Rainy Woods is the happiest town in the world. At least, that's what resident Elizabeth Dickens is so insistent on telling you when you first arrive in the quaint slice of English countryside that is Playism's life sim RPG, The Good Life. It certainly looks idyllic with picturesque houses, homey pubs, and welcoming shops run by the locals, but I'm not buying this rather bold claim. It can't be all sunshine and rainbows, and when I'm suddenly told not to go out at night on account of the full moon, I immediately know there's more to this place than meets the eye.
As New York journalist Naomi Hayward, you arrive in Rainy Woods after taking up an assignment to investigate the secret of the town. What starts out as an investigation into this rather odd secret quickly spirals into something much larger and far more unsettling when someone in the town gets murdered. Before long, you'll find yourself wrapped up in a bigger mystery in Rainy Woods, with shapeshifting, sheep-riding shenanigans, photography, and a lot of quirky, outlandish characters.
Of course, when you're told you can't go out at night, that's exactly what you're going to want to do first. After all, you're investigating the mysteries of the town, and what better way to start than by going against the advice you're given to see what happens when the sun goes down. My first quest is to do exactly that; head into the town center in the dead of night to see what weirdness is going on. When night falls and the moon hangs up in the sky, all of the residents of Rainy Woods turn into cats and dogs and the next thing I know, I'm a cat too. Happiest town? Strange, shape-shifting town, more like.
After you've transformed into a cat for the first time, you'll get the chance to see how this feline form can be used to help you in your adventures. As a cat, you can hunt down rodents, birds, and other wildlife in Rainy Woods to collect meat to cook with or hides to craft new clothes and items. In what Playism describes as a "mid-sized" open-world, the town and surrounding landscapes of The Good Life are there for you to explore, and you're free to go wherever you like in between quests. Since cats are nimble, you can use this form to reach the top of buildings by using your cat-vision to pinpoint climbable walls, and jump over fences to reach certain areas.
Later on, you'll also be given the power to change into a dog too, and this form lets you use your keen sense of smell to track the scents of people, objects, or animals. Oh, and to really immerse you in the dog form, there's the option to mark your territory by urinating on certain spots, which will act as a sort of pee-soaked radar to find nearby dig spots. It can be clunky to control as you contend with the stamina bar and jump over obstacles, but there's definitely something quite novel about running around as a cat or dog with sunglasses on their head.
Eventually, I get the chance to ride on the back of sheep, which is the other means of travel you'll get your hands on as you progress through the story. While you can improve the handling of your baa-utiful steed, it can still be awkward to control as you race down paths and try to turn. When I decide to travel across the fields and surrounding areas of Rainy Woods, I also continually find myself wishing that I could put a marker on the map to plot a course to a certain area. The world is pretty sizable, and I'm always having to check it constantly to make sure I'm on the right track, which slows things down.
Aches and pains
The main story unfolds as told by a narrator, who brings additional humor to the odd events you experience as Naomi. Throughout, there are plenty of self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking moments that poke fun RPG elements it plays off of. While you will come across plenty of side quests in the town, the central quest revolves around three different routes you can do in any order in your investigation of the murder, and each one will present you with a particular timed obstacle course, light puzzle-like element to solve that usually require your cat or dog form in some way.
Throughout the main questline, you'll meet more peculiar individuals. Norlock Homeless is a prime example, who, as Naomi puts it, is a "bargain bin Sherlock Holmes" with a pigeon called Watson on his head who can only say "fish and chips". Certain characters speak in different ways, and the text and font of the speech changes depending on who you're talking to and how loudly they're speaking. Unfortunately, this means that the text can be quite small or take on a wavy effect when someone is stressed or feeling a particular emotion. As of right now on the Switch version I was playing, there's no option to alter the text size in-game either - I did struggle to read certain lines on my Switch when I was playing in handheld mode.
Outside of the investigation or running around as a four-legged friend, I spend a lot of my time making use of my camera, which is one of the main ways of making money. In your home (which you get given free of charge), you have a computer where you can upload photos on a site known as Flamingo. Each day, the site will have different hot words like "laundry on a sunny day" that tell you what you should be snapping shots of - essentially they're like The Good Life's equivalent of trending hashtags that create a "buzz" online and earn you more money.
As an RPG with life sim elements, you'll also be spending time taking care of Naomi's wellbeing by maintaining different meters, such as hunger and tiredness. With cooking and gardening at your disposal, you can make your own meals with ingredients you've grown or bought down the shops, or treat yourself to a meal at the pub. Many of the dishes and drinks will be entirely familiar to you if you live in the UK, with everything from Toad in the hole to a classic Sunday roast and a nice cup of English breakfast tea. And while this game might be called The Good Life, that doesn't mean you're immune to some of the not-so-good aches and pains we have to deal with in reality. On one occasion, for example, I treat myself to a tasty overpriced trifle and leave with a toothache.
Chock full of bizarre occurrences, over-the-top English references and jokes, and a whole lot of off-beat adventuring, The Good Life is best described as a busy mishmash of ideas that don't always pay off, with awkward maneuvering when it comes to the controls and the omission of certain features that can make things a little frustrating. its blend of RPG and life sim elements makes this one adventure that will certainly fit the bill if you're looking for something that's a little more unusual.
The Good Life is coming to PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One on October 15, 2021.