those debt-solving secrets.
The gameplay is also puzzling as it haphazardly mixes genres and mechanics. The Good Life is a murder mystery. It is also a life simulator with collectible resources for preparing meals, crafting clothes, concocting potions and upgrading your home. Sometimes it’s an action game with bony combat, a survival game where you are asked to eat 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 and support each other well. For example, I was initially excited to learn different recipes, which Naomi collects by buying the same meal multiple times in a restaurant. Money can be tight, though, so I felt like I had to stop spending money on more crucial things like fixing my camera when it inevitably breaks.
This problem also sometimes distorts the story. In one instance, I was a few steps away from the final showdown in a quest, but realized I was perilously short of sleep and had no consumables to keep me awake. This put me in a position to either risk exhaustion or cut short my urgent task of going back to bed. Anyway, if I collapsed from fatigue, the sequence would stop and give me a small medical bill, so I offered money to a nearby shrine to transport me back.
Returning home to rest, and even to save, feels shockingly dated, and it’s not the only questionable design choice. The images are unimpressive, with stone walls that are completely smooth up close and characters that have no life behind their eyes. Abrupt changes in the music surprised me several times. Sometimes walking from a shop to the city’s main square causes the background music to swing noticeably. The story also played on outdated stereotypes; For example, Naomi is characterized as a ditzy blonde by characters who sometimes seem unwarranted. there are exasperating walls lining the countryside making it nearly impossible to take shortcuts across fields. Fast travel costs hard-earned money and can only be launched from specific areas.
Despite the lack of gloss, I enjoyed The Good Life. It has some rough edges, but these can add to its charm, and it’s undeniably entertaining if the story is purposely silly or if I had time to breathe in the world. The Good Life has heart, even if the functions don’t always work together and the design holds it back.