The truth is you haven’t known true job satisfaction until you’ve thrown a mug of steaming coffee at your boss’s head. A flash of confusion appears on his face, he emits a BZZZT, and then goes back to doing the same thing he was before. Which was explaining the next menial task you have to perform in order to progress to the next menial task after that. The year is 2050, and you are a human in a museum-slash-theme park run by robots that simulates the most boring jobs of the 21st century.
Ha, Job Simulator! The name alone is funny. Why would anyone want to simulate jobs that most of us have spent years trying to escape? For two reasons: 1) Because in its current state simple tasks are arguably what VR does best and, 2) Owlchemy Labs has executed on its high concept with the kind of light satire and thick polish usually found in Valve’s Aperture Labs stuff. Combined, these reasons make Job Simulator one of the best showcases for room scale VR so far, though not something you’ll keep coming back to, other than to demo the technology for VR newb friends.
The game has four jobs: Office Worker, Gourmet Chef, Store Clerk, and Auto Mechanic. In each the setup is roughly the same. You operate from an enclosed area—your cubicle for the office, behind the till for the store—and are surrounded by the gizmos needed to get the work done. Space is used with incredible economy in order to maximise the variety of possible tasks. For example, in the restaurant, at the flip of a switch the sink will be replaced by a microwave or a blender, each with an accompanying flurry of Inspector Gadget-style animation.
Initially I felt a weird compulsion to keep my booths tidy—perhaps as a result of the universal urge to declutter in video games—but it soon proved impractical and the floor piled up with disused hotdog wieners, fluffy dice, spare change, staplers and so on. Once the untidiness Rubicon had been crossed, I also felt like it was fine to misbehave. Other things I threw at my robot supervisors included: a fire extinguisher, uncooked bacon, money. And, perhaps because the physics are so nicely done, or maybe because the sense or being there really is effective, the thrill of throwing stuff at their big glassy faces was oddly illicit and real.
The tasks themselves are, without exception, incredibly simple. Make a sandwich by collecting and layering ingredients. Decide which co-workers to fire by stamping their résumés. Fit a car with a new battery and air filter. You play with both Vive controllers, but I noticed I was only ever using my right hand. That’s because you never really need both in order to do anything. Tasks are invariably a case of move thing A to position B, repeat until done. Progression in each scenario is completely linear. You won’t be given the next task until you’ve completed the current one, and these are paced smartly by a ticketing system, meaning you don’t start until you grab another order, tug a chain, or whatever the mechanic for that scenario is.
So there’s never any sort of rush and there’s also no fail state to speak of. You just experiment until the instruction board goes green to register a success. I think I only struggled to grasp what the game wanted from me a couple of times over the course of the four jobs, each of which takes about 30 minutes to finish. Not a vast amount of game to play, then, and because the tasks are so basic about two-thirds of the way through each job I felt like I’d seen enough and was ready to move on. What stops it ever becoming outright boring is Job Simulator’s consistently witty script and the mirror sheen of its presentation.
Ran absolutely fine on a 970. Worth also noting that the fidelity with which the two Vive controllers were tracked was excellent. They represent your hands in the game and the underside triggers let you manipulate objects. That proved sensitive enough that I was able to select a CD that was resting under another in the convenience store section without misregistration. Only occasionally would buttons or handles in the world fail to connect correctly, but given the amount of back and forth I was doing it never felt like a big problem and soon resolved itself.
The robots are funny throughout and so are many of the tasks. The autoshop is run by SLZBOT, who has you filling a schumck customer’s tank with sugar to ensure he has to come back for repairs. In the office you have to cook the books—they literally end up on fire—and shred them later when the law shows up. At the store a stonerbot turns up and demands an oversized burrito, which you enlarge using a jumbo-tron device.
The performances are great too, peppered with cute one-liners like a throwaway reference to a failed human insurrection. There’s also a funny song called “I Emotion You” that you put on at the restaurant while one robot proposes. It’s not quite “Still Alive”, but it’s pretty good.
And that goes for Job Simulator as a whole. The visuals and gags are almost up there with something Valve would put out, but fall just slightly short. Ultimately the interactions are too simple. When Banditbot is dragged back to the convenience store after stealing your cheddar from the safe, (again, literally), all that happens is you point him out to the cops and they take him away. Surely more fun could have been had there. In the mechanic section I soon got tired of replacing tires and doing resprays.
It also swiftly dawns on you that any creativity of your own is a waste of time. One swagbot wanted me to bling out his car, so I turned a dollar bill I had from an earlier task into a hood ornament. His reaction was exactly the same as if I’d used any other object. Likewise, when I painstakingly scratched lottery tickets until I found a winner, the only reward was a brief sparkle. On the upside if you eat a moldy donut from the bin in the office, you’ll immediately vomit over your desk. But to make players stick around to explore, Job Simulator needed more of that type of Easter Egg interaction to find in each area.
What we have here, then, is a luxurious extended demo. Perfect for kids and giving people a taste of what VR feels like. Perhaps some sort of time attack mode would have made it a great party game, but it might equally have killed the relaxed vibe and drowned out the jokes. A tricky one to score, then. The decision to bundle it with Vive is great, because Job Simulator is proof of concept for the fun that can be had in VR.
Would I pay this sort of money separately, as Oculus owners will have to decide whether to do later this year when they get their controllers? Maybe. If you’re willing to throw down the price for a VR headset, you need to fun things that quickly show off the concept. In that sense Job Simulator is a bit like when your dad bought Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells for his first CD player. Slick and lovely, but ultimately you’ll move onto something more substantial.