Touring England through FMV games

Video games have provided a much-needed escape for so many of us over the past year. While we’ve been stuck indoors during various lockdowns, we’ve been able to explore digital worlds both fictional and real from the comfort of our sofas.

Full-motion video (FMV) games have made a frequent appearance on my playlist and streams over the past few months and many of them were filmed here in the UK. D’Avekki Studios has created some of the best and I’ve followed them since completing The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker a few years ago. It was their next release, The Shapeshifting Detective, which introduced me to my favourite FMV actors: the awesome Rupert Booth and Anarosa Butler.

Titles like this gave me inspiration for celebrating English Tourism Week 2021. What better way to explore the country without travelling than through interactive movies? Unfortunately though, my research uncovered very little information about where filming took place. Titles such as ERICA by Flavorworks and Late Shift by CtrlMovie have either no Filming and Production section on their IMDb pages or one which isn’t particularly helpful. I did manage to track down some locations however, so let’s take a quick tour around England.

Great Budworth in Contradiction: Spot the Liar!

Billed as ‘the most picturesque village in Cheshire’, Great Budworth looks like a lovely place to visit for a quiet weekend (if you ignore the murder that Detective Jenks was sent there to investigate). The George & Dragon pub is a pretty Grade II listed building which we ended up visiting several times during our playthrough of Contradiction, although sadly didn’t stop for a drink at. Interesting fact: the telephone box our hero uses to call the police chief was transformed into a mini-library in 2011.

Sandwich in The Complex

I’ve not played The Complex yet myself so thank you to friend-of-the-blog Phil for letting me know about this one! It was filmed at Discovery Park in Sandwich, Kent, ‘a global leader for science and enterprise with world-class laboratories and exceptional office space’. It seems like the perfect place to film a game about the fallout after a bio-weapon attack on London and what the scientists do when they find themselves running out of both time and air in a locked-down lab… On second thought, do we really want to visit this place?

Shrewsbury in I Saw Black Clouds

I Saw Black Clouds isn’t the best FMV title I’ve ever played and I’d highly recommend that anyone thinking of playing it heeds the trigger warning included in its introduction. But the pub featured as one of the locations looks like a lot of fun! The ALB in Shrewsbury, Shropshire is a family-run cocktail bar and I wouldn’t mind trying their Bitch Juice or Bad Apple. For something completely different, check out the Shelton Hospital, the abandoned building where Kristina is stalked by something spooky.

Kelvedon Hatch in The Bunker

The Secret Nuclear Bunker in Kelvedon Hatch, Essex, is the setting for The Bunker. It was once a Regional Government HQ where a team was tasked to organise the survival of the population in the aftermath of a nuclear war but is now open to the public as a museum. I’ve visited this place several times in the past as my stepson was fascinated with it when he was younger; it has such a heavy atmosphere, just like the feeling you get when you play the game. Check out this post to see my photographs.

Monk Fryston in The Dark Side of the Moon

We had a lot of fun playing The Dark Side of the Moon in March and were surprised by the developer and his family when they joined us during our stream. Instead of immediately looking for the missing children in the most obvious places, our friends in Twitch chat demanded we always went ‘To The Crown!’ first. Monk Fryston looks like such a nice place for a weekend away – so much so that my other-half and I are planning a trip to Leeds later this year. Look out for another post at some point.

VisitEngland, the organisers of English Tourism Week, and developers seem to be missing a trick. FMV games are a great way to promote towns and villages around the country that many people might not otherwise have heard of, and encourage gamers to get outside and visit them now that lockdown is easing. Come on, creators: share the details on IMDb, Wikipedia or the official website for your project so we can check out these locations and start planning our weekends.

Do you know where other FMV releases were filmed? Or has a video game, FMV or otherwise, ever inspired you to visit a real-world location? Let us know in the comments below.

GHOSTS: a haunting experience on Kickstarter

Since revisiting The 7th Guest for our GameBlast21 marathon stream, I’ve been on a bit of a full-motion video (FMV) binge. I know the genre still has plenty of critics but modern releases can be far different from those published in the 1990s.

It’s not all fuzzy video, cheesy lines and hammed-up acting nowadays (although you can still find that kind of stuff if it’s what floats your boat). For example, Contradiction: Spot the Liar! is a great detective mystery where it’s up to you to gather clues and track down the murderer; and The Madness of Doctor Dekker is an excellent atmospheric thriller played via text-parser. Then there’s The Dark Side of the Moon, one of my favourite recent titles thanks to its lovely cast and science-fiction storyline.

Sadly, it’s going to be rather difficult for horror FMVs to shake off their bad reputation. Let’s face it: older releases such as Night Trap and Harvester, which I found to be a confusing and cringeworthy mess when I played it back in October, are known for being schlocky and gratuitous with plenty of fake blood. This notoriety automatically tarnishes current titles which attempt to do scary FMV in the right way and they have to work that much harder to get the positive attention they deserve.

Perhaps GHOSTS will be able to do something to change this though. After Kevin from The Lawful Geek sent me an email earlier this week to let me know about the project, I’m now a backer for the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being written and directed by Jed Shephard in partnership with Visible Games and Limited Run Games, and they’re promising to create ‘a horror experience that aims to truly chill your blood and send FMV games screaming into the modern day’.

Players step into the role of a television producer who operates the outside broadcast van for a failing cable channel called FrighTV and it’s up to you to make their latest show a hit. GHOSTS previously had millions of viewers glued to their screens as a group of ghost-hunters explored haunted locations around the UK – but it was dropped as it became less popular and languished on freeview for several years. That was until it was snapped up by your channel and rebranded for relaunch in 2022.

As your team look around the most haunted place in London, it’s not only their safety you need to worry about. There are noises coming from all around the van, strange neighbours and a weird urban legend about The Long Lady. Sightings of this spirit have chilled the bones of residents for decades and she is said to appear looking through the windows of the houses on the street during times of tragedy. The rumour is that if you look directly at her face, you die…

You’re in charge of what’s shown to the viewers at home and you’ll have to think on your feet as you react to every moment to keep things interesting during the live show. You’ll be able to see all the feeds streaming from cameras around the location as well as heart-rate monitors observing each of the cast. You decide what gets broadcast and your choices can affect the future of the show, as well as perhaps the safety of the team; luckily, you’ll have a few tricks up your sleeve to help you ‘spice up’ the night and keep it entertaining.

The description on the Kickstarter page reminds me somewhat of Not For Broadcast gameplay-wise, a title where you take over the national news and control what’s reported about a radical government. In GHOSTS though, you’ll also have access to various documents, videos and audio files which have been collected by the local community over the years. Can you decipher them to help understand what’s going on, and discover something which will stop the horrifying events from unfolding?

Not too much is given away in the promotional trailer but there’s a nice scene at the end which could give us an idea of the jump-scares to come. The five members of the cast are introduced here and all have an impressive array of acting experience. Regular visitors to the blog will already be aware that I’m a total coward when it comes to anything scary so I know what they’re thinking right now: why on earth would I become a back for a horror game that looks pretty frightening?

Well, there are two reasons other than it being an FMV. The first is that the real-time version of the game is only playable at 22:00 in your local time-zone so everyone playing in your area will be doing so at the same time. You’ll see a classic test card if you load before then but if you can crack its puzzle, you’ll get access to a version where you can save your progress. There are consequences for all your choices though and the Kickstarter campaign warns that playing it safe isn’t always the best option.

The second reason is that, if you decide to leave your station at any point during your playthrough, the game will register your lack of movement and end your session. And you can probably guess what that means for your team: desertion of duty will result in the cast being killed off in a variety of gruesome ways. You’re responsible for their wellbeing along with the future of the GHOSTS show so take a bathroom break, grab plenty of snacks, turn off the lights and get comfortable.

Almost 25% of the project’s £165,000 goal has been raised at the time of writing and there’s still just under a month to go before the deadline of 07 May 2021. I think it’s safe to say that when GHOSTS is released in February 2022, we’ll be streaming it using our night camera – but my other-half will be on the controls while I hide behind a cushion. I’m not good with the horror genre at the best of times, let alone when FMV makes it look as though it’s real people being haunted…

Take a look at the Kickstarter page for more information and follow Visible Games on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the project’s progress.

The 7th Guest: the horror of the 90s

I’m a coward when it comes to horror games. But that doesn’t mean I’ve not played them: although I’m never going to be brave enough to face an action-adventure or survival on my own, I’ve managed to force myself through a few scary point-and-clicks over the years.

One of these was Shivers by Sierra Online back when it was released in November 1995. Picking it up again last year reminded me of just how much it had frightened me then, and I felt that familiar fear sink its teeth in even though the cartoon spirits are laughable now. A lot of this feeling was to do with the soundtrack; many studies have documented the ability of songs to recall previous events and emotions, and hearing The Theatre and The Secret Hall returned me to being a scared teenager.

Before this though was The 7th Guest in January 1993. Like with Shivers, it seems strange now that it was a game I bought as its promise of a ‘long-abandoned mansion’ filed with ‘eerie lights and the terrible sing-song rhymes of children’ should have really put me off. I remember playing it on the PC in my parents’ conservatory during the evenings after school while they were in the lounge, the lights and sound of the television from the other room making me brave enough to continue.

After meeting Darkshoxx in October last year, I watched several of his streams where he attempted to speedrun Trilobyte Games’ release. We then had the pleasure of seeing him move on to sequel The 11th Hour as part of a charity marathon one Friday evening. Seeing these games being played again made me want to return to The 7th Guest myself so, after receiving the 25th Anniversary Edition as a Christmas gift from Ellen from Ace Asunder and then working through a section for our GameBlast21 marathon stream, I decided it was time for a proper playthrough.

This isn’t your typical horror. Instead of grabbing your gun to fight off the monsters or hiding from ghosts in cupboards, the action takes place in the form of 22 puzzles dotted around the mansion and solving these opens further rooms. They range in type and difficulty, and there are some spooky happenings as you progress: you may hear a random scream coming from upstairs, see hands trying to push through a painting on the wall or get sucked into a secret passage which transports you to a different area.

The room I remember most from my first playthrough was the kitchen for two reasons. First, the puzzle was one which had me stumped for a while: your objective is to rearrange tin-cans with letters on them to form a sentence, but you must make do with only Ys as no vowels are provided. I spent days working on anagrams in a notepad and it was through this that I learnt the word ‘tryst’. Luckily I recalled this memory and was able to solve the challenge the second time around with little difficulty.

The second reason is the soup incident. As mentioned above, strange things happen at certain points in the game and if you click on the stove in the kitchen, you’ll be treated to a full-motion video (FMV) clip where a liquid face comes out of a pot. I remember this one frightening me the most as a teenager. The 7th Guest’s story is told through similar FMV scenes, although their sequence is dependent upon the how you tackle the rooms and so they may not necessarily be shown in order.

This made me wonder how well the plot is communicated to today’s audience. Storytelling methods in video games have progressed far beyond what was available to players back when this title was released and so I can see how elements of The 7th Guest could be viewed as confusing and out-dated. Indeed, I asked the friends who had joined us in Twitch chat whether they understood what was going on – and most of them admitted to not knowing what was happening.

I carried on progressing through the rooms, hoping that the ending would make the narrative clearer for viewers. The bishop puzzle in one of the bedrooms upstairs almost stopped us though and trying to move two sets of chess pieces to the opposite side of the board was just as difficult as I remembered it to be. Thankfully, we had both Darkshoxx and Die4Ever2011 – the person who holds the world record for completing the game in the fastest possible time – to give us several hints which got us through it.

So did the final cutscene make the narrative any clearer for those in Twitch chat after over ten hours of gameplay? The answer on one hand is yes because they now understood the plot-twist; but the other it’s no, because there were several friends who asked: ‘Is that it?’. There are certainly a few holes and unanswered questions when I look at the story through older eyes now. But playing it as a teenager in 1993, I seemed to overlook all those problems and lose myself in the atmosphere of the mansion.

To be quite honest though, I’m not sure the title has aged entirely well. The FMV sections were technically ground-breaking at the time of release and I remember being amazed by them but now, they just look incredibly fuzzy; and the ghostly moments are more cliched and comical than terrifying. Whereas Shivers managed to still scare me thanks to its creepy soundtrack and mysterious museum setting, I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the effects and acting throughout The 7th Guest.

But this is what makes it what it is. It’s nostalgic and brings back what you remember of gaming in the 1990s. It wouldn’t be the same title without the bad FMV cutscenes, weird villain and cheesy lines and a remake just wouldn’t be able to capture what made it special. I can see why many players still look at this classic fondly, and it has been a pleasure getting to know several members of the speedrunning community who continue to hold it in high regard.

During our streams, Attagoat suggested we next move on to The 11th Hour. It’s something I’d like to do one day because I bought it when it was released but never finished it. First though, I think I’m going to immerse myself in the world of FMV a little deeper as The 7th Guest has reminded me why I love these games so much.

The Dark Side of the Moon: keeping it in the family

Looking at the posts published here at Later Levels, it will come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of adventures and detective stories. But one thing you may not know about me however is how much I enjoy full-motion video (FMV) games.

I know what many people are going to say after reading that introduction: FMV releases are terrible, right? They’ve certainly earned themselves a bad reputation over the years through a combination of bad scripts, pathetic effects, poor acting and both technological and financial limitations. Some titles may have been ground-breaking at the time they were published back in the day – take The 7th Guest as an example – but they’ve aged badly, and playing them now feels clunky and outdated.

It’s not all fuzzy videos, cheesy lines and hammed-up acting nowadays however (although you can still find that kind of stuff if that’s what you’re looking for). Things have come a long way since Night Trap and Tender Loving Care in the 1990s and there are now so many great modern FMV releases. Consider Her Story, a title which combined excellent acting along with a thriller storyline, or The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, where the gameplay takes place through a text-parser.

One of my favourite games in recent years has been Contradiction: Spot the Liar! by Baggy Cat. Not only did this combine an FMV title with a detective narrative, it also featured two well-known names from the genre. Rupert Booth did an amazing job at making protagonist Detective Jenks an endearing character who we’d love to see in a sequel one day; and Anarosa Butler looked totally different from normal in her role as Emma Bowman, a character who kept us guessing as to whether she was innocent.

The Dark Side of the Moon was added to my wishlist immediately after coming across the Steam page one day and realising these two actors were part of the cast. Created by Tayanna Studios, I made a purchase on the day of release and then streamed it the evening afterwards. The story centres on single-dad Dean Hamilton and his frantic search for his two children after they randomly vanish throughout the night, and his willingness to go to the other side of the universe for them if necessary.

Gameplay primarily comes in the form of choices, some where you have as much time as you need and others that will have to be decided much quicker. These determine how the narrative progresses and could have positive or negative outcomes. For example, when Dean realises his children are no longer at home, you can decide which room to search first: do you go upstairs to check their bedrooms, look in the back garden or take your search outside the house?

Unlike some other modern FMV releases which focus solely on a choice-based mechanic like this, The Dark Side of the Moon also features a couple of puzzles. The clues to their solutions are in the story and your surroundings, so players with any level of adventure experience shouldn’t have too much trouble solving them if they’ve been paying attention. It made for a nice, occasional break from the story and further blurred the lines between video game and interactive movie. I’d like to see more sections like this in future releases.

One of the in-game locations was a pub and this became a running-joke throughout our stream. Instead of immediately looking for the children in the most obvious places, our friends in Twitch chat demanded we always went ‘To The Crown!’ first. What you have here is a serious storyline with science-fiction elements, but there’s always something about FMV which makes it easy to see the humorous side of any situation you’re presented with – and that’s one of the reasons why it’s just so much fun.

What made our stream even better was that the lovely team from Tayanna Studios surprised us by showing up in chat and staying until the end of the game. It turns out that creator Darren Hall actually plays the character of Dean – and children Andy and Ruby, along with wife Sarah, are played by his family. This is a lovely touch which adds something special to certain scenes; the way that Ruby and her dad wish each other goodnight, or the holiday photograph which can be seen when you open the kids’ laptop.

Bad decisions caused a few deaths throughout our playthrough but these felt forgiving, as we were immediately placed back at the start of the current section and didn’t lose too much progress. However, Darren told us that there are some places during which the protagonist can die and you’ll have to start over again from the beginning of the game. We managed to make it through to the end of the title in around four hours, and were left wondering about which of the five endings we hadn’t seen.

The guys from Tayanna Studios very kindly let us in on a little secret before the end of the stream. After several friends in chat remarked that Alyx had been their favourite character, a quirkily-intelligent hacker played by Butler who helps Dean search for his children, I mentioned how I could see a spin-off with her as the protagonist. Something like Dark Nights with Poe and Munro perhaps but less noir, where she investigates a series of mysterious supernatural and cases in her own unique way.

As it turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark. Darren confirmed that Alyx will be featuring in her own FMV game and I can’t wait to see what the team come up with. I’m hoping that Booth will appear as the antagonist at some point because he’s just so damn evil in The Dark Side of the Moon, and it would be perfect if the whole family made a cameo too. News reporter Huw Chadwick played by Richard Sinclair needs to be brought back also because it’s hard not to laugh at his sarcastic remarks.

Thanks so much to everyone from Tayanna Studios – not only for joining us in Twitch chat for the evening, but also for making such a good release. It’s titles like this which show newcomers to FMV what the genre is capable of and prove to experienced gamers that it doesn’t deserve the negative reputation it has attracted. I’ve always loved FMV and will continue to do so; but it’s titles like The Dark Side of the Moon which make me even more excited for its future.

Harvester: still confused and cringing

Have you ever played a video game that left you thinking about it long afterwards – but not for the right reasons? This sums up my experience with Harvester, a point-and-click which promoted itself as ‘the most violent adventure game of all time’ when it was released in 1996.

I don’t recall it being a title I ever came across back in the nineties. In fact, I only started taking an interest in playing it after it made an appearance in several news articles and blog posts published as Halloween specials last month. The coverage made me decide to pick up a copy so I could find out for myself whether any of the claims about violence and controversy were true, and this is how I found myself streaming Harvester on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel one Saturday evening.

There are spoilers in the following paragraphs. So if you haven’t yet played the game and intend to at some point, you may wish to consider navigating away from this post now and coming back later.

The story begins when 18-year old Steve wakes up in the town of Harvest in 1953 with a case of amnesia. It’s immediately obvious there’s something sinister going on: all its inhabitants are extremely eccentric or downright creepy and they keep urging him to join the Order of the Harvest Moon. The only person Steve can confide is in Stephanie, a girl he has no recollection of but who he’s apparently due to marry in two weeks, and it looks as if their only choice is to get into the Lodge and find out what’s happening.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the plot during the stream as I managed to get Steve killed in a rather spectacular fashion around three hours in. How was I to know that using the word ‘Comrade’ in front of Colonel Buster Munroe would cause him to shoot the protagonist in the head, fall on a big red button and send a batch of nuclear missiles rushing towards Russia? Perhaps this was for the best though. Several scenes made for rather uncomfortable viewing so I decided this was a game better played off stream.

I went back to Harvester a week or so later, starting again from the beginning and getting much further this time. The first third of the gameplay focused on gaining an application form to become a member of the Order, then the second involved completing a series of petty vandalisms that had wider consequences. That was where I decided to stop. Not because it was getting too violent, but because the final third of the game involved something every adventure fan dreads: action sequences in point-and-clicks.

I’ve always loved the genre despite its quirks but sequences like this make me want to pull my hair out. There’s nothing worse than being ripped from a world of colourful characters and interesting puzzles, then shoved into a scene which requires you to make use of a different mechanic which is usually very poorly implemented. As soon as I realised this was the direction in which Harvester was heading, I uninstalled it and found a video on YouTube so I could watch someone else struggle with the rest of it.

So how did I feel after witnessing the ending; do I now believe it’s one of the most violent adventure games ever made, as its box-art claimed back in 1996? The truth is that I’m still not sure what to make of it. The only thing I can say for certain is that it’s possibly one of the most confused and pretentious releases I’ve ever experienced or researched in my years of blogging. Developer FutureVision (later renamed to DigiFX Interactive) obviously tried to achieve a lot with their project but not all of it was successful.

It certainly goes out of its way to shock the player as much as possible. There were many scenes that made me cringe internally or even look sway from the screen – but again, not because of the level of violence involved. Let me give you some examples and start with Steve’s parents’ bedroom. After you manage to break through the bars over the window, you find yourself surrounded by bloodied walls and sex toys while your bandaged father gives you a disturbing speech about what a married couple do behind closed doors.

Then there’s the puzzle solved by distracting pornography-obsessed Detective Loomis with a magazine. I’m not sure what’s worse: the fact you see him disappear into a jail cell with it or what the General Store owner says when you try to buy the item. Being told ‘that kind of interest is healthy for a young fella because it steers them away from being a fireman’ seems like a vaguely homophobic remark at first, until you meet Sparky; a man who spends his time sketching nude male models and updating the fire station’s interior design.

And let’s not forget those vandalism tasks mentioned earlier. They begin small with a scratch to Mr Johnson’s beloved car, but then evolve into more serious actions. Stealing something from the barber shop results in Mr Pastorelli’s death after a live wire is left in a puddle of water; and Edna Fitzpatrick kills both herself and her young daughter Karin after her diner is burned to the ground and she can no longer support her family. It feels as if these scenes only exist for the shock factor.

Perhaps the worst one though is when Stephanie asks Steve to ‘take her now’. I know that people in highly stressful situations may turn to each other for comfort but there’s absolutely nothing sexy about this: the whole thing is out-of-place and made even more awkward through terrible writing and acting. And if that wasn’t bad enough, your fiancé’s father is watching through a small hole in the wall complete with a close-up of his face and heavy-breathing sound-effects.

I’m not sure I’ve ever played a release which sets out to disturb the player as deliberately as Harvester does. It throws so many taboo subjects at you in such a short space of time that it seems like a confused mess, and most of the scenes are so over-the-top that it’s hard not to see the game as a bit of a joke. Although I didn’t find it scary at all, I must admit that it was rather unsettling – not because it’s incredibly violent or bloody, but because most of it doesn’t make any sense.

This had a negative impact on the ending for me personally. It wasn’t necessarily disappointing and I got the feeling it was trying to satirise something, but I struggled to figure out what exactly because of just how much the game relied on the shock factor. The last scene should have been a moment of insight and reflection, a chance for the player to question themselves and how they feel about violence in video games; but instead I came away scratching my head in confusion.

After finishing watching the YouTube video, my research led me to a post on the GOG.com blog where they had republished an interview with the title’s designer. It’s clear from reading this and other supporting material that he was vehemently against censorship. He said: “By [Harvester’s] very existence, it would place the player at the end of the game in the position of the protagonist IN the game, raising questions regarding the impact of violence in media on the audience.”

I’m not sure trying to create ‘the most violent adventure game of all time’ was the best way to raise that sort of question, but he did achieve in making an interesting mark in the history of the adventure genre. Harvester is definitely a game of its time and one I’m glad I played, if only for the experience.

General Horse: why the long face?

You know what they say about laughter being the best medicine? With everything that’s happened in 2020 so far and no light at the end of the tunnel just yet, it’s something we could all do with a bit more of right now.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve been playing more video games during the COVID-19 lockdown here in the UK. Picking up a controller has many benefits: it can provide you with a new world in which to escape reality for a few hours; it can take your conscious mind off a problem while your subconscious continues to work on it; it can introduce you to new friends you may not have otherwise met. And on top of these things, certain releases can give you a damn good laugh when you need one.

This was the case for me when my other-half and I played Maize back in June 2018. It was something we picked from our Steam libraries at random to fill a few spare hours and we ended up finding what was perhaps my favourite game of that year. Its crazy story about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the US Government kept us chuckling throughout and proved that a game doesn’t always need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile.

A title like this is just what we need to rescue us from 2020 – and I think we may have found it. Just when we thought all hope was lost and we were going to spend the final months of the year in a state of lockdown anguish, a brave warrior has stepped forward to save us all. He isn’t afraid to eat weird eggs he found floating in space, go head to head with a Fashionable Ninja or drink give gallons of rocket fuel before puking it back up again to power his ship. He’s the hero we need in times like this: it’s General Horse.

I guess I’d better explain. Pete caught me going through my Steam discovery queue one evening when a weird full-motion video (FMV) game popped up in the selection. After watching the trailer, he declared that he was going to play it on stream and immediately made a purchase. I could only respond by telling him he was an idiot; not only was General Horse and the Package of Doom the sort of adventure release he doesn’t usually like playing himself, it also looked cheap and buggy as hell.

Two weeks later and I did indeed find myself sitting next to Pete on the sofa, live on Twitch and initially shaking my head in despair. It was hard to believe anyone would want to watch us play this rubbish. But I had to eat my words three hours later: we’d had one of our most successful streams to date, several friends joined us in chat to help with decisions and I was surprised at how much I’d enjoyed myself. All thanks to what is possibly the most stupid release I’ve ever experienced.

Want to know how stupid it gets? Then here’s the storyline. General Horse is the last surviving military postman in the galaxy after the great war with the Chaotics and his duty is to protect what he considers to be sacred: a package with an official post stamp. It must be delivered to its destination! His dangerous voyage will take him through the solar system where he will fight, explore, scavenge and even have sex with an alien-bug-man-thing, just to deliver a parcel he knows nothing about.

Half of the game is spent inside the spaceship where you have access to several buttons. ‘Storage’ shows the strange items in your inventory while ‘Status’ confirms how General Horse is doing (which was drunk and hungry for most of our playthrough). Clicking on ‘Time Warp’ uses resources to move you forward and you’ll be presented with a random encounter involving a choice each time. It might be an object floating in space which could be beneficial or sinister, or an encounter with an alien-being who may be friend or foe.

Sometimes it’s a space station and you can choose to dock so you can find more food and fuel. Each planet makes use of a slightly different mechanic, although I use that term incredibly loosely: on one we had to fulfil tasks for inhabitants to raise our fame score, while the poisonous atmosphere on another gradually depleted our health. It’s worth pointing out though that there isn’t much risk and General Horse and the Package of Doom isn’t a game to pick up if you’re looking for a challenge.

The focus is almost entirely on the FMV and, as Athena from AmbiGaming pointed out in chat, it looks as though the members of Studio Spektar and Porcupine Parkour raided their attics to find random items to create the costumes and sets. There also seems to have been very few retakes and little editing, if any, because you can occasionally see the actors struggling to remain serious and the sound levels are all over the place. It’s the lack of finesse and maturity which makes this title what it is though.

General Horse and the Package of Doom, video game, pirates, singing, he already shagged your mom

You’ll see General Horse pass time in the spaceship by creating space haikus, drawing pictures of boobs and rocking out with his guitar. You might bump into the Fashionable Ninja and help him find a new hat for his wardrobe. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll meet the pirates who showcase their lyrical-genius by singing their space shanty: “It is normal to die from drinking rum; he already shagged your mom; General Horse, not another bum; General Horse, pirate-loving scum.”

This isn’t cultured or high-brow humour in the slightest – it’s immature, and it’s cheap, and it’s damn funny if you just sit back and go with it. Players looking for intelligence won’t find it here but if you’re willing to lower the tone, you’ll find a release which makes you feel as though you’ve spent far too long in the pub with friends before coming up with the idea that you should all make the ‘best game ever’ together. And isn’t that the kind of escape we need right now?

As I wrote above, a title doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worth playing. Sometimes you need something easy that’s going to sweep you along in its crazy story, cause you to forget about the real world for a few hours and make you feel a bit brighter when you have to go back to it again. I didn’t expect to find one of my favourite games of the year in General Horse and the Package of Doom, but I can’t help love it for just how stupid and bizarre it is.

I take back everything I said about it before playing. This is exactly the sort of game I’d want to make with my friends once we’re out of lockdown – who’s up for it?