Games have been made for many reasons since their rise to mainstream popularity in the mid 80s. Games have been made to make money, to tell an interesting story, to make a fun experience, and sometimes games are made to push the boundaries of what is considered a game in the first place. Beat the Game is one which falls into that last category. Beat the Game was both developed and published by Worm Animation, a company apparently formed in 2013 but whose only project to date has been Beat the Game.
The story of Beat the Game is a little hard to pin down, mainly because the game’s style is very surreal and abstract, both in a design and narrative sense. You control the main character, Mistik, who crashes while riding his hoverbike through the desert. After picking up a can of carbon dioxide, you sit in a chair and two evil branches come and suck you into the ground. Once you awaken, you ascend from a subterranean dungeon into a land of random floating objects and strange architecture where you must find all the sounds so you can play your live show that night…what?
As you can probably tell by now, the game doesn’t take a normal narrative approach. In fact, the only way that you can learn most of the characters’ names is by going to the game’s website as very few of them are actually mentioned in-game. However, this doesn’t really hold the game back too much, the story it’s trying to tell relies on the sounds and visuals to be told in a very abstract way.
The gameplay basically consists of exploring the world through one of three control methods: mouse, keyboard or gamepad. Straight off of the bat, you should not be using mouse control. It is easily the most annoying way of controlling the game, and half the time you’ll probably just end up having to use the keyboard to activate certain events. The keyboard and gamepad both control pretty much the same, so it’s probably down to which you feel most comfortable with.
As you wander the world and approach different objects, videos will play, usually showing you obtaining an item or interacting with someone/something. Once you go through the story process described above, you are dumped into a sandbox style area filled with random objects and told to fill out your sound mixer by collecting random sounds from the area. This is basically what the rest of the game is.
As well as a sound mixer where you can collect and play around with your sounds, there is also a sound finder. By using this, you can get clues as to where sound producing items might be, and a lot of the time you can actually collect sounds by simply pointing it at objects for long enough. Honestly, most of the sounds you need to find are collected by using this sound sniffer, while comparatively few are collected from objects or the environment.
The game is criminally short, and you can finish the entire thing in less than a single hour. On top of that, there is not much reason to play it more than once, except maybe if you’re really into gazing at the nice animations. Once you collect all the sounds, you have to perform a gig with them, but instead of being free to mix your own soundtrack like you are in the rest of the game, you’re expected to simply follow exactly what the game tells you to do.
With your gig completed, a giant monster truck with a face shows up and you ride off into the sunset, at least you would if there was a sunset here and if night and day weren’t controlled by opening and closing a refrigerator. The ending of the game is a huge disappointment, both because it comes so quickly and because it’s like a glorified version of DJ Hero that’s been set on the easiest difficulty setting.
Now we move onto the parts of the game which can actually be praised quite highly, the visuals and the sound. Obviously, a game which hopes to blur the line between game and music maker is going to need some pretty solid music, and for the most part, this is true. You get a variety of beats and samples to choose from, and you can actually have a lot of fun messing around with them to see the different mixes that you can come up with. A lot of the samples make sense as noises are taken from the world the game is set in: the odd ringing noise of tapping on a can, the metal clinking of smacking an object with drum sticks and even the odd smashing sound of a crystal being shattered on a derelict water tower.
Visually, the game is beautiful to look at, and it is very clear that a lot of effort and imagination has gone into the design of the world and characters. Mistik, the main character, is long and thin, as if he has been stretched on a wrack. There is something which has echoes of the Psychonauts character design in the protagonist, and the strange things which populate the world around you are very distinctive.
The game has a lot of appeal as a singular piece of art and has many award nominations to show for it. However, as with many other games which played around with the concept of a game, it falls flat because of how un-game-like it actually is. Most of your time is basically spent being led by the nose through strange worlds. If there was more to the game, or if you could even make your own mixes without having to utilize third party software, it might have been worthy of recommendation, but as it stands, there isn’t much to recommend here that you couldn’t get from watching videos of the game.
Developer: Worm Animation
Publisher: Worm Animation
Release Date: 7th September 2017