What Team Are You On?

HIGH Finding the government’s private Stonehenge.

LOW The ending leaves players with more questions than answers.

WTF I thought magic talking swords would be nicer than this.

Something odd is afoot in the town of Rainy Woods. Strange lights in the sky, mysterious glowing footprints, and a sword which may or may not be Excalibur turning up lodged in someone’s chest — it’s a bizarre place to visit, even before the townspeople start turning into cats and dogs! From Deadly Premonition‘s director, SWERY, comes a pastoral mystery adventure which makes less sense the more the player learns about it.

Set in a rural English hamlet, The Good Life follows Naomi, a New York photojournalist who’s dispatched to uncover the town’s secrets for her employer, the Morning Bell News. Being a big city woman at heart, there’s nothing that interests Naomi less than spending a few months in some hillbilly backwater. However, her lifestyle has placed her under a crushing burden of debt, so she’s not in a position to refuse the gig. What follows is a third-person adventure full of drinking contests, sheep races, gardening, and more photography than anything except perhaps Pokemon Snap.

As a mystery, The Good Life is oddly formless and laid-back. After a brutal murder kicks off the plot, the player is presented with the three key plot points and told to investigate them in any order they choose, at whatever pace they like. There’s no urgency in the narrative, no threat looming over every moment, and no worry that the killer might strike again — this vicious crime is treated with the seriousness of lost keys. Naturally, there’s a reason for this odd tone and pacing, but it doesn’t become clear until the very end of the game, which means players will spend the majority of their time feeling baffled and adrift. While this is almost certainly what the developers had in mind, enjoying it is an acquired taste.

Photography is at the core of The Good Life’s gameplay. Not only can the player earn money by snapping photos around town and posting them to Flamingo (the in-game faux Instagram) but most quests revolve around it as mysteries are generally solved by following a sequence of objectives and puzzles until the player finds the right target to snap a picture of. To its credit, these objectives are never particularly confusing or difficult to accomplish, although every now and then a particular item needed to complete a quest will be found at the end of a related sidequest — getting a telephoto lens or lessons on how to care for sheep, for example.

Speaking of sidequests, I found them considerably more compelling than the main narrative. The town is packed with interesting characters, from the creepy twins who hire Naomi to abuse animals, to the perpetually tipsy Pastor who challenges her to a series of drinking contests while fretting over his marriage. There are family squabbles to calm, old crimes to crack, and musical codes to solve. While a few were simple fetch quests, the vast majority of the peripheral missions gave me a chance to spend time with a genuinely fascinating cast of characters, and The Good Life is at its best when focusing on them.

In contrast, it’s disappointing that the main character winds up being the least interesting part of the story. While I don’t expect every one of SWERY’s leads to be as good as York Morgan from Deadly Premonition, he’s had a fantastic track record up until now. JJ and David (the stars of his last two titles) were each fascinating in their own right. Naomi, on the other hand, has two basic characteristics — she hates small town life, and she likes to drink. These beats get hammered over and over again without delving deeper into her character. There’s a certain amount of comedy to be gleaned from this and she does grow as a person as the narrative comes to a close, but spending so much time with someone who is essentially a cipher became more frustrating as the game wore on, especially since SWERY has done such strong protagonist work in the past.

As an open-world adventure, The Good Life is absolutely packed with minigames. There’s a huge amount of sheep-related content, dozens of plants to farm, over a hundred recipes to learn how to cook, and a huge wardrobe to craft. Players have to watch out for Naomi’s hunger, sleep, and stress levels, and finding a balance between eating things that will keep her healthy while also snacking on the food items which will give her perks is important.

There is also combat in The Good Life, but it’s a paltry amount — there’s only one mandatory fight in the entire campaign, and the rest are optional based on how interested the player is in completing side stories and crafting items. Interestingly, all of the combat happens after Naomi gains the ability to transform into a dog or cat. Naomi can transform whenever she likes, and each form has its own perks. Cat Naomi can climb sheer surfaces and hunt small animals, while dog Naomi can dig up treasure and battle large animals. In an interesting complication, there are dog and cat rivalries in the town, so certain content is locked away until players pick a side in the pet preference conflict.

Playing The Good Life can be a baffling experience. There’s a parade of weird characters, a constant stream of odd happenings, and a complete refusal on the game’s part to ever explain the whys of its biggest mysteries. I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed that things never came to a satisfying conclusion, and its eleventh-hour attempts to suddenly announce what it’s all about seem a little desperate. Even though it doesn’t stick the landing, The Good Life offers players a chance to visit a charming town full of interesting people and take part in one of the chillest, most relaxing open world adventure games ever. It’s not a masterpiece but it’s certainly worth the trip, even for those not obsessed with SWERY’s work.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by White Owls and published by PLAYISM. It is currently available on PS4/5, XBX/S/O, PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed.

Parents: This was rated T by the ESRB, and it contains Blood, Crude Humor, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence. I’m a little amazed this thing got a T — there’s surprisingly little realistic violence considering the subject matter, but wow, is there so much drinking. And urinating on things as a dog. And hunting squirrels as a cat. There’s nothing particularly sexual or salacious, though. Also, the ESRB missed some pretty implicit drug use.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, and subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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