Struggling by name…
No, this isn’t the fair answer to the question “How are you doing?” throughout the past 18 months, but a new game that lodges itself firmly in the “QWOP” camp of “games that would be ideal to watch people wind themselves up into a frenzy over”. Struggling is a weird game in pretty much every sense of the word, and one that I found myself unironically, erm, struggling with.
The game starts in a raucous party, with a bunch of scientists getting wasted, presumably after a big breakthrough. One of them throws up on some controls, they explode, and Troy, your character, breaks free of his oversized test tube of a prison. The game then throws its first challenge at you. Simply, get moving. Easier said than done, when Troy is a two-headed genetic freak with nothing but two arms that jut out either side. That’s it. To move, you have to control your arms independently of each other using the left and right analogue sticks, and the triggers to grab things with your outstretched hands. All seems well and good while you’re in the early stages and hauling yourself over boxes or flat surfaces, but things get very difficult, very quickly.
See, this falls squarely into the category of QWOP, Getting Over It, or even something like I Am Bread, with the controls becoming more and more frustrating as the game asks you to do more and more. The issue with Struggling, however, is that things rarely feel ‘fun’ when you fail. Troy’s constant screaming (which you can trigger yourself) is a torturous background noise, with little else to fill the air when you fail. You gain other abilities which will allow you to detach your arms, as well as other abilities throughout the game.
One positive from the game is that the art style is great. It looks like something Justin Roiland left on his table somewhere, with a definite chaotic vibe running through the whole game. The squishy nature of some of the organic areas in the game is really disconcerting at times, with things like sphincters and eyeballs looking disgustingly brilliant in high definition. It’s a brilliant yet downright disconcerting style that won’t be for everyone but I definitely appreciated it. This is accentuated with collectible hats that appear throughout the game, with each one giving Troy a fun little addition, but no real benefits outside of looking a bit more wacky.
Another thing I appreciated was the first boss level, which sees you essentially become the ball in a disgusting internal cavity, being flung around by proto-mechanical arms that give you a decent boost of speed to help take down the grotesque beast that you’ve found yourself inside, and it was genuinely pretty funny to boot. The issue for me is that this was a highlight in an otherwise very dark place of a game.
The problem with games like this, really, is that they’re designed to have an audience. It will undoubtedly find a niche audience where rage quitting will become a part of the appeal, but while playing for a review, it’s genuinely difficult to get through something like this. Particularly when picking up other things inbetween and coming back to it not really knowing what does what when you come back to it. The dual control idea is genuinely something that I’ve enjoyed in games before, with the standout example being Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but in Struggling, it absolutely fails to hit the mark due to some incredibly annoying inconsistencies with the control mechanics of the arms. Like I say, I’m fairly certain this will find its audience, but sadly, it’s just not for me.