The Good Life Review
Going into The Good Life, I knew little to nothing about the game save that it came from the mind of Hidetaka “Swery” Suehiro (Deadly Premonition, D4, The Last Blade). It had, at least on paper, all the choicest ingredients for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride into horror-tinged absurdism; the game’s idyllic English country setting is strongly reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, where you learn that outward perfection comes at a great cost.
That same message is somewhat present here, but in the form of a barely coherent mess. My biggest mistake was assuming that The Good Life would be a sort of spinoff to Deadly Premonition—the village name of Rainy Woods comes from the original concept game for Deadly Premonition. It is not. It is very much its own experience, albeit one that lacks a central thread, narrative anchors or smooth mechanics.
The Good Life’s photojournalist protagonist, Naomi Hayward, is a big-city dickhead sent to live in Rainy Woods to work off a massive debt to her employer. She’s rude and almost irredeemably inconsiderate—a taxing caricature of a New York City know-it-all whose recurring catchphrase is “goddamn hellhole” (I feel obliged to point out, as a former resident of NYC, that this is a common but cliched misrepresentation of its people). It’s a classic fish-out-of-water introduction that works for a little while, until you realise that you’re the one actually in hell.
Over the course of the main questline, there were so many times I came close to almost liking The Good Life, even its silliest arcs and most idiotic mini-games. Naomi is given her own house with an ancient 90s home computer with what feels like dial-up internet. Her main goal is to investigate goings-on in the “happiest town in the world” which also somehow involves the Arthurian legend, World War II, the English Civil War, aliens, a magical half-sheep man, some light sibling incest, time travel, 16th century Hungarian serial killer Elizabeth Bathory, a hen that lays golden eggs, a rival journalist named Daniel Miller (a lobster-obsessed Bostonian who is arguably the worst depiction of a Bostonian I’ve ever seen, and I went to college there) and oh, did I mention you can turn into a dog and a cat?
Even as a player who’s up for pretty much anything, the scale of this thematic avalanche gave me immediate psychic damage, but there’s a thin, tenuous thread of nonsense humour holding it all together. On one hand the game does a solid job at hammering home the fact that Naomi—at turns derided by the townsfolk as “a halfwit” or a useful tool—is in massive debt and literally cannot leave the town until she’s paid it all off. There’s a pointed jab at the modern gig industry via the in-game social media platform, Flamingo, where she uploads her photos (there are hotwords to give you an idea of what’s popular) and gets paid per click. The game is nothing if not effective at distilling just how mechanical this new age of busywork can be. And there’s also the borderline sociopathic cost of living even in this nowhere village—20 pounds for a mushroom pie? 75 quid to use an outdoor kitchen? 10 pounds for every fast travel?—which really forces you to think about how you’re spending your meagre income.
Unsurprisingly, the silly dog and cat shapeshifting stuff makes up the most fun parts of the game. Yes, there’s all the serious debt, but as a dog you’re also tasked to piss a scent trail to help a blind man (who can also turn into a dog/cat; everyone who lives in this freak town can) find his way to the clinic. There’s a lot of peeing, digging and sniffing, and as a cat you can also trigger an incredibly janky climbing mechanic that’s almost embarrassing to watch. The game’s choice of mount isn’t a horse but a sheep, which you can tame while in dog form, and summon with a whistle, and the steering is an absolute horrorshow. There’s a deeply unsatisfying garden plot where you can grow herbs, vegetables, and flowers, as well as place garden gnomes and potted plants filched from your neighbours. And the cooking—the one system that should bring joy in any game—is such a disappointing non-event that the sheer variety of dishes and ingredients feels like a waste.
The dialogue is face-meltingly stupid and often breaks the fourth wall with flat jokes about shitty RPGs; it’s also tonally jarring where Naomi maintains her incredulous big-city douchebag persona regardless of the scenario. She has a handful of horrid barks including a rambunctiously painful “Yeah bay-bee!” shout that plays whenever you kick your shteed (sheep steed) into high gear or do anything that involves a bit of adrenaline or risk. You’ll be tasked to do things like fetch food for a grown adult man who’s too inept to feed himself, or procure a “high-tech thingy” (actual quest description) allegedly from aliens that sounds suspiciously like a Thermos flask. It’s Swery madlibs from hell and I’m not sure if the average player will be mad enough to explore the whole game world, which is alluringly huge, but chock-full of scenarios that will try your patience more than a sugar-filled toddler.
A life poorly spent
So, what is The Good Life? Am I supposed to draw a line between some kind of Platonic ideal of living, with being a carefree dog and/or cat with no responsibilities? As a human, Naomi is beset by her debt collector, cringey emails from her employer, people asking her to do chores and fetch quests, and her own deluded desire to find Rainy Woods’ hidden treasure and become a millionaire. Were there moments of enjoyment where Dog-Naomi ran free in the countryside, digging up caterpillars and relishing this quasi-open world of weirdness? Yes, but those moments are sandwiched between incoherent storylines, awkward mechanics, and a deep, gnawing curiosity at how development went down.
I love bad games. But The Good Life doesn’t fall into this category of bad-fun, it’s simply too much of a mess. Did anyone say no to anything in the course of refining the core concept of this game? Probably not. Is it even fun? I still don’t know because even after 8 to 10 hours, I feel stuck between a begrudging sense of sunk-cost fallacy and possible Stockholm syndrome as someone who also once faced ruinous debt and an unwanted move. Honestly, there’s no such thing as a good life unless you have paws, eat garbage and can pee freely in public, but you don’t need to play this game to know that.