The Good Life – Review



Title   The Good Life
Developer  ImmersionFX Games
Publisher  Iceberg Interactive
Platform  PC (Reviewed), Mac
Genre  Simultation-Tycoon
Release Date  2nd November, 2012
Official Site  http://www.immersionfx.com/thegoodlife/

If I said the word “paradise” to you, what image would spring to mind? For some, paradise is to be in the arms of the person they love. For others, it is to be doing something incredible, exciting, and new. The paradigm of paradise is a location – somewhere tropical, with beaches and trees, a place where one can permanently chill out in eternal sunshine, drinking cocktails on a sunbed while the water laps gently at the sand.  One might not expect to then find that The Good Life, labelled as “the tropical paradise simulation”, is actually a hybrid of ship simulator and – for lack of a better comparison – Crazy Taxi. Set in the JoJo islands, The Good Life revolves around two people, Derek, who has just inherited his uncle’s taxi boat company, and Michelle, Derek’s girlfriend who gets swept away in the adventure. You can play as either character, but it makes no difference who you choose; it’s all about the sailing.

The basic set-up is this: you dock in a port, find a customer and take them to their destination in a set amount of time. Rinse and repeat. After each trip you’ll be given some cash and a boost to your reputation (as long as you get there in time), and then you’re left to find another fare. I really wish I could make this sound at least a little more interesting, but after the fifteenth instance of slowly going from place to place, it starts to become very, very dull.

Essentially, the problem is that you’re travelling by boat. Your first boat is a slow wooden taxi-boat that looks like it could collapse at any minute, and, as such, your first bunch of journeys will be a slow affair. You can rake up enough cash for a faster boat after only a couple of jobs, but these boats aren’t hugely faster; in fact, the only boat that made any real, noticeable difference was the sailboat, which allows you to use the sails to get a helping hand from the wind if you’re pointing in the right direction. Even the speedboats don’t give the sense of speed you’d hope for, except when you’re trying to dock and keep overshooting the space provided.

The controls are at least simplistic and easy to pick up; you increase the throttle to go forward and decrease it to slow down, stop, or reverse, and steer with the A and D keys. Steering can be a bit fiddly at times, and more often than not you’ll end up over-steering and having to correct yourself, only to encounter the same problem and end up zig-zagging across the water trying to sort yourself out.

The Good Life does at least try and throw in some variety, but it fails so heavily in terms of fun that the side-missions end up feeling like a chore than an interesting addition. There’s only a handful available; you may come across a destroyed boat and have to save the survivors by throwing them life rings, or encounter a cruise ship and have to dock so that your passenger can get on board (this one in particular makes no sense, since your passenger remains in the boat). Sometimes a tornado will randomly appear, and you’re tasked with avoiding it, which is far, far too easy to be exciting, and finally, you might be tasked with taking pictures of some of the local wildlife.  All of these events must be done within the time limit set by the initial fare, so if you’re already on a tight schedule, it can seriously screw you over to have to save the lives of some poor shipwrecked souls, and you may have to make a judgement call on saving their lives or not. It’s actually weirdly dark to know you’re leaving people to die because you want to make money, although your paycheck gets halved if you fail to save them (or complete any other side mission), so it might well be in your best interests to save their lives after all.

My favourite missions of the bunch are the treasure hunts, which let you dive into the water in search of old WWII planes or the skeletal remains of some famous person in exchange for a hefty lump of cash. It’s mostly the monetary aspect that I enjoy, because the diving controls are fairly atrocious. The camera becomes instantly locked to the mouse, and you swim by holding left-click to kick your legs and use WASD to control your direction. This means you’ll spend some time wildly flinging the camera all over the place before finally finding the right spot just behind your character, and then have to repeat the process again once you start to turn. See, turning underwater works in a similar way to steering a ship, in that your character will continue to turn far beyond your button press, and your stuck throwing the camera around once more to right yourself. It’s a major nuisance, but hell, it’s worth it for the money.

Beyond the missions and general taxi-ing, there isn’t a whole lot else to do in The Good Life. You could go for a sail around the islands, but there are almost no boats out there to encounter, so the seas feel empty and lifeless. There are a couple of interesting buildings to see, but this game isn’t a graphical powerhouse, so it’s not likely that you’ll have your mind blown. The main aim is to compete against your rival AI controlled skippers, each of whom is represented by a rather creepy picture that sometimes shows up in the top right-hand corner of the screen, by increasing your reputation, but this isn’t exactly going to hold your interest for long.

You can buy property and rent it out for extra cash, as part of the game’s tiny “tycoon” aspect that the box advertises, but this whole system is really, really weird. First off, you can only buy property when a box comes up on your screen telling you that you have ten seconds to get your bid in. Second, there is no bidding process; your bid is calculated based on how high your reputation is and how well liked the area is, and, no matter what, you’ll win the property if you’ve got the money for it. That’s all well and good, but you also have to take into account that your reputation takes a pretty major hit should you decide to bow out of the bid. There is no given indication of how much the property is before you open up the menu, so if you’re running low on cash and decide you need the money for something else, you get punished sheerly because you chose to not spend thousands of coins (The Good Life’s currency) on a property that the game might well tell you is a bad idea anyway. It’s a weird and stupid system, and feels tacked on and pointless rather than an integral part of the game.

There are odd design choices present throughout the entire experience, actually. You get instantly charged for docking at any port, which makes sense for reality’s sake, but means that if there isn’t a fare at the port that takes your fancy, then you’ve just paid for nothing. Worse still, it once bugged out and wouldn’t let me choose another fare, so I had to leave, re-dock, face the charge again and choose another fare. The bidding system is present within picking up fares as well, though once again it is a complete misnomer, as your “bid” is pre-calculated and significantly less than the AI rivals’ bids each time. You also can only take part in actions like diving or using the radar within the context of the missions they’re needed for, which feels like a wasted opportunity, particularly with the diving, which could have opened up a whole new area of exploration. Throw in a game-breaking bug that leaves the camera in a fixed position so you can’t follow your boat at all, and left me restarting the title twice, The Good Life, mechanically speaking, is a fairly unimpressive package.

Graphically, however, the game does a decent job of representing the paradise that the name implies. There are some lovely textures, particularly on the boats, and the whole world is bathed in sunlight, making it a joy to sail around when it isn’t raining. The problem then are the models themselves, which are pretty uninspiring. The islands themselves all look pretty generic, each and every one filled with cut and paste trees and other fauna, and there’s some pretty terrible pop-up that occurs when sailing along, even on the highest graphical settings. The previously mentioned large buildings are inventive in their ideas, but ultimately fail to be anything more than random, white, futuristic looking objects dotted about the water. The human models aren’t exactly spectacular either, and you’ll find that most of them are missing eyes, so half the time when looking for a fare, you’ll be staring at the face of a horrible zombie-like creature, rather than the bikini-clad babe you were hoping for.

There’s almost no music at all, just the sound of your boat’s engine and the water beneath it. While these aren’t offensive to the ears, it can get pretty dull to just hear a constant drone of the engine while sailing between ports. Said ports have an upbeat soundtrack that suitably fits the mood, and the diving sections have a lovely looping score that’s rather soothing and peaceful, but overall there isn’t much here to keep your ears entertained.

The manual boasts that the experience lasts as long as your interest holds out, but to be honest, after only a couple of hours I was already beginning to tire of the constant trudging backwards and forwards between ports trying to raise some coin. Maybe that’s the point; maybe The Good Life is a deliberately misleading title, and the whole game is a statement about how the things you want in life are never as good as you think they will be, that paradise is a myth and you’ll just be working until you end up in a shipwreck and some sailor with a strict time limit leaves you to drown in a lonely, empty death. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into this, and it really is just a collection of boring missions, strange design choices, and generic graphics. Thinking about it, the latter is probably more likely.

Pros
  • Crank up the graphics and it can actually look almost beautiful
  • A peaceful break from your everyday shooters and the like
Cons
  • Becomes really boring, very quickly
  • Controls can be fiddly and annoying
  • Terrible property tycoon element
  • Cut and paste islands populated by terrifying zombie-like people
Summary

I really, truly struggled to find nice things to say about The Good Life, because it is ultimately a seriously dull game. The missions become repetitive and boring very quickly, the property tycoon element is poorly implemented and unfairly punishing, and the general look and feel of the title is just uninspiring and bland. Not only are there better games out there, but there are better ship simulators out there too. It’s a shame, especially when you consider that the whole thing was crafted by a team of four people, but ultimately The Good Life falls flat in almost every regard, and is only saved by some rather pretty textures. A huge disappointment, and not one I could recommend to anyone.


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3 Comments

  1. Rich says:

    OH GOD THIS LOOKS AMAZING!

  2. Edward says:

    This sounds like something I’d sit and play just so I could get through a backlog of podcasts.
    Still, nice philosophical quandry it presents with the “money or people” dynamic. :D

  3. Lorna says:

    This could have been so good, that is what is annoying. A good sim game in that setting could be fab – so much potential and the treasure hunting and diving aspect sound like great ideas that were never fully realised or developed to their true potential. What a shame. I know that we laugh at a lot of the sim games, but when you get one like this that could genuinely have been a good title, you wonder where it all went wrong. Is it the finances or the execution of the vision?

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