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Have You Played... Cart Life?

An American (Re)Tail

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Cart Life is one of the few games that seems like a natural precursor to Papers, Please. It tackles the grind of daily life, portrayed through mechanics and aesthetics that capture the blurry, bleary repetition and extraordinary tangents that spring from work and survival. It's free.

It's also one of the few games that seems like a natural sequel to The Sims. What if EA's game of life weren't about climbing the social ladder but about attempting to cling on to the bottom rung. It's The Sims in the age of food banks and austerity, and yet it doesn't feel entirely like a kick in the teeth. Cart Life is beautiful, as well as melancholic, and while it's interactive elements can't match the satisfaction of Papers, Please and its rubberstamping (what can?), the frustrations are part of the overall effect.

The game is now available for free, along with source code. Here's why you should play it:

If these people were Sims, they’d be the ones who got into the pool right before some bastard sold all the ladders.

That’s something I could never bring myself to do to Melanie and Andrus, the two characters I’ve spent time with. I care about them and am desperately building ladders, trying to guide them out of the water, lending a hand as they choke on the chlorine contamination of the rat race. I don’t know if I can and in Andrus’ case, all my efforts only seem to push him further into the centre of things, away from solidity and into nightmares that become increasingly difficult to differentiate from waking life. Bleak but believable, Cart Life can feel like misery on tap but if that’s true, it also makes the player feel like the bartender, doling out more punishment in the form of existence and hope.

Right now I’m slamming my face against the biggest stumbling block that writing about Cart Life presents. It all sounds utterly depressing and why the hell would anyone want to play it? In a move learned during my toddling years, I’m going to stumble past that block right now and tell you why you should play Cart Life and then tell everyone who might be interested to play it almost immediately afterwards.

And to follow my stumbling, you can click here for the review.

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