Summer Overlord: Beach Life
Waiting patiently for his final year at college, Declan is in the midst of a four-month summer holiday. He is quite bored. Unemployed and at home, to stave off insanity, he is playing through fifteen management/tycoon games from the last decade in a series of articles in which he will attempt to become the ultimate Summer Overlord, master of routine and efficiency and pro hirer of vomit-sweeping janitors. Join him every Saturday on a journey which will take you through some of the best and the worst that the obscure genre has to offer.
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The Twilight Zone
Earlier in this series, I said that Ski Park Manager is the most obscure game I own, the undisputed king of the realm of Virtual Bizarredom if you will. Prepare for a sweeping statement: the only people who go skiing and snowboarding in the French alps are families of rich Britons (usually the dysfunctional sort, wherein the father is balding, cheats on his wife and plays golf with stockbrokers Harry and Tobias, the mother is a glowing orange, vacuous bimbo with entitlement issues, and the illegitimate hellspawn are all irritating, insecure twats, probably named Pandora and Octavius) and these people will never ever have played Ski Park Manager. The only people that did were borderline psychopaths like myself, because, let’s face it, to enjoy the management genre, you have to be a sandwich short of a picnic. So, unless the developers were compelled by governmental edict to develop a game for the mentally unstable, forgive me as I truly struggle to imagine which audience the French publisher Microids (which sounds like a nasty bacterial infection: “Excuse me doctor, I think I may have contracted a peculiarly itchy bout of microids on my nether-regions.”) was targeting.
There are two reasons for the paragraph you just read: 1) I really have very little to say about this week’s drivel and 2) said drivel’s premise evokes similar bafflement. When the designers and programmers of Deep Red Games sat around their white-board at the turn of the millennium, brainstorming and pondering new ideas for a fun, imaginative management game, some imbecile must have piped up: “I’ve got it! How about a game where the player builds a party island?” Obviously this was met with deafening applause, because that’s precisely what the team then went on to make. Beach Life (or Spring Break in North America) was born, and unfortunately, was not left in a dumpster.
Perhaps it’s glaringly obvious to my readers, but again, my mind stutters and lurches when it tries to envisage the hyper-niche demographic being appealed to. Prepare for sweeping statement number two: gamers don’t do party islands. Let me be even more surgical: gamers who enjoy management games definitely do not. In fact, most management gamers are the ones you see on the streets avoiding cracks in the pavement, perhaps dribbling a little. It doesn’t require a leap of the imagination to picture many of these gamers receiving countless atomic wedgies from precisely the sort of human subspecies that would enjoy unremembered vodka/semen-drenched trips to Ibiza and Cancun. Unless Deep Red’s Beach Life development team was composed entirely of bully victims with Stockholm syndrome or was, in fact, a posse of wild party animals with secretive management gaming alter-egos hoping to reach out to like-minded individuals, its design logic is lost upon me.
(Of course, my eleven-year-old self wasn’t nearly as cynical and, rather shamefully, managed to extract hours of play from this obscenely abnormal game, but that doesn’t really matter, as I clearly had no taste.)
According to my primary school Latin teacher, when mutiny was committed in a particularly brutal Roman army camp, the entire unit was divided into groups of ten and then forced to “draw straws” in the most violent way imaginable. When someone drew the tenth lot, his nine comrades were forced to beat him to death, regardless of whether he was a major perpetrator. Known as ‘decimation’, it was a remarkably inefficient way of carrying out justice, I’m sure you’ll agree, but this Saturday, Beach Life is my tenth man. Truthfully, there’s nothing outstanding about it: Beach Life is like every other average management game ever created. It isn’t outrageously half-finished like Ski Park Manager and frankly, it doesn’t actually do anything wrong per se. Rather, it is simply the unfortunate outlet of my ire as I grow increasingly jaded from playing far too many samey and mediocre tycoon games. You forced my hand, damn you! *weeps*
To sum it up concisely, Beach Life gives you a paradise isle, then asks you to build lots of ugly alcohol-filled buildings on it to lure in regiments of fat-walleted party-goers. Then comes the best bit: you fly in your B-52 and drop your prototype biochemical weapon, turning all your patrons into rabid zombies, thus setting the scene for Dead Island. You got it: Beach Life is the little known prequel to this year’s console zombie-slayer. Oh fine, fine, it isn’t. Nothing exciting happens. Instead, as you progress through the scenarios placing swimming pools, building pubs and laying out sun loungers ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad pleasekillmeum, the most challenging obstacles you’ll face are unclean water, heat waves, liquor shortages and sharks, all of which are incredibly easy to deal with. If you’re irresponsible enough, occasionally a tourist will drown in the sea, but you’ll only feel envy: at least he escapes.
The actual management aspect is lacklustre and unsophisticated. It’s nothing you haven’t seen a million times before in a million better games. Tellingly, the most memorable thing about it is your buildings have this rather vexing tendency to break down every bloody day without fail, and even more vexing is the fact that your patrons are seemingly all qualified civic engineers from the Department of Health and Safety and instantly know to completely avoid, for example, an open-air dance floor because its condition is listed as “poor” in the building menu. “I ain’t going in there, it don’t look safe!” they cry, as you murder them in your mind.
I knew going into Beach Life that I would find its subject matter (i.e. intoxicated yobs) deplorable and thoroughly unrelatable. After all, my local town is full of stupefied young adults with questionable haircuts, and I enjoy deriding them with elitist sneers and quips from the safety of my car. But, gradually, I grew to pity my resorts’ patrons. It occurred to me that none of them ever holidayed in groups: they had no friends! I watched as they windsurfed alone, striking up conversations with strangers, then parting ways visibly depressed because of the lack of “totty”. They’d finish their evenings by imbibing far too much alcohol, punching a lamp-post, then end up arrested by my security guards. So depressing was each session of Beach Life that I ended up sobbing to angsty hip-hop with a glass of whiskey to hand.
Save or Delete?
Apart from the potential to enlighten shameless classists like myself, there is nothing to recommend Beach Life. It is RollerCoaster Tycoon, except shit and without rollercoasters. It is the typical management/tycoon formula, but completely devoid of charm, humour and depth.
Such runaway successes were the likes of Theme Hospital and Theme Park, interested developers rushed to design their own management games, rapidly sifting through every business venture known to man, but rarely adding anything unique. In this case, managing a tropical resort is simply a bland gimmick, another drop in a supersaturated genre. Beach Life could have been a refreshing game, but instead, it is a wholly derivative, throwaway experience.