Combining horror with cooking, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm impresses and disappoints in equal measure. The Finger Guns review.
Despite having never played the Five Nights At Freddy’s series, I’ve seen plenty of the jump scares and reaction to its uniquely terrifying offering. Meanwhile, I’ve played a lot of Overcooked 1 & 2, having a joyous time navigating its chaotic but hilariously entertaining co-op action of messing up order after order of food. If it sounds like I’m rambling, I promise you I’m not, it just turns out Happy’s Humble Burger Farm is a spirited, if somewhat lacklustre, combination of both of these approaches.
It wouldn’t appear at first glance to be a match made in Heaven to combine heinous jump scare tactics with the food-preparing genre, but Happy’s kind of makes it work. The cooking element ends up faring much better than the horror efforts, while the story actually has a solid hook to reel you in. When the game tries to do anything more than preparing the ultimate disheveled burger however, it can fall apart into a bit of an unappetising mess.
Not So Bustling City
Awaking in your apartment, you’re immediately told to get your peasant-worker ass to Happy’s Humble Burger Farm to start yet another day of employment. Initially, there’s very little context or explanation as to the how’s or why’s, which is kind of fitting, in a sense. On your way to work, you can freely explore the small hub world, including a Jazz club, a couple of shops, a museum and your apartment complex.
The city of New Elysium you inhabit is creepily enticing to look around in and explore. As you progress through the story, a couple of new areas will open up you’ll need to ransack and there’s plenty of collectibles in the form of tapes, notes and other tidbits to discover on your journey. Most importantly, everything is shrouded in a certain eerie-ness, especially at the start, giving off an unsettling, slightly disturbing vibe.
NPCs are weirdly proportioned, with horrendously misshapen and intentionally low-detailed faces to unsettle your nerve, for example. As the mystery unfolds, a lot of this will begin to piece together and the story does a pretty good job of keeping you on your toes as you figure out everything going on. Needless to say, not everything is as it seems in the oddly calm New Elysium, and you’ll have to go lurking in the depths to make sense of it all.
I wasn’t especially sure of the story for the first hour or so, but I quickly found myself pretty engrossed and couldn’t help but get sucked into its tale. Unravelling the mystery doesn’t come easy though, as you’ll have to traverse the most terrifying beast of all… serving customers.
A Royale With
Each idyllic day in New Elysium offers the exciting opportunity to serve the local residents their delicious (read: dubious) fast food. As the days progress and story continues you’ll be required to cook burgers, make drinks and shakes, bake cookies and hot pies, deep fry chips or nuggets (weirdly… Salmon nuggets?! What kind of city is this?!) and whip up hot dogs. You’ll additionally need to sort out any issues like rats running around, the toilet clogging and taking out the trash… all the while your customers are impatiently waiting for you.
Each order and request is on the clock, so the pressure can easily force you into mistakes like adding pickle erroneously or just flat out missing an item altogether. The mechanics are slightly clunky at first until you get accustomed to where you need to throw ingredients down, but it starts to come together relatively fast. That is, until the murderous, pain-in-the-arse animals start creeping around to make your life a misery.
After a couple of in-game days, some other-worldly phenomena will start to occur – your appliances will switch off mid-shift, lights will go out, dummy figures will wonder in and explode on you, that kind of thing. This is the part that’s channelling the FNAF’s vibe, as figures of the mascot animals mysteriously move off screen and a crawling… thing roams around your peripheral vision.
In the beginning, this adds an element of creepiness and doubly serves to increase the challenge of serving up food. I found that after the first couple of times though, it just became annoying and another unnecessary hurdle to what was actually quite an enjoyably stressful gameplay loop. Especially in the mid-late parts of the game where certain mini-boss enemies turn up and just break the enjoyment of it altogether.
I wondered to myself about halfway in whether the horror mechanics were actually necessary in this part of the game and concluded by the end that they were more a bother or hindrance to the cook-off sections than actually scary. I didn’t hate it, but it just became tedious dealing with them when I just wanted to focus on the better part of the game and make money to progress forward.
Cows That Go Moo In The Night
Speaking of money, completing shifts at Happy’s Humble Burger Farm rewards you dollars (depending on your performance) which you can then freely spend around the hub world at vending machines. Ranging from health items, collectibles to crafting items, you’ll be needing to visit and invest your hard-earned bucks to progress the narrative.
Crafting new gadgets is the means to move the story along, so you’ll be spending your time working, wandering around town for the right vending machine item, venturing back home to craft it and then working out where to use the new items you’ve created. It’s not the most invigorating system, but it mostly works okay. The only frustration comes when you think you’ve bought the right ingredient, return home to craft your item, only to discover you need X thing which is back out in the world, requiring you to traipse back and forth.
With your new doohickeys you can open up previously locked doors and explore a couple of new areas in the hub world, which harbour mini-bosses you’ll need to overcome. This also proves to be the most lackluster part of Happy’s, as what’s required is usually tedious trial-and-error, coupled with frustrating mechanics and janky means of winning. For example, one boss requires you to stealth around an area picking up items to fix a fuel tank, before then skulking about gathering burger ingredients to form 3 perfect EvilBurgers. The boss’ detection range was completely random and it can deal a lot of damage quickly, while the ingredients were frustratingly scattered all over the place. Hitboxes are awkward and getting hit also completely disorientates the camera, while one mistake on a burger means having to find all the ingredients again, making it an arduous process.
The majority of boss encounters were of a similar mold, albeit less annoyance-inducing than this one, but it still sullied a lot of my enjoyment from actually playing the game. After hour 3 I’d find myself trying to race through them and they’ve actually put me off wanting to do a second playthrough, such was the sheer annoyance they triggered in me. I appreciate the developers wanting to add some variety to the gameplay, but honestly, I’d have preferred they stuck to the mechanical systems that worked and were better to engage with than shoe-horning clunky combat and stealth into the title. The final boss encounter is also painfully boring and infuriatingly monotonous to finish, grinding the climax to a frustrating end.
All-in-all then, cooking is fun, spending money is nice, “combat” is awkward, stealth is tedious and sometimes a good thing is worth repeating more of, rather than trying to add variety for the sake of it. Luckily, the feel of Happy’s comes to its rescue when the going gets bogged-down.
A Bygone Era
First emerging into New Elysium, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re back in the times of the PS1 or PS2, such is the blocky, low detail nature of Happy’s graphics. Textures are deliberately slurred, character models are strangely proportioned and the environment gives off an air of the original Resident Evil or Silent Hill games on PS1. It was actually quite off-putting at first, and when I first stumbled upon an NPCs face I let out an audible laugh.
Yet, the longer I continued through, the more I came to appreciate the charm of this approach. It felt like a nostalgic trip back to the original aesthetic that defined the early horror genre in video games. The restaurant is unwelcoming and foreboding, the NPCs are creepy and complete with strange animation movements. It’s all seemingly done intentionally to be unnerving, with a couple of decent mini-boss designs too.
This is to say, I ended up quite liking it. It’s a stark shift when you’ve been used to PS5 level, AAA titles, but it works in its own way and ends up suiting the narrative by the end too, so it coalesces come the finish line. The musical score works well to amplify the sense of atmosphere, with creepy motifs and more unsettling tunes to keep you on edge. One track in the end-game sequence was brilliant too, causing me to hum it relentlessly for the evening after finishing playing.
Burger King? Not Quite
Turning in at around 4 hours, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm isn’t the longest game you’ll ever play, but that’s probably a good thing to avoid outstaying its welcome. Once you finish the story you unlock endless mode which allows you to fully focus on the best part – the stress of cooking for hungry customers on a time limit. Depending on how much you enjoy this core loop, you can add a few extra hours on top of the main narrative.
A crash at the end of the game put me back about 20 minutes worth of progress (the checkpoints in that section were disappointing to say the least) and potentially glitched the last two story-related trophies, but there’s a patch planned that will hopefully address this at launch. Other than that, Happy’s ran pretty well, even when the burger-throwing action got intense.
Overall, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm succeeds as a cooking game with an interesting story and nostalgic aesthetic, but is a disappointing horror game complete with clunky mechanics and unfulfilling scares. It serves up a decent McChicken Sandwich, but fails to reach the heady heights of the Big Mac, at least endless mode can let you get your greasy cook on without the tedious portions.
Delivering a delicious protein of a cooking game sandwiched between an engaging story and retro horror presentation, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm succeeds at points. The horror and wider gameplay sully the burger with spoilt toppings, but the core of this sandwich is still worth a try.
Happy’s Humble Burger Barn is launching on the PS4 (review platform), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on December 3rd, 2021.
Developer: Scythe Dev Team
Publisher: TinyBuild Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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