Global destruction looms and Mr. Prepper is the only one ready for it. Are you prepared to make your escape? The Finger Guns Review.
One of my saddest crowning achievements is spending 51 hours playing Fallout Shelter to achieve the Platinum. Not only was it a pathetically poor waste of a decent chunk of my life, it wasn’t even a game you actually spent time, you know, playing. But there’s something to be said for the survival/simulation/resource management genre’s ability to suck you in. That ever-present sense of “just one more task” or ticking off that next milestone. It’s inanely superficial yet frustratingly absorbing.
Having exited that time-absorbing whirlpool a few years ago, I was offered the opportunity to get pulled right back in. Say hello to Mr. Prepper – developed by small indie studio Rejected Games which aimed to return me to my addicted ways. First impressions are well-known for being important, which is something Mr. Prepper clumsily fumbles right out of the gate. However, stick with this fundamentally flawed cataclysm-predictor and you may just find something of value underneath the rubbles and dirt.
So, without further ado, let’s see if Mr. Prepper can escape the end of days successfully or if it destroys itself in the mire.
This Is The End
I’ll be straight up with you, Mr. Prepper’s opening is abysmal for selling you on having a good experience. The loading screen features pathetically poor low-poly objects it mistakenly allows you to rotate, allowing you to see just how low-res and poorly modelled they are. The opening menu has spelling errors – “Easyer” anyone? – and the graphics are ripped straight out of the PS2 era, early PS3 if we’re being generous.
The tutorial will fire dozens of important pieces of information about crafting, building, eating, sleeping, agent visits and a bunch of other mechanics before you can even breathe. It’s overwhelming, to put it mildly. You’re given a series of objectives with the ultimate appearance being generic and fetch-quest like in the extreme. As you might have already deducted, I wasn’t overly sold. I laughed at the game’s expense and fumbled around erroneously in early stages.
It was tough going and the learning curve is steep. Mechanics are explained but you’re left to work out to achieve things for yourself. Which, the longer I played, I actually started to appreciate. I learnt how to melt iron into metal via furnace. I deduced how to turn glowing cap mushrooms into a stamina invigorating soup, all of my own accord. It starts to give off that dreaded dopamine hit of satisfaction as you start figuring things out and discovering. It probably isn’t intentionally designed this way, but it does at times click into an effective rhythm.
To summise, your first impression will likely be the same as mine. Mr. Prepper is exceptionally ugly at face value. But as the old saying goes, maybe we can’t judge this book purely on its cover, though I wouldn’t blame you for doing so.
‘Murica! F*ck Yeah!
Introductions aside, the ultimate goal of Mr. Prepper is to escape the all-too-American-utopia of Murricaville. A seemingly quaint and odd little town, you’ll notice UFOs fly overhead, blimps with the president’s face on, neighbours who spout incoherent nonsense… it’s a bit uncanny and suspect. Makes sense you wouldn’t want to hang around.
As it turns out, our subtly named protagonist – Mr. Prepper – had just attempted to set sail from Murricaville. Forcibly captured and returned to a government inspected home, it’s our job to aid him to achieving his ambition of freedom from the… land of the free. The commentary is blatant but actually amusing – the communist/dictatorship vibe from the propaganda of “bless the President” on your billboard to ridiculous stories of the newspaper you can read do a good job of selling the atmosphere.
Quest dialogue is where things go downhill rapidly. NPCs are so generic it’s beyond parody and the handful of lines from characters are repeated so often a wooden plank to the head would be preferable. At set intervals, an Agent of the government will bang on the door demanding to inspect, spouting amusing yet agonisingly repetitive lines about adherence for the “wellbeing of the nation”.
These inspections are naturally supposed to induce nervous tension, as you race to cover up evidence of your bunker and “Ultimate Plan”, but they become a tedious exercise of valuable wasted time. Hiding subversive items and ensuring you haven’t gotten rid of household essentials is all you have to consider. Once you have a decent bunker going, you can keep everything suspect down there and then only have to remember to turn the plan over and cover the ladder, hardly the stuff of sweat-inducing nightmares.
I liked the set up more than I’d like to admit, ashamedly. There’s no nuance, but sometimes on-the-nose just hits the right note. It’s a shame there’s so much repetition and shoddy dialogue to bulk out the rest of the game, which brings it down quite a bit.
Hide Your Kids, Hide Your… Crafting Table?
Once you’re acquainted with your role, it’s time to get about making your daring escape. Digging out the undergrowth of your home allows you build your very own doomsday bunker. Your time will be spent crafting items for growing plants, breaking things down for materials and creating weapons or objects for trade with the vendors around Murricaville.
In order to achieve this, you’ll need resources. Travelling via a sign outside of your home, you can visit locales like the forest or creek mine for food, precious materials, enemy encounters and quest dealers. Each location is delivered in the most uninteresting means possible – a 2D side scrolling picture where you simply press on things to interact with, gather, collect or hit them. Locations have ‘tiers’ so to speak, so you go from forest 1-1 to 1-2 and so on.
This is the worst element of Mr. Prepper by some distance. You argue with the controls and clunky interface mechanics to make your buffoon avatar run from one side of a place to another, then again, and again. If you encounter combat against beasts, you best prepare yourself. No matter how boring the running around and gathering is, it holds nary a candle to the terrifyingly awful “combat” system. Say a wolf appears to block your progress, you could block its attacks, you could run away. Or (and hear me out here), you can just click A on it and it’ll just get stun-locked till it’s dead.
If there’s multiple enemies, your only input is to click on the nearest one to make sure it doesn’t hit you first. If they’re next to each other, they all get hit. The only difficulty comes when the game decides to put so many in your path you simply can’t batter them all with a baseball bat at once. It’s not hyperbolic to say PETA wouldn’t be best pleased with Mr. Prepper’s depiction of animal violence.
When you’re done terminating things and turning in quests you’ll head back home for some R&R and to continue bulking out your underground dungeon of freedom with your well-earned (err, killed) rewards.
Mind Those Meters
Returning to your idyllic home after a hard days trawling through the grim mechanics means your stamina and health will be low. Luckily, our Mr. Prepper knows his way around the kitchen. You can cook all manner of dishes from blueberry smoothies to kimchi dishes and even a beet soup. Eating is essential and maintaining a source of stamina-rich food is intensive to keep you progressing. Should you deprive Mr. Prepper of sleep and food, his “preparedness” meter will decrease. Should it reach zero, you’ll faint altogether, must be a side-effect of not being ready for the end of the world, ya know.
As you progress, you’ll need to trade items with the many vendors, usually selling easily made furniture (Nancy is a god send!) to fund your purchasing of materials and items you need. The more you trade with a vendor, the higher their trust goes, offering up new items to deal in or even new vendors altogether. Everything takes time in Mr. Prepper, which is both a minor blessing, and a rather large, looming curse.
After half a dozen hours, it’ll feel like you’ve made little real progress. Resources are scant in the early portions and you’ll be scrambling to sustain all the various meters, needs and agent visits. It becomes tiresome relatively quickly and starts to feel more like a job than a means to spent your quality time. The resource management sim genre has an exceptionally fine line to tread balancing the need for progression with enjoyable gameplay systems and unfortunately Mr. Prepper falls into the former for a sizeable chunk of the time you’ll spend in it.
When I hit a milestone, it was genuinely rewarding, but the feel good moments were too few and far between to really sustain me and have me wanting to play more. Everything is just a bit too stifled and slow moving to make for an entertaining ride. It doesn’t help that animations across the board are humiliatingly poor and the overall presentation does little to keep you invested. There’s a modicum of addictive loops going on under the surface, but it suffocates underneath all of the overlapping systems.
I Wasn’t Prepared For This!
When I first booted up Mr. Prepper I’ve gotta admit, I earnestly believed I would despise it. Everything about it felt under baked, poorly presented and just sloppy, truth be told. All of these things are still true, but I do think that the intention behind the game is an honest one. There’s such a wealth of systems, mechanics and ideas integrated into the game that it’s clearly had some seriously hard work put into it. At times, I did find myself actually have moments of fun.
Unsurprisingly though, its limitations eventually catch up with it again. Whether it be the hideous animations trudging through the same PS2-era levels or the horrific “combat” encounters, I just couldn’t sustain any real enthusiasm to keep playing beyond the 9 hours I spent with it. Perhaps a bit of streamlining and easing up of the progression curve may have aided its goal that bit more, but alas, stuck in this doomed bunker we are.
The port from PC to console was likely incredibly tough, as seen through the unwieldy and fiddly control scheme that simply doesn’t transition well to the handheld controller. Everything is stuffed in like the obsessively organised, bursting pantry of the greatest doomsday plotters. Do yourself a favour too – go into the settings and set your character to always run by default. Double-clicking to actually do anything at speed is beyond annoying.
Rejected Games clearly worked hard at Mr. Prepper and for that there’s some commendation. Veterans and genre appreciators will have something to sink themselves into, albeit while having to overcome the adversity. For others though, this daring attempted escape from destruction may be dead on arrival.
Mr. Prepper doesn’t turn out to be the nuclear catastrophe it initially convinces you it will be. It survives the radioactive onslaught by the skin of it’s dank, burrowed out teeth. There’s something strange in this that can be recommended, but only to those who have a penchant for the suvivalist, resource-management genre. For everyone else, the threat of impending destruction on the surface is likely more preferable to the solitude and depression of the bunker.
Mr Prepper is available now on Xbox One (review version), PS4, PC via Steam, and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Rejected Games
Publisher: Ultimate 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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