What do we really know about goats? Sure, they’re four legged, sideways-eyed demonic vassals of the Devil. They’re indestructible, able to climb ladders, use explosives, glue objects to their infinitely-expanding prehensile tongues, and headbutt targets with freight train force. But still, mysteries are left to man and science on the nature of these beasts. Thankfully, the kind developers at Coffee Stain Studios have built a powerful Goat Simulator to help the current generation further the research and improve the literature. Even more thankfully still, the game is fantastic – one of the best releases of 2014 to date.
Goat Simulator begins with a cold open – a simple goat standing in a field, with uber-brief control instructions and a simple quest to complete. From there a series of tasks present themselves to the player and before long, the game has opened up into a small but adventure-filled sandbox world. The action is reminiscent of a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater title: suburban, industrial, and wilderness areas packed with actions and interactions are all accessible by jumping, sliding, flipping and, well, exploding around the place. In short, wrecking virtually anything and everything in your vicinity is the aim of the game. Running around the single default map and discovering all it has to offer is a bombastic joy.
Absurdity and surrealism are often waylaid in modern computer games in favour of po-faced realism, as if developers are too afraid to let players deal with fun in an uninhibited fashion. Not so here. Almost immediately things start to get mental in Goat Simulator, the action and pacing controlled entirely by the intent of the player. Without giving too much away, references to Michael Bay films and biblical sacrifice drop into the mix alongside a feast of other dorky pop-culture chunks.
A score counter fizzes with activity whenever almost any action is undertaken in the game, and music swells and picks up pace when things get really heated or dramatic (which is about every 30 seconds on a good run). Stringing up combos of destruction, skillful goat-jumps and other pieces of gameplay will send high scores soaring and keep Youtube servers busy from now until the sun explodes. By adding in simple actions like a back/forward flip button and action slow-mo by default, Coffee Stain Studios have all but guaranteed the longevity of Goat Simulator in the post-millennial share-all show-off world we live in. In addition, golden statues spread across the maps enable unlocks as well as Steam and in-game achievements. These serve to lengthen the time it takes to 100 percent the game’s tasks, although that’s barely the point of an open-ended sandbox simulator.
Graphically the game has some rough edges, even with everything cranked up to 11 (including maxed out ant-aliasing), it’s no oil painting. However, the engine is robust and forgiving, crucially allowing experiments and “Hey, what if...” gameplay to thrive. Neat lighting effects help to seal some of the more ridiculous staged events, even if the edges of some structures allow clipping which forces a respawn. The human AI in the game world is non-existent, which can be taken to mean that the natural intellect of Goats is sufficiently advanced as to render human brain function static and lifeless. Or, the developers decided instead to pack Goat Simulator with easy fodder. We’ll never know.
The nature of sandbox titles often leads to disappointment. Depriving the player of stimulation ends in boredom, and too many driven and scripted events will see them turn away unsatisfied. Titles like Garry’s Mod allow almost infinite experimentation which appeals to a niche of gamers, building a community based around a pile of in-jokes and references. Goat Simulator provides from word-go a ridiculous, hilarious, and cleverly constructed playpen in which virtually any rube can jump in and start carving out goat-based miracles. The game implores players to do better with each (admittedly endless) foray into the default map, with well-hidden facets of fun revealing themselves with each return visit.
Goat Simulator comes with an enticing menu for Steam-Workshop driven mods, something that will surely see the game remain popular for some time to come. Thinking about the inclusion of mods from mutators to maps is a tantalising prospect, even with so many more stunts to be pulled off and better executed in the initial gambit. For a title that doesn’t know the beginnings of taking itself seriously, Goat Simulator is a beautifully made and seriously enjoyable game.
Some players might find a lack of cohesion of any kind a problem, as will those who run the games secrets out in a few short hours and don’t care for modding – it’s true those criticisms will be at the game’s throat. For the time being though, sense of humour, freedom, and delicate goat-neck physics have raised it to a high altar indeed.