You know what they say about laughter being the best medicine? With everything that’s happened in 2020 so far and no light at the end of the tunnel just yet, it’s something we could all do with a bit more of right now.
This is one of the reasons why I’ve been playing more video games during the COVID-19 lockdown here in the UK. Picking up a controller has many benefits: it can provide you with a new world in which to escape reality for a few hours; it can take your conscious mind off a problem while your subconscious continues to work on it; it can introduce you to new friends you may not have otherwise met. And on top of these things, certain releases can give you a damn good laugh when you need one.
This was the case for me when my other-half and I played Maize back in June 2018. It was something we picked from our Steam libraries at random to fill a few spare hours and we ended up finding what was perhaps my favourite game of that year. Its crazy story about what happens when two scientists misinterpret a memo from the US Government kept us chuckling throughout and proved that a game doesn’t always need to be serious or challenging to make it worthwhile.
A title like this is just what we need to rescue us from 2020 – and I think we may have found it. Just when we thought all hope was lost and we were going to spend the final months of the year in a state of lockdown anguish, a brave warrior has stepped forward to save us all. He isn’t afraid to eat weird eggs he found floating in space, go head to head with a Fashionable Ninja or drink give gallons of rocket fuel before puking it back up again to power his ship. He’s the hero we need in times like this: it’s General Horse.
I guess I’d better explain. Pete caught me going through my Steam discovery queue one evening when a weird full-motion video (FMV) game popped up in the selection. After watching the trailer, he declared that he was going to play it on stream and immediately made a purchase. I could only respond by telling him he was an idiot; not only was General Horse and the Package of Doom the sort of adventure release he doesn’t usually like playing himself, it also looked cheap and buggy as hell.
Two weeks later and I did indeed find myself sitting next to Pete on the sofa, live on Twitch and initially shaking my head in despair. It was hard to believe anyone would want to watch us play this rubbish. But I had to eat my words three hours later: we’d had one of our most successful streams to date, several friends joined us in chat to help with decisions and I was surprised at how much I’d enjoyed myself. All thanks to what is possibly the most stupid release I’ve ever experienced.
Want to know how stupid it gets? Then here’s the storyline. General Horse is the last surviving military postman in the galaxy after the great war with the Chaotics and his duty is to protect what he considers to be sacred: a package with an official post stamp. It must be delivered to its destination! His dangerous voyage will take him through the solar system where he will fight, explore, scavenge and even have sex with an alien-bug-man-thing, just to deliver a parcel he knows nothing about.
Half of the game is spent inside the spaceship where you have access to several buttons. ‘Storage’ shows the strange items in your inventory while ‘Status’ confirms how General Horse is doing (which was drunk and hungry for most of our playthrough). Clicking on ‘Time Warp’ uses resources to move you forward and you’ll be presented with a random encounter involving a choice each time. It might be an object floating in space which could be beneficial or sinister, or an encounter with an alien-being who may be friend or foe.
Sometimes it’s a space station and you can choose to dock so you can find more food and fuel. Each planet makes use of a slightly different mechanic, although I use that term incredibly loosely: on one we had to fulfil tasks for inhabitants to raise our fame score, while the poisonous atmosphere on another gradually depleted our health. It’s worth pointing out though that there isn’t much risk and General Horse and the Package of Doom isn’t a game to pick up if you’re looking for a challenge.
The focus is almost entirely on the FMV and, as Athena from AmbiGaming pointed out in chat, it looks as though the members of Studio Spektar and Porcupine Parkour raided their attics to find random items to create the costumes and sets. There also seems to have been very few retakes and little editing, if any, because you can occasionally see the actors struggling to remain serious and the sound levels are all over the place. It’s the lack of finesse and maturity which makes this title what it is though.
You’ll see General Horse pass time in the spaceship by creating space haikus, drawing pictures of boobs and rocking out with his guitar. You might bump into the Fashionable Ninja and help him find a new hat for his wardrobe. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll meet the pirates who showcase their lyrical-genius by singing their space shanty: “It is normal to die from drinking rum; he already shagged your mom; General Horse, not another bum; General Horse, pirate-loving scum.”
This isn’t cultured or high-brow humour in the slightest – it’s immature, and it’s cheap, and it’s damn funny if you just sit back and go with it. Players looking for intelligence won’t find it here but if you’re willing to lower the tone, you’ll find a release which makes you feel as though you’ve spent far too long in the pub with friends before coming up with the idea that you should all make the ‘best game ever’ together. And isn’t that the kind of escape we need right now?
As I wrote above, a title doesn’t need to be serious or challenging to make it worth playing. Sometimes you need something easy that’s going to sweep you along in its crazy story, cause you to forget about the real world for a few hours and make you feel a bit brighter when you have to go back to it again. I didn’t expect to find one of my favourite games of the year in General Horse and the Package of Doom, but I can’t help love it for just how stupid and bizarre it is.
I take back everything I said about it before playing. This is exactly the sort of game I’d want to make with my friends once we’re out of lockdown – who’s up for it?
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.