Where do you start with a game like Goat Simulator? I mean seriously, if this got pitched at nearly any publisher it’d be laughed out of existence in about 30 seconds: “You’re a goat, right! And you headbutt things, and jump and lick stuff!”. If you’re lucky you’ll just get shown the door, if it’s a bad day in the office, you might end up with a visit from the men in white coats. Coffee Stain Studios however have pulled off this feat when an internal game jam went viral, and, in what seemed like a gag at first because they published it to Windows PCs on the 1st April, quickly gained cult status as people realised it was an actual game. Having been through Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and both current Xbox platforms, PlayStation owners now have the chance to experience the weird and wonderful game.
I’ve genuinely been looking forward to this for some time, I’m not a PC gamer (mainly because my machine can just about run a browser and nothing else), but I’ve been keeping an eye on its development and critical response. I like irreverent titles, things that just make you go WTF? – and this has it in spades. Initially coming across like PAIN’s had a beastial encounter with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Goat Simulator is a third person physics based playground with pretty much no point other than dicking around. Set in a suburban environment initially, you control the titular goat and set about destroying the world. That’s pretty much all there is to it, so if you’re after the deep and meaningful stuff here, you’re in the wrong place. A goat’s life is all about jumping, climbing, butting, frontflips, backflips and manuals (you can see the THPS influence). Everything nets you a score, and chaining moves and destruction builds the combo meter to towards the big points.
Controlling things is relatively simple: move, jump, headbutt, lick; and there’s depth when you experiment with particular fun to be had with slow motion, tricks and ragdoll buttons. At least it’s simple whilst you’re walking around, when the physics aspect kicks in it’s anyone’s guess what’s going to happen, and this is the charm of the game. Unpredictability and random interaction keep you entertained in what are relatively small game environments (there are two levels to choose from), along with a huge amount of easter eggs, secrets and gags. Whilst there’s a quest list that promotes some structure to the game, it can largely be ignored because Goat Simulator just wants you to run around and be mischievous. Who couldn’t resist blowing up a gas station, ruining Stonehenge, or stopping a redneck rally wannabe’s fun?
Impetus to keep exploring comes at the point you discover your first mutation for performing a crazy action, or finding a hidden area or collectible. A new ability (the mutation) can be toggled at will and switches up the gameplay to encourage you to dig deeper into the world and see what else you can do. I was expecting a lot of running about and taunting the local population with goatly glee, I wasn’t really expecting to find some challenging puzzles to solve. Giving you a completely free reign of the locations and the mutations means it’s very easy to lose track of time, especially if you’re trying to figure out exactly what the pentagram on the hillside does; perform some mad stunt; or just see how long you can walk on your front hooves for.
Is the game buggy? Yes, and it prides itself on it, there’s a menu option to respawn because without doubt you’ll find yourself stuck in the scenery or in an impossible to escape from situation at some point. Again, this is part of the fun of the game – seeing your goat twisted up, head and tongue flapping in the wind after you’ve decided that the right thing to do was lick that passing truck. The PS4 version includes a VR mode that simulates the experience without a headset… and if you believe that then I’ve got some genuine in rocking horse droppings up for sale. The VR pun (and it is one, the mutation doubles your score but makes it feel like the game’s being sucked through a wormhole), is another of the well judged and likeable diversions Goat Simulator has to offer.
Double Eleven have managed the port over from the other versions, and their experience with the PlayStation platforms gives a smooth experience no matter what mayhem’s happening on screen. Sound is good if distractingly loud in some places, particularly a nightclub/bar area in Goat City Bay, and I can’t work out if the bleating sounds are genuine recordings, or if it’s someone making the noises up. If there’s one thing to put you off though, it’s the disappointment of running out of things to do. Once all the secrets have been found and the bonuses unlocked, the score challenge isn’t necessarily enough to keep you coming back. By including local multiplayer, if you’re in the right frame of mind with friends you can create your own challenges and spend time messing with the populus. It just struggles to engage repeat play for single player over the long term, unless you want to master the scattered arcade games hidden around the place.
The game, devs and publishers describe Goat Simulator as stupid, and they’re right. It is stupid in the best way possible – it reminds you that sometimes games are supposed to be silly and fun, and this one cannot be accused of doing anything to subvert that. Yes, there’s a metaphor in here somewhere about purgatory (or a parody of that according to Armin Ibrisagic, the lead developer), but it’s not the point. The point is to destroy, cause havoc, change your abilities and shape, and fling yourself about a sandbox map whilst experiencing the joy of discovery, and I recommend anyone who looks at the box art for this game and laughs with genuine mirth to give it a shot.
A review copy of Goat Simulator for PS4 was provided by the Double Eleven PR team, and the game will be available on PSN for PS3 and PS4 on 11th August for $9.99/€8.99.