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Life By You's humans are always watching you, and some of them can be real creepy about it

We get a guided day of the life tour of gym instructor Ronnie at Gamescom

A man in a bright yellow t-shirt talks to a woman (also in a bright yellow t-shirt) in a gym in Life By You
Image credit: Paradox Interactive

How do you condense the vast, far-reaching tendrils of Paradox's open world Sims-killer Life By You into 20 minutes? The short answer is you can't, really, but while most of my brief, guided Gamescom demo covered very similar ground to what I saw back in March when it was first announced, there was one little detail that really grabbed my attention - and that's how everyone has eyes like a hawk in this game. They're almost constantly aware of everything that you're doing. So much so, that they can even get a little bit creepy about it, as was made plain in my hands-off demo session.

Our demo was centred around Ronnie, a gym instructor with a very nice house by the beach, and whose personality traits were summarised in her character screen as athletic, a troublemaker and someone who loves electronics, shopping and social media. As she arrived at her local gym to start a day of work, a stranger came up to her wanting to talk. Feeling mischievous, and leaning into Ronnie's troublemaker streak, our demo handler and senior game designer Hannah Culver decided to antagonise them to see what would happen.

A woman looks at a vase of flowers inside a kitchen with yellow walls and a blue cow painting hanging behind her in Life By You
Ronnie's home artwork is just... chefkiss.gif. Get me a print of that cow, stat. | Image credit: Paradox Interactive

A mild argument ensued, including *checks notes* use of the word "Vexplanation", but instead of potentially damaging Ronnie's relationship with this person, they were actually just thrilled Ronnie was paying attention to them. You see, unbeknownst to Culver, this person had already been observing Ronnie from afar and had built up a romantic interest in her, so they were just pleased as punch that words were being spoken at them at all, rather than Ronnie's continued stony silence. Oh good, I thought at the time. There are stalkers here, too, brilliant.

I jest, of course (slightly). It wasn't clear from our demo just what form this process of 'observation' takes - nor were our handlers prepared to expand on the subject - so I hope it won't be quite as overt as these weirdos following you down the street and sitting outside your house from weeks on end (although given the conga line of other folks who followed Ronnie home during our demo session, standing ominously around her in a circle while Culver was desperately trying to show us how to garden and pick flowers to later arrange in a vase once we got inside, maybe they will, in fact, dog your every footstep). It's hard to say at this point.

I suspect it will be more subtle than that. Just as our demo was coming to a close, Ronnie received an email from her boss asking her why she'd left work in the middle of the day. Culver had wanted to demonstrate how to cook a meal from one of the many individual recipes the game will have at launch, deciding to give Ronnie a half day in the process, but one of Ronnie's coworkers had clocked her skipping out early and posted about it on their in-game social media feed. This feed will occasionally ping with updates from other humans you've met in the top right corner of the screen, and when I asked Paradox Tectonic's studio director of marketing King Choi about the role it would play in the game, he explained that this is their way of letting you know what else is happening outside the world of Ronnie's immediate vicinity. Technically, she could march straight back to work and confront that coworker about why they dobbed her into their boss, he tells me, but I think it's more emblematic of how this 'observing' process will be done silently in the background - much like how our stalker chap had built up that one-sided relationship with Ronnie without her knowing.

A woman arrives at a gym in Life By You
A woman picks flowers in her garden in Life By You
A list of events will appear onscreen, giving you prompts about what tasks you might want to complete, but you're also free to ignore them completely. | Image credit: Paradox Interactive

I should also point out here that, much like our Paradox reps were frantically trying to reassure us throughout this slightly wild demo, the build I saw at Gamescom is still a "work in progress", an "early alpha version" of the game, and that many features were still being worked on ahead of its recently delayed early access launch next year. Everything is subject to change, essentially, but creepy guys aside, I was quietly impressed by how it seemed to be making good on that early promise of creating robust, emergent storytelling tools, and how each NPC in the game really does have their own fully simulated life that operates independently of you as a player. Had there been time, I would have loved to have seen Culver jump into the shoes of stalker lad to find out more about him - because don't forget, you can jump between any character in this game and carry on their lives in whatever way you see fit - but alas, it was not to be.

Still, despite the delay to March 5th next year, Life By You is looking promising, and has certainly piqued my interest in just what other weird things these humans will be getting up to when I'm not looking.

For more of the latest news and previews from Gamescom 2023, head to our Gamescom 2023 hub. You can also find everything announced at Opening Night Live right here.

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