Cheer up, here’s a Booth review, out now on Steam, the debut from Guanpeng Chen.
Set in the near future, the world is undergoing a famine crisis, and the elite are now those who control food stocks, implementing a group of food inspectors who check for contaminated products.
You play a newly appointed inspector who has been stationed in booth 105, located high in the sky and must remain there for six months flat. But, as illustrious as the position may be, the protagonist has escape on the brain.
Food is kind of important, now and in the future. Come 2036, the world’s resources have turned to poo, and all the decent grub is contaminated with nasty stuff, or counterfeit from smugglers.
All edible produce has to undergo a series of extensive tests by these government employees, Inspectors, such as verifying their weight, whether they have the correct colour, or a simple ‘spot the difference’ routine.
As Ned Crawford, you begin the game with the conclusion of your interview for a job based in a booth located 3000ft about sea level where you’ll remain there for six months at a time.
Depending on your skills or availability, you can choose from a range of difficulties:
- Divine – you can skip gameplay and spectate as a visual novel.
- Blessed – less punishment in gameplay so you can enjoy the story.
- Braving – ‘show me life as it is’.
No doubt you’ll think I went for the latter, but I chickened out and went the Blessed route for this Booth review. Now you know.
A Life Of Solitude
To keep you company during your booth period, you have a member of staff who monitors your well being and allows you to purchase (and sell) items to entertain or decorate your booth, from posters to books.
Before you can work, you need to make sure you have enough of your own food, and while the focus is on the quality of food, you get to order take-away from one of three restaurants.
You order this before your working day, and it’s delivered later on for you to store in your fridge to eat and replenish health. You’ll also need to rest, thus reset to a new day by sleeping after your shift.
The delivery people can also be befriended, and the more you speak to them, the more clues you uncover that you can read about between days and build a better picture of ‘what’s going on’. Other than the interaction with delivery people and staff, you have to work from midnight to 6 am.
The actual workload is a monotonous experience, though not one that you can drift through. Produce will appear to the left of the screen and move to the right on a conveyor belt if ok, or you have to drag it to a bin.
How do you find out whether it’s good or not? There’s a big monitor in the centre of the screen that tells you what to look for. If the object passes, i.e. it weighs the correct amount and colour, it’s all good.
Progress through the game and new mechanics are introduced like looking for visible differences, or sterilising items and giving them a stamp of approval. It’s a lot to juggle, and if you put three bad items through, you’ll get docked pay which prevents you from buying food and nice things for your, erm… booth.
It was around this point that I was finding the gameplay too distracting so rather than bail on the game, as I was enjoying the story, I started a different game running parallel with the Blessed mode.
This made the difference, and while I did come back to play the game on the other save slot, I’d have to say that playing as a visual novel appealed to me more as I didn’t enjoy the core gameplay.
Bleak, Blocks, Books
I’m glad that I had a choice of playing the game as a visual novel. Once again, I have to declare that I’m not a fan of the genre, except the most recent Lovingly Evil, but if the story is good and the visuals are decent enough, I may be invested.
Booth doesn’t look good. Sorry, but that’s my opinion. Yes, pixel art is the norm, and budgets etc. dictate how pretty something looks. I don’t care about the font in a book (I do, I’m a font whore), and certainly don’t judge a book by its cover, just people. However, in a game, I want something that lures me in – whether that be fancy character designs or a charming aesthetic.
The art style in the game is quite disconnected from the game, and I guess you could make comparisons to something like Papers, Please, with is supposedly a great game (never played it). If I was to remain invested in Booth, I needed a decent story to win me over or at least some gratuitous nudity that made me stay in this dystopia a little longer.
But… some of the gaming elements were so infuriating that I couldn’t enjoy the game as much as I had hoped. One particular scene had me climbing the walls when it was supposed to be a scene of tranquillity as Ned had been awarded a day off.
Choosing my reward, I headed to the mountains and was presented with a mini-game where I had to line-up my footsteps with my partners. Bearing in mind I had switched to the visual novel mode to experience the story, there was no skipping past this pointless exercise, and it was successful in making me rage quit. Yes, I admit it. A rare treat.
A Bleak Future
So Booth isn’t a simulator where you have to assassinate Lincoln, the man who invented Lincolnshire sausages, nor is it a dating sim where you take your beau to a photo booth to capture the memories of your gushy romance. It’s a thoughtful narrative let down by the gaming elements.
As a concept, Booth is excellent. The depressing future is an interesting one, and while we have little to look forward to, this sci-fi story is pretty relatable and not as far-fetched as its peers.
My problem is with the core gaming section of identifying the contaminated products and accurately disposing of them. Multi-tasking isn’t my thing, but I’m relatively good around the house, so why is it I can’t bloody differentiate between some almost identical-looking products and sterilise them in time?
Booth clearly took a long time for the solo developer to produce, and that’s a fantastic feat. This lonesome review is just an opinion and not to deter Guanpeng Chen’s future endeavours, but for me, it missed the mark, regrettably.