Ever wondered what life would be like as a person responsible for gathering, preparing and interring the dead for burial? Like crafting, discovering and exploring? Like mysterious spectres, creepy dungeons, and a sardonic talking skull? Yes? Then rejoice! Graveyard Keeper is for you!
Now, colourful introduction aside, I must admit that I’m coming into this game relatively inexperienced with other examples of its genre and style. Some of these that might pop to mind include the feted Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, along with maybe Slime Rancher for the quirkier angle if that’s your thing. While I’ve played my fair (appallingly large) share of simulation-type games before, they have usually been along the lines of the Caesar series or The Settlers, much grander in scope and setting. That’s not meant to be a criticism, by the way, it just seems to me that ‘manage Ancient Rome’ or ‘transplant an entire civilization’ seems a bit scaled up compared with running your own little farm. Well, boy howdy I’ll eat my spade because I was more than a little bit mistaken.
Having said that, I will refrain from eating the meat products you harvest from the cadavers and are supposed to sell. Yes, you read that correctly.
Taking place in a small medieval-style village in a mystery location, Graveyard Keeper sets you up as just that: keeper, maintainer, and occasional exhumer, of the local… well, graveyard. After an unfortunate road traffic collision – never text and cross the road kids – you find yourself in a fog-bound limbo, with only a red-eyed figure in black for company. The figure subsequently brushes off any queries about your situation and your plaintive requests to be sent home to your love, for what appears to be date night. Then suddenly, poof! You wake up as the graveyard keeper, and you have no idea where or when you are. I found this to be very rushed, with no time to form an early connection to the protagonist or his situation. While there’s something to be said for getting straight into things, I would have liked but more lead in to help and set the tone.
The look and feel of the retro 32-bit style is colourful and neat, and the opening screen with its macabre and lovingly animated tableau is a delight. It reminds me very much of the old Addams Family game on MegaDrive, which entertained me no end mumble mumble years ago. A day/night cycle, complete with fog, haze, torrential rain and thunder – all complete with sound effects – adds real atmosphere. This is further enhanced by the only-slightly-less-than-creepy music that plays in the background. There’s a bit of a lack of sound effects for my taste, but I’m willing to concede that what is present matches the setting nicely.
The gameplay is pretty simple and straightforward; go here, fetch that, speak to that NPC, craft that item and so on. Initially, that is. The more you get into it, and progress up the unexpectedly complex tech-tree, things become a lot more taxing, and subsequently satisfying. Your one simple operation turns into an assembly-line-style sequence of micro-management and forward planning, part of which involves meeting NPCs at specific times on one of games’ seven days. I confess that I ended up resorting to a notebook to keep track of all these tasks, as there’s no built-in way to follow them or receive any notifications as far as I could see. Since they’re not actually missions per se and more an aspect of living your life in-game, this does make sense, but it did detract from the experience for me a little bit as it pulled me out of the action.
This is a fun little game, that could take up a goodly chunk of your gaming time. It’s got a refreshing twist on an established and potentially overused concept, which kept me both chuckling and grimacing in equal measure. There are a few rough edges to smooth, but the emphasis is on few, which for an Early Access game is impressive. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on my misty plot as the game continues through development, looking out for skeletons and upcoming versions as the seasons roll by.
Graveyard Keeper – v 1.037
Developer – LazyBear
Publishers – tinyBuild
Status – Early Access (played on PC via Steam)
Disclosure statement: Early Access code for Graveyard Keeper was provided by tinyBuild. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
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