Simulation games: Just when you think there was an industry or genre they couldn't touch, a company is going to surprise you. Graveyard Keeper tries to be one about cemeteries. How does it do? As my favorite fake TV shows catchphrase goes – "Let's Find Out!"
You're a regular person who....is hit by a car and died. In the afterlife you take the job as a cemetery manager, fixing up and doing cemetery duties until you've made it great and can come back. This is a sim game, so it's not like it's important to have a story. It's like a Rollercoaster Tycoon mission intro – enough to go on, but you make it your own. Not bad.
Controls are actually a bit complicated. Gameplay itself is a doozy (more on that in a bit). Things like windows can close in weird ways, and despite the tutorials best intentions, it's a mess trying to figure out how to move about efficiently – it's all on you to figure things out. That's not always a bad thing, but the controls can complicate that.
The graphics try to evoke classic 'look down from about a 45-60 degree angle' style so popular in the late 80s/90s. So while it looks like the Legend of Zelda there and with overall design, the art of it is a bit more modern, incorporating things like fog and firelight effects – yet also maintaining the cartoonishness of it. It definitely brings back a nostalgic feel. I actually have to say they might not be spooky enough, but it works and looks quite nice.
The big problem comes in gameplay. For a sim game, it's way too complicated. Where do I begin? First of all, the game never tells you where anything is – I literally spent close to an hour find the place to sell my burial certificates. You also don't get to use technology if you can get it – you literally have to learn about it first – not be 'on the job training', which is kind of a letdown. It's, the game let's you in the world, but doesn't tell you what you can do. You're supposed to know from what everyone tells you about it, but that info may not be relevant for a few more hours, which by then, you've forgotten it. I'm up for surprising the audience and making them work for payoff, but when you expect every player to have photographic memory, somethings wrong. It's almost a skill to itself on how inaccessible they made it be, all the while having a great ease of play. That said, I do like the talking donkey friend.
The music in Graveyard Keeper is either non-existent or the classic medieval/fantasy fusion for games everywhere, but more geared to guitar. Honestly, you're probably hearing it in your head now. Sounds are what you would expect...mostly. Sword makes a swingy noise. Walking makes a rustling noise. Donkey makes a donkey noise. Basic sounds that work. EXCEPT – the skull character. He makes one of the most annoying sounds I ever heard. It's hard to describe. It's this not exactly beeping, mechanical computer laugh that comes out almost like a stream. Since he talks to you like this, and interacts with you a lot, it happens a lot. No sound would have been better. Instead it's this cringlingly annoying sound that makes you both bewildered and angry. He...he ruins the mood...and game a bit.
No glitches, no bad frame rate – they tested this game thoroughly in terms of errors like that. Pretty sure the computer decided to kill me a few times in combat situations, but that's more like mass wild guessing. For all of it's faults, it performs quite well.
I love sim games, and I wanted to like Graveyard Keeper. But when the games biggest problem is the actual gameplay and the mechanics, it complicates things. There's a lot to love – like the graphics for instance. But underneath looking nice is a game that can't figure out how to engage the player. It also tries to do a lot – like actual farming is part of my cemetery simulation. Really? Graveyard Keeper is a game that knew what it wanted to be, but then lost it's way. I don't know how else to explain it. Although, if they left the Skull out of the game, it would have improved things.
Final Score: 6 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.