“This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental“. This is a disclaimer you’ll see attached to many TV shows, movies and games, even when they’re obviously inspired by or even based on real world events. Flat Eye [Steam Link], a narrative heavy management sim from Monkey Moon and Raw Fury, doesn’t have this disclaimer. Instead, it goes the exact opposite way.
After booting up the game and getting a disclaimer about the content of some of its more sensitive topics, you’ll find a unique message on the Flat Eye menu screen. “The themes in this game are not pure fiction”. Next to the message is a link to a Bibliography. The developers of this game have collected a library of refences to “when reality goes beyond fiction” that inspired its contents. While some of the topics in the game – of how technology will influence our society – are exaggerated, their basis is rooted in real world events.
Flat Eye presents a world that could be a potential next step for our society, given its trajectory. Because of this, it’s both thoroughly engrossing and consistently thought provoking.
Working For The Man Who’s Working For The Machine
In Flat Eye, you play as the newest branch manager at the titular tech and fuel company. You’ve been put in charge of a multi-purpose Icelandic location which you’ll have to manage remotely. Like a – pardon the pun – FlatEye in the sky, you plan out, expand and manage your store from a top down view point. To help run the place, you’re able to manage the store’s “Clerk”. This is your one and only human worker at the branch that you’re able to direct to perform actions. Play takes play on a daily cycle where you place modules (essentially machines for customers to use), restock them and perform maintenance on them.
While you have a certain amount of creative freedom in the way you set up and run your store, you do have a number of masters to answer too. Primarily, you’ll be guided by a rogue AI. A real AI too. Not one of these machine learning AI’s. Working towards its own aims, to supposedly save humanity from itself, this AI guides your actions and gives you context to a lot of the narrative in Flat Eye. It’s up to you whether you believe and trust the AI. I won’t spoil the story line here, but I will say the AI brings a lot of personality to the game.
You’ll also have to report back to the corporate bosses on a daily basis. They judge your work based on the profit you’ve made that day, alongside a few other metrics, like how many customers left the store because they waited too long or how many modules drop beneath 60% condition. This is grouped up into a star rank from 1 to 5 stars. Optional objectives, presented in a deck of cards that shuffle each day, can help you reach those elusive 5 star ranks. These side-quests can test you to do certain things, like getting a certain number of customers to use a particular type of machine, for example.
Master of My Domain Name
For every cumulative 5 stars you earn as a manager, you’ll level up and climb the corporate ladder. Each new level comes with a reward which either progresses the narrative, further builds the troubling world of Flat Eye or enables further technological advancement.
These rewards can be chat logs between your manager character and other cogs in the wheel at FlatEye. While this might sound a little bland, these chat logs are where some of the best light relief comes from in this game. A steady stream of new CEO manifesto emails, each with their own outlandish ways to stamp their mark on the company, make for some humorous reading. There’s some troubling story arcs here too, like when a once friendly co-worker starts to get a little close to the truth about you working with an AI to rise through the corporate ranks.
On the subject of the AI, some new management levels will come complete with confidential documents which have been kindly been provided by the artificial intelligence pal. Some of these complement the chat logs you’ll be unlocking to really hammer home how messed up the world of Flat Eye is.
All of these aspects are managed from your desktop, a mocked-up UI similar to Windows where you start each day before dialling in remotely to your Icelandic site. This desktop can be customised with wall papers and user icons, the variety of which increase the higher your rise through the ranks.
Welcome To The World Of Tomorrow
Most importantly to the flow of Flat Eye is the tech points. With every other level up, you’re granted a number of these points which can be invested in a reasonably extensive tech tree. Each node on this tree unlocks a new module to use within your store. This offers new ways to earn money, new story opportunities (more on that in a second) and furthers the over arching narrative to the game.
Each module in the game has a resource requirement and an output resource. For example, the SurgeryLife module (an automated surgery booth where robotic arms undertake the procedures) requires an electricity resource input. This will have to be provided by a different module that outputs electricity then linked up in the Grid screen. In return, the SurgeryLife module outputs biomatter, DNA and customer data. These outputs can then be linked up to other modules that require them. This system isn’t overtly complex, and if you’re managing your store well, this won’t ever be much of a consideration. Still, it adds a low pressure resource management edge to Flat Eye that’s quite satisfying to pull together.
Because the modules are so dependent on one another however, using each other’s output, it’s important to make sure they are constantly maintained. If one of your machines goes down, it can sometimes be the first domino to fall that cascades across your store. That’s where the store clerk comes in, who you have to guide to repair any malfunctioning machines. You can only hire one at a time and they each come with their own statistics, pros and cons. You can’t just work these people into the ground either. If their mood gets too low, they’ll quit. They can also get injured when trying to repair modules. If either of these events happen, that day cycle stops there and you’ll cease making any more profit that day.
To manage your employees mood, you can instruct them to take a break. Pop them on the VirtualExperience machine for half an hour or tell them to grab a drink at the FruityJuice module and they’ll perk up. At least a little.
Black Mirror – The Game
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where your store can run itself with very little input. Buy enough RobotPark modules and a fleet of drones will ease up the workload on your poor clerk at least. This allows you, the player, to focus on the most interesting aspect of Flat Eye. The “Premium Customers”.
The AI at the FlatEye corp identifies these people when they enter your store and you’re given a prompt to go and speak to them. There’s a small variety of ways you trigger their arrival, but it’s almost always after you’ve recently installed a new module.
Each one of these customers will return to your store a number of times during a playthrough of Flat Eye, each with their own story to tell. Each visit feels like a new chapter in miniature, self-contained episodes of Black Mirror. Despite the fact that these tales are delivered piecemeal and shuffled in with one another, the stories are so well written that they still manage to land effectively.
Whether it’s a local farmer that has witnessed one of the Flat Eye drones monitoring his livestock, a 64 year old woman using a DNA machine to see if she can find her estranged daughter, a man willing to have surgery and even alter his DNA to please his wife or a university tutor trying to get into the mindset of a murderer, these human stories have unexpected twists and turns that demonstrate how technology can be a dangerous master when unchecked.
If you’re watching closely, you’ll find crumbs of truth in all of the storylines in Flay Eye too. Some are far more obvious than others – there’s one chap that might as well be wearing a InfoWars t-shirt – but if you’ve visited the aforementioned Bibliography, you can see the real world inspirations even in the most nuanced of these stories.
A Ghost In The Machine
The game play cycle to Flat Eye, where the stories play an important role, is incredibly moreish without ever becoming too stressful. There’s no failure conditions here. Having a bad day when everything goes down just means you’ve lost a day of progress. There’s always tomorrow in this game. As scary as that tomorrow might be, given the tech you’re installing.
Managing your clerk. Maintaining the modules. Decorating the place with items. Placing and building new modules. Linking them up in the grid to get them working. Restocking your shelves and vending machines. Emptying those machines that need emptying. Meeting your daily “premium customer”. Profit? The game play cycle quickly becomes routine, but the premium customers keep it from becoming stale.
During my time with Flat Eye however, I did stumble into a number of minor annoyances that took the veneer off of the experience. Despite selecting English language in the game’s menu, some conversations with premium customers were presented in French. I had to use Google Lens to translate the text chat so I understood what was going on. During most conversations, you’re given multiple choice options to guide part of the chat. In some of these dialogues, all 4 options were presented as simply “This Is An Option”.
Some of the glitches with Flat Eye are more technical in nature too, and a touch more frustrating. I’ve watched queues of customers get frustrated and leave my store, despite there being an unused and active module of the same kind just around the corner. Instead of walking a small distance and jumping straight onto their desired module, they line up, get mad and leave. When you’re attempting to hit an optional objective that demands less than 8 customers walk out like this, it’s frustrating. It would have been helpful to have some kind of analytical screen for each module to see how often it’s being used and if it’s being used less frequently than others, why.
Then there are some visual foibles with the UI. The visual interface and art style of Flat Eye is, in general, nice to look at. This sometimes comes at the cost of functionality however. When a module gets to a particular maintenance level, an icon is supposed to show up near it to indicate as much. This should trigger the player to assign the clerk to repair it. When you’ve got a busy floor full of modules, it can be really tricky to distinguish which module the icon relates to. This is partly because the icon placement isn’t standardised. Sometimes it’ll show up above the module. Sometimes it’ll show up next to the module.
Lastly, there are those times when the maintenance level icons just cease showing up. This happened a few times during my play time with Flat Eye. As I watch over my store, it would look like everything is in hand. No errors. No issues. Unbeknownst to me however, machines were working themselves into the ground and their status is dire. I’m just not getting the messages. This glitch seemed to end at the end of a working day. At the start of the next, I’d be met with dozens of icons stating machines needed repair. My clerk often quit the same day as I grinded them through the day to try and keep everything running.
A Flat Eye Opening Game
The minor issues I came across during my time with Flat Eye are just that – minor. A few patches and the last 4 paragraphs you’ve read will likely be irrelevant. If that’s the case, add a one to the score below.
Even with the bugs, I’ve found Flat Eye to be a entertaining tycoon game and a stimulating narrative experience. This game spotlights some of the frightening technological and societal trajectories that we’re currently on alongside some sci-fi nasties that hopefully stay fictional.
It feels like a rare occurrence when a video game takes a swipe at the technology sector, given how intrinsically linked the two industries are. Flat Eye plants one square on the jaw while constantly highlighting an age old adage: Just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should. The fact that this is all packaged up nicely in a moreish, if slightly glitchy store management sim is just a bonus.
Holding up a fun house mirror to the worrying trends in real world technological, labour and societal practices, Flat Eye is a game with a message. By combining a resource management game with Black Mirror-esque storylines, it manages to stay both entertaining and stimulating through its 10 hour length. While it’s in need of a bit of TLC right now due to some bugs, Flat Eye is a patch away from being one of the most unique gaming curios of 2022.
Flat Eye is launching on PC via Steam on November 14th, 2022.
Developer: Monkey Moon
Publisher: Raw Fury
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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