The plight of the bumblebee is turned into a video game but can it compete with Untitled Goose Game for best animal sim of the year?
There’s been a recent rash of animal simulation games, from the sublime Untitled Goose Game to the ridiculous Goat Simulator. There are numerous others knocking about online for a range of beasts, occupying a range from serious to silly, but the irony of Bee Simulator is that it’s not really a simulation at all, more a game based on the life of bees with some lightly educational side notes.
Starting with an introduction that underlines the importance of bees in our planet’s ecosystem and food supply, it also talks about colony collapse and the fact that pesticides and modern agricultural techniques are likely to blame. It then forgets all about that, getting you to name your own bee character, before exploring a hive in an expanse of greenery modelled on Central Park in New York.
With skyscrapers on all sides, the park has a nice variety of different areas to discover: grass with picnicking families and corpulent hotdog vendors, a boating lake, a small zoo with a tropical greenhouse, and an amusement park. Your first job is to gather pollen. That’s done by flying past flowers with a circle around them to grab the bee food, which is colour-coded for common, uncommon, rare, and, yes, epic pollen.
Once you’ve filled your sacs with the stuff, it’s back to the hive to drop it off and earn knowledge points, which are also awarded for completing quests and winning mini-games. You can exchange them for animal statues and 3D models in the hive’s archive, as well as new skins for your bee, all of which are realistic rather than fun or surreal.
As well as collecting pollen there are three categories of mini-game. The first is fighting against wasps, hornets, and other bees, which is done via a rhythm action game that gets you to press buttons as a progress bar touches them. It’s a process that proves offensively easy and, unfortunately, devoid of any kind of entertainment value.
The next is dancing, which you do to communicate with fellow bees. Well, actually you just talk to them in English most of the time, but for certain interactions you’ll need to make your bee dance, which works via a Simon-style memory test that has you repeating back a set of movements of the left stick. It’s desperately dull, but the worst is yet to come.
Races are the final mini-game varietal, and as if to make up for the ludicrous simplicity of the other two, they’re sometimes frustratingly tricky. It’s not really about racing so much as flying through a series of rings; miss a couple or hit a piece of scenery and you’ll be sent right back to the start, even if you were on the very last ring.
The races also serve to highlight the failings of the control system, your third person flight mechanics proving inaccurate to steer, especially in the confines of a hollow log, the caves under your hive, or a kitchen’s ventilation system. The camera regularly gets caught behind objects and your bee’s trajectory is far from predictable, making flying through a long series of rings particularly fraught with irritation.
There are several mini-games of each type baked into the campaign and wholly unavoidable, and while you can undertake extra ones littered around the park, it’s almost impossible to imagine anybody wanting to. If the breadth of the experience is boredom to seething rage, willingly exposing yourself to more of that would be tantamount to self-harm.
Missions themselves amount to no more than following waypoints to new places, followed by one or more of the mini-games, and then a return to your hive. There is a vague plot, but since the campaign lasts well under three hours, it barely gets going before it’s all over, which for a game that costs £34.99 is savagely poor value for money. That’s especially true when the only thing to do once you’ve completed the story is a pitilessly dull free flight mode.
There is split-screen co-op for up to four players, with three completely separate new areas, one a big city, another a lakeside mill, and finally a big greenhouse, but the tasks are all non-competitive and don’t really lead anywhere. There’s no experience points or progress of any sort, rendering it all sadly meaningless.
To add insult to injury, the single-player park’s areas are all under-utilised, with only one story objective in each, and nothing else to do in places that immediately look and sound very different from one another. It’s a shame, because the exploration and the superb orchestral score are the only small chinks of light in an otherwise unremittingly desolate entertainment vacuum.
With its low budget looks, dreadful mini-games, and edutainment-lite styling, Bee Simulator is neither fish nor fowl. It’s not realistic or informative enough to teach you about bees, but also fails as a game, making it a signally futile endeavour. That might be forgivable for £5, but at £35 it’s an active slap in the face, and one that you should avoid at all costs.
Bee Simulator review summary
In Short: A short, boring, and painfully repetitious glimpse into the life of bees that will make you wish you had a virtual can of Raid handy.
Pros: The orchestral music does its best to inject a sense of pastoral idyll into the park in which it’s set.
Cons: Poor flight controls, lifeless mini-games, too few facts about bees, and a sub-three hour campaign can be yours for £35.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Big Ben
Developer: Varsav Game Studios S.A.
Release Date: 14th November 2019
Age Rating: 3
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