What is it? A life sim/mystery/adventure game set in a town whose residents transform into cats and dogs.
Expect to pay $30/£24
Developer White Owls Inc
Reviewed on Intel Core i7-10750H, 16GB RAM, GeForce RTX 2060
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
Somewhere in the Lake District, there lies a town named Rainy Woods. And like every small town in a TV show or game these days, it's harbouring a secret. Well, secrets. Actually, there are bloody loads of them, not least the fact that its residents—a bunch of oddballs that would make Psychonauts proud—transform into cats and dogs during the full moon.
At 11pm on the dot, they turn into animals and scamper about the town. You can go up to them and pet them, of course, but soon you gain the power to transform into both a cat and dog yourself. Most games would be content with just that, but The Good Life isn't one to catnap on its laurels. It's also a life sim, sorta, and a murder mystery, kinda. In effect it's an RPG with (almost) no combat and an abundance of menial, tiring quests. It's a SWERY game, which perhaps explains the rest of this paragraph.
You've probably heard of SWERY. Or if you haven't, you know his magnum opus, Deadly Premonition, of which The Good Life is a kindred spirit. Both involve a murder in a small town, but while the former leans into detective work and supernatural survival horror, neither elements are really present in The Good Life. Sure, the overarching structure has you nominally investigating a grisly murder, but it's very easy to forget that as you infiltrate a spooky castle and follow-up on a UFO sighting. It's been a while since I watched the show, but did Poirot ever turn up to a crime scene riding a sheep? The Good Life is more upbeat, wackier, more overtly a comedy than Deadly Premonition. You're laughing with the game, not at it, this time.
You play as an American photojournalist named Naomi Hayward, who has come to town to work off an eye-watering £30,000,000 debt. Naomi is selfish, rude, and frequently the butt of the game's many jokes. She'd make a great sitcom character, as her dignity is eroded at every available opportunity.
The main way The Good Life does this is with its smorgasbord of side quests, which have Naomi fetching stuff, photographing things, and generally hoofing it around the Lake District as the world's most overworked courier. These are the sort of lesser RPG side quests you'd hoover up on a notice board and then tick off over an afternoon, but they're enlivened by a cast of colourful characters and a well-realised open world, whether you explore it on foot, on the back of a sheep, or on your own four paws.
Yeah, so the transformation thing. It's a surprisingly small part of the story, but essential for exploration, the mystical power allowing Naomi to leap over walls and onto rooftops as a cat, or to follow scents and, er, piss on stuff in her canine form. Unlike the full-moon-bound residents, you can change between your cat, dog, and human forms whenever you like, becoming a dog to get about quickly, or a cat to catch small animals, whose parts can be used in medicinal concoctions that, naturally, are brewed by the resident witch.
Quests often utilise these transformative abilities, but also Naomi's camera, which can be used to generate #content for an Instagram-style social media platform. This is the main way you earn money in the game: by taking photos that fit with the trending hashtags. The more popular the photo, the more money will trickle into your account. As well as being engaging in its own right, this system encourages engaging with the world around you, and noticing the details of the game's vividly British setting.
With its misty, sheep-laden fields, ancient cairns, and cosy pub interiors, Rainy Woods certainly looks the part, while the story delves surprisingly deep into British folklore. I hadn't heard of the legendary sword Curtana before now, but it's tied up with the game's story, which never passes on an opportunity to discuss interesting titbits from mythology and history. These are mashed together with sci-fi elements, fourth wall jokes, and plain bonkers moments. In other words, don't take the mysteries seriously.
I learned to just roll with it and embrace the (mostly funny) nonsense, which culminates in an ending that takes it to another level. If you go in expecting concrete explanations, you may be disappointed, but on a thematic and emotional level, I found it satisfying.
But as well as a murder mystery, I said this was a life sim, didn't I? Sadly, this element is a bit insubstantial: just one more ingredient in The Good Life casserole. You can buy decorations for your garden, plant and harvest veggies for no real benefit, and pick from a handful of pre-defined styles for your house. You'll also need to eat often, and sleep, oddly hardly ever. But you can't really customise your home, or form relationships with the townsfolk. You'll be lucky if they remember you from one quest chain to the next.
That's a shame, because it's the characters that make The Good Life, from the cash-obsessed Naomi to the half-cut local vicar, to Lonette, the buff farmer who lives just outside town. I like that their cat and dog forms retain elements of their appearance or personality, and I love the clay-like character models that express so much, even before you speak to them. Oftentimes, the game feels like a Wallace and Gromit pastiche of a modern sci-fi show.
As I reflect on The Good Life, it's with a warmth I didn't feel when I was traipsing back and forth across the wilderness to gather bafflingly elusive crafting components for villagers that seemed to have confused me with Deliveroo. But the more you explore a place, the more you come to know it. The more it starts to feel like a real place.
After solving countless tiny problems, tangling with bigger supernatural ones, and literally marking my territory with litres of dog piss, I've come to regard Rainy Woods as a home.