Whenever you sort a digital game library by hours played, it throws up a few surprises. For example, there are some games I swear I’ve played way longer than is registered (have I only spent that much time with Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, having played through it multiple times?); then there’s the opposite, with one of the Arma games showing over 100 hours played, when I’ve played it a handful of times at most – and not in chunks of more than 20 minutes or so in each session (I tried, but it wasn’t for me).
Perhaps the biggest shock for me though was seeing my game time on Goat Simulator which, equally surprisingly, occupies the top spot in my Steam library for number of hours played at 170 hours. More than a week of my life has been spent in a game that was originally just a silly joke, but one which actually outgrew its daft beginnings and has spawned excellent, equally silly DLC add-ons and almost an entire genre of amusing ‘simulator’ type games.
I remember reading about Goat Simulator in the months leading up to release. Developers Coffee Stain Studios were definitely in on the joke, boasting about the number of bugs and proudly keeping them in the game if they didn’t break it. Though it didn’t launch in the best of states technically, play on a decent PC nowadays and it can look pretty nice. From an audio point of view it has an off-kilter, somewhat discordant soundtrack, with some great sound effects (the humans you’ll hear as you rampage through the environment have some really funny lines too). It’s a nicely playable game too, with easy to grasp controls – though there’s some awkwardness to the game.
At launch, there was just one area – Goatville. It’s a reasonably small stage, but it’s filled with a surprisingly large number of secrets and things to mess around with. Your goat is invincible; any time you’re damaged – hit by a car or falling from a great height, for example – you’ll just need to press a button to get up again. You can headbutt, kick and lick (licking objects is how you’ll interact with most of the items in the world if you don’t want to destroy them) pretty much anything.
Though Goatville is an open area and there are no real fixed objectives, you’ll find lots to do and there are stunts and combos to perform (such as successful chains of backflips, for example) for point bonuses and bragging rights. It plays sort of like a chilled out version of Tony Hawk, mashed up with the open world chaos of GTA. There’s golden goat trophies to find and collecting these unlocks other ‘goat’ types, as does performing certain tasks in the world.
I use the word ‘goat’ in quotation marks because, even though they’re all named as goat variants, quite often the avatars you’ll unlock aren’t goats at all. The Tall Goat? It’s a giraffe. Feather Goat? That’s an Ostrich. Classy Goat? Penguin. I don’t want to spoil any more – but there’s a lot to unlock and they’re all hilarious, with some granting some absolutely brilliant special powers.
A free second area was added a short while after release – Goat City Bay. It’s a more urban area than Goatville and a lot bigger too – as with Goatville, it’s packed full of things to discover and ‘goats’ to unlock.
Local multiplayer is an absolute blast too. Playing in splitscreen, everyone can be a different goat with whatever ‘mutator’ (these are special abilities, unlocked when you’ve collected the ‘goat’ which has that specific power) combination they choose. Choose an area and just muck about, together or individually. It’s hilarious fun.
One multiplayer session I had saw me unlock the builder goat – which essentially turns your goat into a Minecraft-esque character with the ability to create blocks. Exploring Goat City Bay with my friends, I decided to build my way to the top of the Bay’s skyscraper, to see what was on the roof. I painstakingly started making a staircase from blocks, one at a time, from the road to the top of the building. In the meantime, my friends were causing chaos in the city; I ignored them and continued on my quest, which took just under an hour. I was so proud to reach the roof and wasn’t disappointed when I discovered the party and unlockable DeadMau5-esque DeadGoa7 up there! It was glorious. The only thing that ruined the moment was the discovery of the elevator, easily accessible from the skyscraper’s ground floor, which takes you all the way to the roof in seconds. Oops.
I think that Goat Simulator’s appeal lies in being a knowingly silly and structure free game; it’s always so much fun to dip in and out of, without having to worry too much about what you’re doing next or even any sort of hindrance whatsoever. Even after so many hours in-game, I’m still finding the odd things here and there that I’ve never seen before, especially in some of the extensive and massively varied DLC expansions.
Ah yes, the DLC. There’s a great selection and each adds some brilliant stuff to the game, with each adding nicely chunky new areas to explore. Goat MMO Simulator was the first full expansion and is, as you’ve probably gathered, a great parody of fantasy MMOs – with quests, character classes (including the amazing Microwave and deliberately misspelled Rouge) and some very odd creatures (the ‘Mermaids’ are a wonderfully disturbing creation).
The next was GoatZ, a parody of zombie and survival games in which your Goat can become zombified – and will require brains to survive (the hunger and health elements can be switched off for a more ‘traditional’ Goat Simulator experience, however).
Goat Simulator: Payday, a sort-of Payday 2 crossover, added in heist mission elements and an varied array of new characters, including a spitting camel and wheelchair-bound dolphin. Finally – so far – is Waste of Space, a sci-fi themed expansion with more fantastic new goat types and powers.
Though Goat Simulator received a mixed reception critically, commercially it’s performed incredibly well and my playtime alone speaks volumes for how much fun I’ve had with it, both alone and with other players. The fact that it doesn’t take itself seriously and can be played by anyone of any age, at any level of ability, is a huge part of its appeal. It’s available on pretty much any format you can think of and is generally reasonably priced too. Though I was surprised to find it running at subpar levels, visually at least, on my Xbox One X, its availability on Game Pass means there’s little excuse not to give it a go if you’re a subscriber.
Is it an acquired taste? Undoubtedly. Being all in, as I was, from the start back on release day – April 1st, appropriately, in 2014 – I was always ready to surrender myself to the silly, deliberately buggy fun, but I understand that other gamers may not be so willing to spend their time in a game which feels lo-fi and aimless at the best of times (though for me, that’s the appeal). It feels odd to proclaim Goat Simulator as one of the best game experiences I’ve ever had, but those hours played – which don’t count the hours played on other formats either – have been filled with some of the most joyously silly, hilarious gaming I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. It’s telling that, five years on, I’m still dipping into Goat Simulator and finding new stuff, as well as finding the time to mess around for no reason other than it’s damn good fun.
It won’t appeal to those super serious gamers who seem to relish nothing but challenge and dictate how the rest of us play or define ourselves, but this isn’t for them. This is for the other guys. This one’s for idiots, they’d say – and I’m not ashamed to be one of them.
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