If you like life simulations and RPGs, then check out the newest release from White Owls Inc. (director Hidetaka Suehiro aka SWERY). The Good Life throws you into rural Britain, where you encounter not one, but several mysteries. These mysteries include the town’s residents turning into cats and dogs at night, and later a baffling murder mystery which causes even more mysteries to rise to the surface. Amongst all this, you can get sidetracked into helping out the locals, exploring, gardening, cooking, and crafting. Step into the shoes of photojournalist Naomi Hayward and find out if The Good Life is really good.
STORY – WELCOME TO RAINY WOODS (AKA “HELLHOLE”)
For a game to have a good story, you need a good protagonist. Meet Naomi Hayward. She’s a sassy photojournalist from New York who’s been assigned to Rainy Woods to investigate a mystery. The moment she gets there, she’s calling the place a “hellhole”, even though it’s meant to be the “Happiest Town in the World”. Naomi’s not exactly thrilled to be there, but she does have a very good reason: she’s in serious debt that needs paying off.
It’s hard to decide whether Naomi’s a likeable protagonist or not. She does have her funny moments, the way she reacts to situations and to other characters. The fact that she’s an American city slicker stuck in rural Britain amongst eccentric characters makes an interesting contrast. However, she does come across as obnoxious and whiny.
What is the mystery of Rainy Woods? Naomi discovers, to her shock, that at night, most of the residents in town turn into cats and dogs – no, seriously. It’s not really clear why this happens, but eventually, Naomi gets a bit of the action. She mysteriously gains the ability to turn into a dog or a cat. It’s pretty cool and unique, if a little weird. You’ll be told a story about Dick Whittington and his cat, and later hear about King Charles and how his spaniel became a hugely popular breed. These little stories are actually quite interesting and arouse more intrigue, but the connection between the main story and the cat-dog mystery isn’t made clear, at least not until later in the game.
You’d think the cat-dog mystery would be the central story of the game, but as it turns out, it’s not the only strange thing going on. This comes in the apparent murder of a resident. It comes out of the blue and is rather a shocker. Naomi becomes a novice detective to get to the bottom of it. During her investigation, she meets quirky characters and delves into a rather bizarre mystery. As the murder mystery takes center stage, the cat-dog mystery feels a little out of place. It’s all a bit confusing, until later in the game, when all is revealed and everything suddenly comes together.
For a while though, everyone turning into cats and dogs feels a little understated, almost like an afterthought. While the initial introduction to the mystery is a big focus, it’s then overshadowed by the murder, and doesn’t become central again until later. Without revealing spoilers, the murder and the cat-dog mystery end up tying together in an unexpected and exciting way.
Rainy Woods and the surrounding area isn’t heavily populated, as rural places would be, but there are plenty of eccentric characters to fill that void. There’s a Sherlock Holmes-type character with a parrot on his head who frequently spouts, “Fish and chips!” There’s also a carpenter who wears full knight armor, a vicar who likes to drink, a punk barmaid, and more. Some characters stand out more than others, but they fit the game’s quirky style well. They’re also interesting to talk to if you want to stop for a chat, and provide some unique dialogue. You can’t really deny that they’re boring.
GAMEPLAY – QUESTS AND PHOTOJOURNALISM
One thing’s for certain, you shouldn’t run out of things to do in The Good Life. Firstly, you’ve got the main story to complete. It starts off with you discovering the residents turning into cats and dogs at night, before turning into an intriguing murder mystery for you to solve. From then on, the game gives you the choice of three quest paths to follow.
You can complete these at your own leisure, although some quests require you to do them as soon as they’re assigned, coming with a deadline. You can start as many quests as you like. This is particularly handy if you get stuck on a quest, as you can always go back to it later. Some quests are harder to complete than others. In some cases, you may find that you cannot yet complete a quest because you don’t have the money, can’t access an area, or don’t have the resources.
Making money is very important in The Good Life. You need it to buy things like food and crafting materials, as well as upgrades for your camera. Money plays a vital role in the main story, with Naomi heavily in debt. If you want to pay off Naomi’s big debt and be able to buy things, you need money. Fortunately, there are ways to make money, and decent money too, if you work hard at it.
Naomi is a photojournalist, and The Good Life doesn’t ignore this, cleverly taking advantage of it and turning it into a fun and profitable activity. Naomi can receive assignments to photograph certain subjects, whether it’s a person or an object. Sometimes you have more than one target per assignment. Once you’ve got a good photo, you can upload it to Flamingo, the in-game social media where you can post photos. Once your photos are up, the money will start rolling in. If you upload lots of photos, you’ll make a good profit.
There’s a way to make even more money too, by posting a photo that has a popular tag. If you master Flamingo, you’ll be making good money. However, there isn’t infinite space for all your photos. Older ones will get replaced by newer ones. However, you can gain upgrades and get more space. Also, older photos will stop drawing in money anyway, so this isn’t a massive issue.
As with any classic open-world RPG, you can receive side quests from people you speak to. They offer rewards for completing them, including money. Some quests need you to get a specific photo and hand it in to the person who requested it. Others are an item-fetching quest. The great thing is that you can start as many side quests as you like. By starting a new quest, it doesn’t remove another from your list. This is great for when you’re doing the main story and want a break, or you need some extra money.
As you complete each task, it’s checked off the list, only the tasks you still need to complete showing up on screen. The only drawback is that you can only keep track of one quest at a time, by selecting it from the quest list. You may not be able to fulfil a task or quest if it’s not currently active. For example, you might not be able to speak to someone about the quest they assigned you.
Another traditional RPG feature is health. You have to watch Naomi’s hunger, health, and energy. She also has a stress level you need to keep an eye on. You have to take care of Naomi’s needs, otherwise you’ll start having problems. One annoying feature is that Naomi can get sick, by catching a cold or even getting toothache. This affects things such as Naomi’s stamina and her hunger fulfilment. The only way to get rid of these ailments is by paying a hefty fee at the clinic. What happened to free health care in the UK?
You can also visit the witch’s house to create a cure, but you need to provide a whole list of ingredients. This feature was probably added for an extra challenge and add realism, but it seems overly unnecessary, not to mention a right royal pain.
One rather unique, not to mention unusual, feature is the ability to turn into a cat or a dog. Playing as a cat or dog each has its own benefits and unique abilities, but it appears you can do more as a dog. As a cat, you can scale walls, but only via the sometimes-hard-to-spot glowing scratches. As a dog, you can follow scents, scavenge in bins, and run for faster and longer than in Naomi’s human form. In both forms, you can attack other animals to gather items for food and crafting.
The great thing about this feature is that it’s easy to change into either animal. You can change into a cat or a dog at the press of a button, and in a poof, you’ll be transformed. The only downside is that when as a cat or dog, you cannot change into the other animal form, only when you’re in Naomi’s human form. Also, even though this feature was heavily promoted, during the murder investigation, the cat-and-dog feature feels a little neglected until it becomes more central later.
The Good Life has an open world, and it’s pretty big. For any open world game to be successful though, it requires a few things: plenty of activities to do, and easy transportation. While there is enough to do, the layout of the vast British countryside does present a problem when it comes to travelling. For a start, there are stone walls criss-crossing everywhere, so you simply can’t run across the fields directly to a location. Other obstacles include water hazards such as ponds and lakes. Also, there are gates along pathways that requires you to make a one-off payment to access. While the price isn’t too steep, it feels like an unnecessary hindrance.
Fast transport also isn’t easy to come by. Naomi has limited speed and stamina, worsened if she’s sick. You can eventually learn to ride a sheep to ride around on, which makes life and travelling much easier and quicker, not to mention being good fun. You can also transport between shrines, but you must first pay an offering to use them, plus you have to pay a big fee to travel between them, another costly expense on top of everything else. Travelling can be a slog, especially as you have to watch Naomi’s hunger, health, and energy.
On a final note, in regards to the controls, they’re not terrible, but they could be better. They do tend to feel a bit clunky at times, but not to the point that they render the game unplayable.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
To be honest, both the graphics and audio in The Good Life are just okay. They’re not brilliant, but they’re not the worst either.
What The Good Life gets right is accurately portraying the British countryside. The small town of Rainy Woods in particular is well designed and presented. As you leave the town though and head out into the country, the quality takes a bit of a dip. While the graphics don’t look terrible, they could be better. The characters don’t look too bad, portrayed in a cartoonish design. They could look a little slicker and smoother though, and the same goes with the animations.
As you play the main story, you sometimes get a cutscene, complete with animations and voice acting. It’s a bit hit-and-miss. The animations aren’t the best, and the voice acting sometimes sounds a bit off. As you talk to characters outside of cutscenes, you have to manually scroll through the dialogue. This is okay, although there are times when it goes on and on, or the text comes up so slowly that you find yourself skipping through. It’s also off-putting when you’re reading dialogue and the character blurts out a phrase or word that doesn’t match. For example, Naomi does get irritating after a while when she says, “Yeah, baby!” or “Seriously?!” again and again.
The Good Life has a soundtrack as well as voice acting and sound effects. Some music is better than others. One example is when you’re riding a sheep, with upbeat music that makes you feel alive as you gallop across the countryside on the back of your sheep. Another piece of music plays when you approach the Witch’s House, a creepy place with fittingly creepy music, even more so on a rainy night, where you might get ambushed by a badger.
The Good Life was reviewed on PS4. A game key was provided by Evolve PR.