You can keep your Cyberpunks and Watch Dogs – the smart money is on awkwardly flailing all over your friends.
We don’t recall exactly which game it was that started the trend for daft physics games. Perhaps it was Garry’s Mod, the Half-Life-based sandbox from 2006, that kicked off the trend in the 3D space. Some of the most famous, high profile examples to break into the mainstream – like Goat Simulator, Gang Beasts, and Human Fall Flat – have proved just what a market there is for games that just let you be really silly for a few minutes at a time.
There’s something incredibly pure about it. There’s a hint of Nintendo in their design simplicity which, when paired with our secret urge to just be absolute knobs to one another in a safe space without consequences, leads to universally accessible and universally funny experiences.
At this year’s E3 – or rather, adjacent to this year’s E3 at the MIX or in Devolver’s trailer park, in most cases – were some brilliant examples of the genre. Some of them cropped up in press conferences, while others were playable, but all of them have one thing in common: they’re ridiculous, and we love them for it. Here are our highlights from the genre which, funnily enough, is nearly a 1:1 mapping with our overall highlights from the show.
Unveiled in the Devolver Digital Big Fancy Press Conference 2019 – which, true to bizarre form, was projected onto the inside of a big inflatable dome for some reason – Fall Guys is a battle royale take on the silly physics game, a sort of hybrid of Gang Beasts and Takeshi’s Castle. Developed by UK-based Mediatonic and published by Devolver, Fall Guys is an instant, immediate classic. The design language is so simple, the concept is so immediate, and anybody can grasp the lunacy.
Some of the levels are lifted directly from Takeshi’s Castle – like running through sets of doors, some fake; or scaling an It’s a Knockout-style ziggurat to take the crown – which helps people grasp the concept. Other modes, like Tail Tag – where you can steal someone’s tail by tagging them, and the goal is to have a tail left when the round stops – combine other universal kids games, like tag and musical chairs, for even more instant gratification.
In the demo we played, only four humans were on the field, a limitation of the physical space available. (Which, incidentally, was decorated like a soft play area.) The rest of the squishy participants were bots, and pretty dumb ones at that. Still, even with four real people and 96 simpering husks, we still had an absolute riot. When Fall Guys is up to full complement, of both human players and variety of challenges, it’s only going to get better.
Also, hands-down the best use of Harry Belafonte’s Jump in the Line since Beetlejuice.
Rawmen – a play on Ramen and, er, raw men – is a strange beast. In it, naked men (or men in the raw, if you will) run around with cooking pots of chowder, sloshing it over the arena (and one another) like ink in Splatoon. The goal, also like Splatoon, is to control the most area with your offputting-coloured soup.
But also, the arena is a skate park for some reason – complete with ramps, kickers, and bowls – and you can slide around on a neverending stream of chowder from your pot. Also, you can climb inside your pot like Solid Snake under a box. Or you can beat the soup out of one another with your ladle. Or a big old fish. Or you can climb on another dude’s back and ride him round like a chowder-spewing, nude jockey.
Why raw men, specifically, in Rawmen? Because their budget is limited and they’re just starting with one character model to begin with. But developer Animal is hoping to secure a publisher for Rawmen, which will hopefully bring with it a bigger budget to complete the game. That means more levels, more game modes, more customisation, and lots more raw men (and possibly raw women) lobbing soup at one another. It’s really unsanitary, but also, hilarious.
Totally Reliable Delivery Service
Most of these sorts of silly physics games are adversarial. You’re competing with your friends, or strangers, to be the best. Or the dumbest. We’re not sure? The one most able to stand up at the end of it, let’s say. In Totally Reliable Delivery Service, from indie developer, We’re Five Games and publisher TinyBuild, you’re supposed to be working as a team, but that didn’t stop us trying to sabotage each other at every turn. (Much to the amusement of the person demonstrating the game, who found it hard to believe we’re colleagues and we work together effectively on a daily basis.)
Mechanically, Totally Reliable Delivery Service – or TRDS for short? No, that’s not a good acronym – is similar to the games it is so obviously influenced by. Ragdoll physics, chunky bodies, and sticky little mitts for grabbing onto scenery, vehicles, and one another. This is basically Gang Beasts but with a co-operative goal: to get packages from point A to point B. You know, quickly and safely, if you can manage it.
To do it, you can pick the package up and run with it, but some packages are bigger than others, or need to travel large distances. For something like that, you’re going to need a forklift and a truck. We managed to flip the truck over with the forklift, which is apparently something that’s never been done before, so we’re counting that as a positive? Then things really went off the rails when our next delivery destination was on top of a building and we needed to try and make use of aerial vehicles. Absurd, yes, but so much fun, and nice to be on the same team for once.
Other honourable mentions
- Totally Accurate Battle Simulator – We didn’t go hands-on with TABS at E3 2019, but it did crop up briefly, in all its googley-eyed glory, in the PC Gaming Show.
- What the Golf? – We didn’t play What the Golf? at this year’s E3, either, but we have played this one extensively before and it’s glorious. (And it did crop up at E3 2019 in the raft of Epic Game Store announcements).
- Hot Swap – Not strictly a physics game, but still very physical (and a lot of fun). Hot Swap is played by literally swapping half a dozen plastic microcontroller peripherals in and out of two units (with only two slots available) to control a pirate ship, which brings an element of physical faffing to the experience.
- Heave Ho – Another game on display in Devolver Digital’s car park of confusing delights, Heave Ho is a 2D physics game, but we’re still going to count it. Players must swing from one side of a dangerous chasm to the other; technically it’s a race, but sometimes the only way to get across is to co-operate.